This is for my kids in the ghetto
who feel like they don’t belong
in a world that’s far too shallow,
content on annihilating us all.
This is for my kids in the ghetto
who feel like they don’t belong
in a world that’s far too shallow,
content on annihilating us all.
This past April 20th, Oblivion hosted a performance showcase as a part of Bard College’s 2016 Teach-In. Watch footage of some amazing talents at work by clicking here.
“People are still putting energy on things that won’t matter outside this thing that we call a bubble. And I call it a bubble because there’s no such thing as political correctness in the real world; there’s no such thing as trigger warnings in the real world. For better or for worse, these are the things we have to deal with when we leave this campus… ignoring or not speaking about these issues is going to be the process of us not being prepared to deal with these confrontations when we do get to the real world. So, these microaggressions… you bring them up as a minority and you give off this notion that you’re angry and need to cheer up… Like, I was the token black guy in my high school, so I’ve grown accustomed to it… I get that you don’t want to deal with that sort of stuff all the time, but I think we need to realize that this is really just temporary, and we should try to make sure that we’re all prepared for the real world. So, we need to start talking about these issues before we leave.”
Click HERE !
Most of us, as people of color, have experienced being fetishized by another race at least a few times in our lives. These experiences are always disorientating, steeped in racial prejudice and outlandish stereotypes; They’re just downright creepy.
Racial fetishization involves an individual being attracted to another individual belonging to a different race, because of the latter’s culture, ethnicity or specific facial features. It involves one party perceiving the other through a stereotypical racial/ethnic lens, objectifying, and (for lack of a more appropriate word) enjoying specific parts of their identities instead of loving them as a whole.
Racial fetishization is hardly a new concept. It has been well documented that Black women suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their slave masters and this was a heinous representation of control, domination, and power. Black women were viewed by their slave masters as mere objects of sexual gratification.
But that is not to say that Black women and specifically, black bodies, are entirely free from the shackles of racial fetishization today. In 2015, when reality TV star Kylie Jenner began sporting a much poutier pair of lips, the internet and effectively the world exploded into madness. Teens and young adults sought to emulate Jenner’s new look by sucking on shot glasses. These actions contributed to the birth of the #KylieJennerChallenge. This trend of DIY temporary lip plumping also saw a surge in severe injuries around the lips and mouth as the non flexible rims of these shot glasses shattered under the pressure.
This commotion caused by Kylie Jenner’s plumped up lips reveals this: stereotypically black features can only be considered beautiful when donned like an accessory on a white person. This point is further corroborated when popular fashion magazine Elle wrongfully referred to full lips as “Kylieesque,” blatantly ignoring the existence of black people who inherently had this particular facial feature. Society’s reaction towards Jenner’s lips clearly demonstrate whose bodies are valued and whose are not.
Another classic case of racial fetishization can be evinced from the term, “Yellow Fever”, which is referred to nonAsians, particularly whites, who have a fetish for Asian people. Not only is this horrendous term telling of Asian fetishization, but also, it demonstrates a fetishization of a specific type of Asian. People tend to forget that Asia is not a country, but in fact a continent; the world’s largest and most populous continent at that! Asia spans an area of 44,579,000 square kilometers and comprises of a whopping 48 countries ranging from Afghanistan to Vietnam. Therefore, it is interesting to note that only a specific category of Asians, mainly East Asians, are considered to be the prime targets for racial fetishization.
In fact, when I enter the words “Asian female” in the google search toolbar, I receive about 447,000,000 search results in 0.61 seconds. The first hit on the top of my list is delightfully titled, “SeekingAsianFemale.com.” I click on the link and am immediately treated to a full-screen photograph of a tiny Asian woman in a cheap wedding dress and lacklustre bouquet. She is being carried by a much older white “gentleman” who looks to be sweating heavily while simultaneously attempting to mask his discomfort with a grin on his double chin. As I realize that “Seeking Asian Female” is actually a film title, I briefly heave a sigh of relief. However, my hopes are cruelly dashed when I read the little synopsis at the top page which reads: Seeking Asian Female is an eccentric modern love story about Steven and Sandy—an aging white man with “yellow fever” who is obsessed with marrying any Asian woman, and the young Chinese bride he finds online.
*Immediately feels pulse to check my heart rate.* I can only pray to all the gods from all religions that filmmaker, Debbie Lum, was being highly ironic.
Again, I enter “Asian women” into the Google search toolbar, and this time I find gold. I click on a website titled thechive.com, and immediately the title screams at me for attention: “ASIAN WOMEN ARE THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD (40 PHOTOS)”.
