December 7, 2014 kb

Ambiguously Brown is the New Black

My default position when it comes to the internet is that of a pur(sur)veyor.

Purveyor because I engage with the internet as an interface through which I can spread and promotes ideas, while also (metaphorically and literally) buy into the “goods” that others are selling. Surveyor because god-complexing is hard to avoid when it can oftentimes seem as if we can jump in and out of the world wide web and effect some change regardless of time, place, or physical/racial/gender limitations. Pursurveyor because I think I do a great job at persevering through the act of being on the internet–or any metaphysical space occupied by White Dudes.

Where my Other people at?

The internet can provide amazing insights and mind-blowing gemstones. Take the White Man’s Burden. Yes, common TV trope. Yes, poem. Remember the movie? (Yes, there’s the 1995 movie with John Travolta by the same name, which explores what happens to one White Dude when blacks are the racial majority and whites the minority. Because some days it really does feel like everyone is ganging up on the Whites, right?)

My biggest problem with the existence of a movie like The White Man’s Burden is the idea that the Other and the experience of the Other must be filtered through a warp. The experience of the Other can’t be empathized or sympathized with by Whites unless the tables are turned; that is, Whites must see themselves as the Other in the media in order to understand the plight of the Other. By that logic, movies like The White Man’s Burden makes so much sense. If the Other is the minority, then make the White minority for a two-hour long excruciatingly terrible movie and social problem solved. Hmm.

Tied into this, the idea that the narratives and voices of the Other cannot stand alone. It must always be filtered through Whiteness.

 Sometimes, comedians hit the nail on the head. To quote Screen Junkies, in their Honest Trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy: “But in case you get confused, the white guy is the lead.” 

White is transparent. It’s understood as representing nothing–and, by that logic, everything.  Of course, this isn’t at all true. But for and in Western popular culture, white is the baseline and male is the given.

Facebook, every once in a while, offers up a little gold nugget. As an Android user (and one who prefers brevity over emojis), the new iOS racially diverse emoji didn’t have a huge affect on my texting life. Hearing about how black emojis manifest as aliens in iOS without the update? Do I laugh or cry?

Civilization, I see you.

There’s a concerted difficulty in finding blackness or asianess or hispanicness or latinoness in the database. Phenotypically, white is the standard even for games that allow you to “completely” control the physical appearance of your character (see: BioWare’s Dragon Age). Beginning with white as the baseline limits how and where you can go. The database of the game is created to lack diversity and to limit representation.

Where my Other people at?

Because, humans are white, are they not?

I like to imagine that one day, someone woke up, and realized that diversity was a thing. But, able to conceive of what diversity coud look like but unable to imagine how to enact that diversity, that someone decided that ambiguously brown people would be enough. Familiar enough to be acceptable, but different enough to tantalize.

Being ambiguously brown is in vogue. The consumers of media can project onto these characters whatever they imagine.  The all-encompassing non-white character is meant to appease the dissentors and tease the proponents of homogeneity. But that’s not enough. We need designers, writers, engineers, everyone to make diversity a priority. It’s not enough to want it; we must actively work against the status quo.

Back in 2009, Fergie asked: “Where my party people at?”

I ask: “Where my Other people at?”

Tagged: , , , ,