CPAC’s Blackfacing of Bad Ideas
The Conservative Political Action Conference is the annual king-making and agenda-setting conference for the far right. It was started by American Conservative Union in 1973, with Ronald Regan as one of its first speakers. This year, it takes place at Gaylord Convention Center (heh) in Maryland. We sent Wilbert there to see what all the fuss was about.
My first few hours at CPAC felt a little like being at New York Fashion Week—white people everywhere were asking to take my picture. Even though I’m partial to Mars Blackmon’s explanation for everything, I don’t think it was my shoes. But it may have been the color of my skin.
When I told a tall southerner wearing a pinstripe suit and a wide novelty tie who asked to take my picture this morning, that I wasn’t at CPAC because I loved fracking, free markets, and Jesus and that I was there to report for a magazine, the gentleman looked a little disappointed. He stuck out his bottom lip and then off he went, looking for the next one I guess, which is a pretty tough bid considering most of the blacks at Gaylord Convention Center this week are working as valet parkers. Despite the talk of creating a “bigger tent” for conservativism after Obama whooped the GOP’s collective ass in the last presidential election, I haven’t seen a many black folks actually running around the conference. But can you blame my brothers? Who wants hear that their vote was bought by Obama due to their race-based laziness? Black dudes should, however, come to CPAC for the white women. It’s probably got something to do with the conservative red-meat diet, cause these girls have way more junk in the trunk than your average kale-chomping liberal.
Despite the absence of blacks in the audience, I’ve already seen a ton of brothers on the main stage. Clearly, even though the movement is fairly monochromatic, conservatives want to highlight their diversity and reassure everyone (and maybe themselves) that they aren’t racist—which is probably why everyone and his momma wants a photo op with me. In the first couple hours of the conference, they had a black dude say the pledge of allegiance and Allen West was the first prominent politician to give a speech.
“Being a strong black man (or any man) has nothing to do with what you wear or who you fuck, but whether or not you have the will power to stay true to yourself. If that means wearing a dress, then so be it.”
—Black Man in a Dress
My Dad Told Me There’d Never Be a Black President
The biggest fight I ever had with my dad was over whether or not America could elect a black president. It was in the mid-2000s and I was about 17, serving out my last few years at a nearly all-white high school in the stifling suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I spent a lot of my time there dealing with way too many ignorant kids who either wholeheartedly embraced bigotry or spouted it off unknowingly. In spite of all of that, I still managed to build some valuable relationships that left me with an optimistic perspective when it came to race relations: It certainly wasn’t all good, but maybe one day it might be.
My dad, on the other hand, was understandably jaded. How can you blame a guy who can remember exactly where he was when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated if he doesn’t think America will ever properly deal with its race-based problems? Living only two generations from bondage and being born in the midst of Jim Crow would make anyone cynical about the prospects of this country electing a black man to its highest office.
Our argument, which was a long time coming, had its genesis in Barack Obama’s 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention (and a 2pac song). With that speech, Barack burst onto the political scene looking fresher than a motherfucker, and he spoke with elegance and force that still makes my dick hard with black power. The sentiment of his first speech on the national stage, coupled with my own ambitions and desires, left me feeling like we/I/him could do anything—especially be president. That is, until my dad ripped my head off.
We had been having bouts over this issue for months, but it culminated in an all-out screaming match right after George W. Bush got re-elected in 2005, which signified the country’s choice to continue the not so black-friendly policies of the Republicans. This was also around the time that we were being bombarded with images of suffering black (and poor white) faces in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Things seemed especially grim in those days, like no matter how far it seemed we had come as people, we were still second-class citizens.
So when I brought up my usual bright-eyed bit about how one day all of that shit would change with a black president, my dad stood up in the middle of the kitchen, in his boxers with a plastic bag over his jerry curl, and howled at me at the top of his lungs that a black president could never exist in this country. He told me, “We’d have to burn this whole fucking thing down and start over from scratch for a brother to ever sleep in the White House.” As he said that, my heart welled up with hate for all of his history that was holding me and my generation back. I broke into tears over my disappointment with the world at large, still refusing to accept that I couldn’t foster a better world than what he had known.