These photos were uploaded by the obviously non perverse sub¬human named “Bob”. I cannot help but laugh while scrolling through all 40 photos in this terribly strange website. Is this the image that racists think of when the words “Asian” and “women” pop into their minds? Being Asian, I can attest to a few things that I have seen my whole life: 1) not all Asians have bedroom eyes that are comparable to Bambi’s on shrooms, 2) not all Asian women have the skin color of fluorescent milk, and 3) not all Asians have tiny waists, big boobs and eurocentric features. *Also, none of the props that the women hold (ranging from phones to boobs to crotches and ice cream) enhance the photo in any way; but instead promotes the sexualization of Asian women!*
The point I am trying to make here, is that racial fetishization is stupid and extremely dehumanizing. What makes racial fetishization more problematic is that this form of fetishization is becoming more prevalent among people of color within their same race. East Asian men are now increasingly tending to hanker for East Asian women, who clearly exist only in Adobe Photoshop. Men gravitate towards Black women with certain specific physical features like a “fat ass”. This idea that there is only one “ideal” woman that exists within each racial category is clearly unrealistic and not okay; this denies the existence of so many different types of wonderful women.
The Fall 2015 semester at Bard College has been marked by a campus climate of racial tension. In her article for Buzzfeed, Bard: The Secretly Bigoted Bubble, Bianka Bell, a current senior at Bard College, eloquently depicts a chronological sequence of events of racial violence and the responses of students of color to such events. Due to the nature of what is popularly coined as a “the Bard bubble”—to describe not only the physically isolated location of the institution, but also a student mentality that intellectually engages with discourses strictly inside the context of Bard, instead of outside of it—there are students who attempt to stress the importance of a world outside of ourselves. Attempting to simultaneously pop the bubble and examine the current explosion of public conversations about racial tension, violence, and experiences at Bard, students of color are reminding the Bard community that this activity merely places us as participators within a national discourse and movement outside of the college. In other words, we are not alone. This discourse on institutional racism has become a national conversation as well as becoming of interest to the public with the emergence of mainstream attention given toward the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The same voices responding to racial violence at Bard ask the question: why is the administration being so responsive now to addressing the vandalism of the Multicultural Lounge in Sawkill, the racist letter addressed toward a Black student, and the grievances and demands of students of color? And these are just a few events mentioned. Attention is also being called to the fact that these events are common acts of racial violence at Bard, that our grievances and demands are merely reiterations, and that others have fought for our same objectives for quite some time. The moment of student action is not an isolated event but occurs during a time where the nation’s Black communities are making yet another uproar in our country’s history of Black liberation movements. Timing can be just as important as the actual spectacle.
Because the mainstream has temporarily perked its interest toward Black suffering, the administration at Bard College does the same. This interest in Black suffering by the mainstream media is the farthest from genuine. Rather it is used for the exploitation of Black suffering by reproducing the dominant narrative that the Black experience is a one-dimensional existence of trauma. This is often done through exhibiting visuals of Black individuals in emotional pain and being dominated by others. Racial violence is often perpetuated in this process. This interest in Black suffering becomes objectifying—a painting on a wall for the fascination of white eyes.
Another affair engraved in Bard’s history is the Blackout Bard on November 18th, a campus wide walkout organized by students of color, though tailored to the concerns of the Black student body. The purpose of this event was to express solidary with and raise awareness of the struggle of Black students at Mizzou, Yale, Ithaca, and elsewhere. Additionally, the walkout served to bolster the voices of Black students at Bard, to call attention to the racial violence experienced and practiced at the institution, and finally, to create a space where the Black community at Bard could publically express their support and love for one another. This event witnessed an attendance of hundreds of people from students, to faculty, to staff. I remember leaning against the wooden rail on Ludlow Lawn before the beginning of the walkout, observing the sea of pale faces. I was struck with a visual reminder that we were speaking in front of a community of white liberals, radicals, conservatives, and those who politically identify with neither.
At the walkout, numerous events were advertised that supported the same interests as those discussed at the rally. Among them was a screening of the yet to be released The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, to be showcased that same evening. While attendance at the screening was decent, the majority of students present were those already at the forefront of discussions about race and other forms of institutional oppression.
