The question and video come from The Situationist, which asks, “Do We Miss Racial Stereotypes Today that Will Be Evident Tomorrow?” There is an informative discussion of a classic US movie that is heavily racist (“Birth of a Nation,” which appears to give the KKK a heroes’ welcome) and perhaps a transitional political ad. And then there’s the recent McCain ad:
THE FINAL EXAM
Anwer the Situation’s question with specific reference to the film above. Be sure you explain your answer.
So no one has tried this one, and I can’t tell whether it was because it was too hard, too obvious or too boring. But, retiring into the professorial mode, I offer this:
With questions like this, there is often no one right answer (oh, sure). One way, however, of gaining a critical stance on the video would be to consider what you would say of yourself if, after a VERY great deal of thought and hard work, you pulled off some major accomplishment and found yourself described as, say, “appealingly flashy.” There you are, perhaps, considered the best graduate student in philosophy in one of the top ten schools and you hear someone describe you as having a lot of pizazz. That could well be at least close to a put down.
So here’s my worry: very successful African Americans can have star power of the sort sexy Hollywood stars have, but their intelligence, powers of organization and vision are not going to be part of the story for some people, since they haven’t yet gotten around to admitting that’s what non-whites are capable of. And behind this is another ugly thought that some people without vision are having: Obama is only about self promotion. Just like Paris and Brittney.
This video was found on Sociological Images, thanks to the Situationist. As the first site remarks, it is hard to tell whether the stereotypes are being parodied or accepted. It does not seem to have a single perspective on them. But it is a useful visual presentation of them, along with the overall idea that women are all alike, as men are also. It’s also silly enough to allow the kind of distance that a discussion of stereotyes needs.
On watching the video a second time, I’m having second thoughts about posting it.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Useful compilation or offensive?
You know, when you throw around words about mental illness, like crazy, psycho or psychotic, frootbat, and nutjob, you’re mocking disability. You’re spitting in the face of everyone who suffers from a mental illness. You’re equating horrible behavior with mental illness. Stop it.
(Another excellent post is here, from Wheelchair Dancer.) This reminded me of Shelley’s argument that terms like ‘double-blind’ are offensive (see the comments here). But it also reminded me of one of the things I promised to discuss eventually– a talk at the recent SWIP conference by Jackie Leach Scully. Part of Scully’s discussion was about the many metaphors based on bodily abilities. Her focus was on the different ways that these metaphors may be understood by people whose bodies work in different ways. Scully, for example, is profoundly deaf, and reported that she spent many years misunderstanding the phrase “I hear what you’re saying”. It’s meant to convey a fairly deep level of understanding, but for Scully, hearing is about piecing something together very uncertainly from fragmentary clues– leading to a very different understanding of the metaphor. She listed many other such metaphors: “stand on your own two feet”; “stable”, and so on, noting each time how the metaphor might be understood by people with various different sorts of bodies. I thought of both the very widespread feminist discussion of ‘silencing’. Interestingly, Scully explicitly did not want to argue that all metaphors like these were offensive, despite the fact that they present being able to stand and being stable as positive, and being unable to speak audibly as negative (and equivalent to being unable to communicate). Instead, her take was that the experience of one’s own body is so fundamental that basing metaphors on it is inevitable; but that we should be aware of the potential for miscommunication when we do this. It’s perfectly compatible with this thought, of course, to find some particular such metaphors offensive, and I imagine that she does, though this wasn’t her focus. How to distinguish between the offensive and non-offensive metaphors would then become an important issue. (Some who I’ve discussed this with suggest that it’s easy: Just pay attention to what disabled people say on the topic. But since disabled people– like members of all other groups!– disagree with each other, there’s no such easy short-cut.)
You may well react to this– as I confess that I did, initially– by getting defensive insisting there’s no malicious intent behind use of these terms and that trying to expunge them is simply too much to ask. However, that’s how opponents of feminist linguistic reforms feel about, for example, the supposedly gender neutral ‘he’ or the insistence on classifying women as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’. So I think it’s very much worth taking these worries seriously.
What do you think? (A note: for some reason, discussions of this topic on other blogs have shown a particular tendency to get heated. So please make an extra effort to observe our standard BE NICE rule.)