Black students at Bard cry out for more events that can open student dialogue toward critical discussions about institutional oppression. These events do occur. However, whether it be the Multicultural Diversity Committee Retreat on Cultural Appropriation on December 6th 2015, or The Black Body Experience, a conference organized by Colored Womyn United, these events are continuously attended by the same group of people: students who sustain and are the impetus of the campus dialogue around this topic. Furthermore, such students are already at a level of political and racial consciousness that allows them to be this impetus in the first place. They are present at these events, look around the room to see familiar and friendly faces, and walkout disillusioned at that fact that their classmates—often those who spew racist, sexist, and/or homophobic comments during or outside of class—were absent.
Yet, many from the latter crowd attended Blackout Bard, some for the controversy the event raised, some because their professor cancelled class, allowing them the opportunity to be present, and some for their personal interest be it genuine or not. For those present at Race Monologues on December 4th, 2015, a student-organized event featuring a series of student performances on race and racial experiences, it may have been noticed that many of the students who we don’t see at the lectures, workshops, and movie screenings that are organized by students of color, attended these two events. This begs the question as to why Blackout Bard and Race Monologues were attended by a larger crowd of students—majority white—who are normally disinterested or antagonistic toward discussions around race most particularly. My concern here lies more, not with the amount of attendees the two events, but with who the attendees are. This is in comparison to many other events with similar topics but witness low attendance from this type of crowd. In the case of Race Monologues, it is easy to claim that the reason is due to the event being an artistic showcase, something the student body at our liberal arts college craves and impulsively gravitates toward.
However, I believe that, similar to the way mainstream media has a taste for Black suffering, many of the students at our predominately white college perceive the Black experience as “interesting”. Not only is it more fascinating, entertaining, and “interesting” to attend an event where Black people are publicly exposing their experiences, trauma, and expressing “what oppression feels like”, but it is more comfortable. To witness the Black individual depict their experiences of racial violence is more comfortable for the white liberal and radical than it is to be exposed their self. Too many white students at Bard tremble at the thought and avoid having to occupy spaces that challenge their consciousness. In this way, we see white privilege molding into a shield and protecting the white individual from holding their self accountable. Somehow, an illusion is constructed in a way as if racism does not oppress or affect the white person, as if racism does not function in tandem with classism and patriarchy, and as if racism itself does not corrupt the mind and soul and the white individual.
Attempting to answer how to disrupt this quality of the student behavior, as an attribution of the campus climate and intellectual culture, is the next task. As a friend spoke to me about this once, perhaps event promotion should take a new direction. A dynamic student body often regenerates the quality of the campus climate outlined in this essay and sustains the Bard bubble as a result. The influx of new students entering and departing Bard each year, those studying aboard, transferring in and out of the school, or perhaps going on leave have an impact on how this situation will and can be addressed. There are new minds to educate, revolutionize, and challenge. Students of color that are now organizing events and are at the forefront of these critical discussions will depart, and new individuals will take their place. Regardless, these successors will bring different events to campus, and different ways—whether it is subtle or not—of speaking and addressing the same concerns on campus. The accumulation of these factors will dynamically shape the sociopolitical landscape of the student body. Maneuvering ways to affectively address this must be considered.
In whatever way the compliancy of the student body is tackled, it’s important to understand that changing this student behavior has the ability to cause a disruption in the existing intellectual culture and qualities of social relations on campus. There is a reason as to why it matters that a larger white student body at Bard attend events on campus that critically engage in dialogue about institutional oppression. Obviously, attracting this audience will not solve the problem of institutional racism at Bard or anywhere else. However, it does matter.
This kind of student behavior speaks to realities that are larger and exist beyond Bard College: the sentiment that white privilege is legitimate. There are students of color at Bard that are fighting a battle against the legitimacy of white privilege that is tethered to a socioeconomic power structure. Preserving the comfortableness and compliancy of the white student body is frankly uninteresting. Eradicating the need and desire to protect white privilege is imperative. The trend of student behavior outlined in this essay is only a behavioral manifestation of a larger system that produces a culture legitimizing it. The task of delegitimizing whiteness adequately requires us to direct our actions to the roots of the system. It runs that deep.
Photographed by Keegan Holden
You gloried in the consumption
Of my Black cookie crumble/
You beckoned to tame/
From that 50 Cent music video.
While you watched with self-indulgent eyes/
Your mind quickly sifted out the gold from my chains
And sucked off my bubble gum lip gloss.
Your mother arrived through the foyer/
You turned the channel
To Gilmore Girls,
As(s) the memory of those
Candy girls shook their “Black Cards”
Back into the void of MTV.
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
Talk to me
Talk to me
I promise I won’t bite
Attack you in the night
When I walk alone in the dark
I too carry a flash light
Talk to me
Do not be alarmed
By the bronze of my exterior
It was simply the product
Of being left out
A little longer than yourself
In our mother’s vision
But it wasn’t unintentional
She said life would be too dull
If we all came out
Exactly the same
So she made my hair a little thicker too
And told me I was beautiful
I wish she would have warned me
To be cautious of my siblings
Talk to me
When I walk by my sisters and brothers and others
I never know
What to expect
Some act as if they have heard about me,
Before even having uttered a word in my direction
They’d have to look me in the eye to do that
Talk to me
In seventh grade biology they taught me
That there are 206 bones in the human body
And that the liquid of our blood
Is called plasma
And I remember
Being so infatuated by that
Said the teacher
And so I looked around the room
And I saw one collective entity
I felt warmth
A sensation I’ve never experienced in a history class
TALK TO ME
I move out of the way
When you walk in my direction
Sixty years ago
It would’ve been you
That deters my imaginary advances
Two separate responses
To the same system
TALK TO ME
When we discuss institutional privilege
In one hundred level sociology
You roll your eyes
And smirk along with the person to your right
As I sit on your left
Do you not understand?
You are a part of the problem
TALK TO ME
All I’ve ever wanted was for you to know me
TALK TO ME
Why must I beg?
TALK TO ME
Maybe if you did
You would understand
Why I’m so desperate
Talk to me.
If I had to use one word to summarize my feelings on life in Berlin, Germany it would be “paranoid”.
Paranoid is wondering whether that woman crossed the street from your side because she actually needed to be over there, or if she just didn’t want to walk by the “Neger”.
Paranoid is avoiding speaking to your crush, not because they might not have similar feelings, but they might not have similar feelings because you’re black.
Paranoid is questioning whether you were actually in the wrong when a stranger tried to touch your hair and you slapped his hand away so he spat in your face. In the middle of the crowded street. At 2 p.m. And everyone just looked the other way.
Paranoid is wondering whether you did something wrong at the new job when they call you to say the old sales-girl is returning so they don’t need you anymore. But you notice the ‘Help Wanted’ sign still up on the door for weeks, until a new face pops up in the shop.
Paranoid was knowing that from the very first day, after the elderly lady rubbed your skin, spun you around, sniffed you and asked “Wie oft duschst du dann?” (“How often do you shower?”), they’d find some excuse to let you go from the position.
Paranoid is being told you have a class trip further into East-Berlin and having to find the right words to remind your program director that you, the black girl who lives with the Mexican-American and the Hijab-wearing Palestinian, don’t feel quite safe going there after dark.
Paranoid is wondering whether the complete lack of diversity in your college’s faculty, staff and curriculum is actually an issue since nobody seemed to notice it before your black ass showed up.
Paranoid is having to research instances of racially-motivated physical violence before you hop on a plane for a cheap, quick weekend trip.
Paranoid is not braiding your hair before you visit a White friend because you just don’t think you’ll be up to explaining yet another facet of your existence this weekend.
Paranoid is having every question, no matter how simple, innocent or genuine, irk you because you’re just tired of being something that requires a definition and an explanation.
Paranoid is checking the news before you leave the house just in case any right-wing groups are protesting near wherever you’ll be.
Paranoid is going months without making eye-contact with anyone for fear of seeing THAT look, the look that says they think you’re lesser than.
Paranoid is avoiding sitting beside other People of Color on public transport because it might be provoking to “Others”.
Paranoid is constantly being aware of the fact that you are the only Black face in the room and wondering if everyone else has also realized.
Paranoid is making “at least you won’t get shot here” your mantra to justify why living in Europe must be better than being in the United States of America.
Paranoid is knowing that being shot isn’t the only way to have your life taken from you and going through every other possible way it could happen every time you leave the house.
Paranoid is standing as far away from the edge of the sidewalk or the platform because someone might push you into an oncoming tram or train.
Paranoid is spending weeks trying to be neither seen nor heard so as not to entice anyone to use these alternative scenarios you’ve concocted.
Paranoid is knowing you are truly in the lion’s den, because Europe is the scourge of just about every affliction on the face of the human race in modern history.
Paranoid is questioning whether you really have reason to feel spoken over and about but never to; fetishized, tokenized, ignored and treated like the feature attraction in a Freak Show.
Paranoid is wondering if people realize that as confidently as you speak and write, you wake up every day and question whether today’s the day that you give up; or have that choice taken away from you.