What I Learned from the Five Percenters
Five Percenters say that the black man is Allah and the white man is the devil. I am a white man, and also a Muslim, and Five Percenters exist for the pleasure of neither white people nor Muslims, but I have been a friend of this community for roughly a decade now. This relationship has transformed the ways in which I see the world and also myself.
I first encountered the Five Percent during the cross-country wanderings that became my American Muslim road book, Blue-Eyed Devil. Though most Five Percenters do not consider themselves to be Muslims, I saw this community as a necessary component of the story of American Islam. So I went to their headquarters, the Allah School on Seventh Avenue in Harlem, and ended up having a pretty good time. Because the Five Percenters were critically under researched and misrepresented, I embarked on a project entirely devoted to them: The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip-Hop, and the Gods of New York.
In the course of collecting texts, interviewing community elders, decoding Wu Tang lyrics, and hanging out at Five Percenter gatherings (parliaments), something changed. As an amateur ethnographer, I was not prepared to be affected by the materials that I was ingesting. Spending thousands of hours thinking about the Five Percenters, I actually began to internalize their narratives, symbols, and ideas. Though I wasn’t entirely inside, I was no longer outside. My position became a strange in-between space that I would examine in another project, Why I am a Five Percenter.
The first lesson I learned from the Five Percent was simple: Fuck white people. Seriously. White people are devils. I don’t mean this as a statement on biology, because the category of “race” is only political fiction and bad science. I’m using the term more in the sense of what it means to be marked as white in an unjust society. The fact is that I benefit from being white in several ways that I recognize, and many, many more that I usually fail to see. Because I am so often blind to the benefits of my whiteness, it is possible that I unintentionally reenforce those benefits, no matter how vehemently I say that I oppose racism or shower white affection on groups like the Five Percenters. When people want to sound like they’re theoretically sophisticated, they describe this phenomenon with the term, “white privilege.” I call it Satan.
Malcolm X returned from Mecca with a belief that classical Islam’s allegedly transracial brotherhood could help white Americans to move beyond the race poison that has been so deeply injected into their brains. However, I’ve also seen white Muslim converts use this claim to color-blindness as an excuse to avoid talking seriously about race. Mix white privilege with the privilege of religious orthodoxy, and you get a white Sunni who doesn’t have to consider why Elijah Muhammad was so absolutely necessary for this country.
There have been numerous white Five Percenters throughout the community’s history, and I have ironically found a greater fulfillment of Malcolm’s experience in Mecca through the Five Percenters than in my Sunni conversion. A Five Percenter elder told me that if I rejected white supremacy and strove for righteousness, I could not be called a devil; though he believed in the Five Percenter doctrine of white devils, he would not hold that against me as an individual. The answer was not for white people to instantly stop being white, as Malcolm had claimed that Islam would do for them, but to directly confront their whiteness and everything that whiteness does in the world. To be white in America means that I have been groomed to be a devil. The Five Percenters allowed me a space in which I could confess that and work to transcend it.
Life of Heems
I’m a little preoccupied with race. The first time someone suggested I read Life of Pi, the novel by Yann Martel about an Indian boy and his journey across the ocean with a Bengal tiger, I took a look at the author’s name, and my race wheels started turning. I thought, What does this guy know about India? I tried to read it, I swear. I read the first 30 pages or so and put it down. It bored me. When a friend asked to borrow the book, I gave it away and have never seen it since.
Two months ago I saw an advertisement for the film version of Life of Pi featuring an image of a shirtless Indian male with a turban-like scarf wrapped around his head. That image reminded me of Mowgli and Sabu, those first representations of South Asians to the West, and I wondered if the South Asians were about to be set back. In recent years, South Asians have been all over American screens. And we’re no longer limited to roles as turbaned savages or man-servants or Kwik-E-Mart owners or taxi drivers or even just doctors and engineers. Actors like Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling are playing roles that aren’t quite as reductive. Stripped away of some of the stereotypes and clichés about South Asians, the roles these actors have taken, or in Mindy’s case written for herself, are turning more than half a century of otheredness on its head. Life of Pi troubled me.
Visibility of South Asians in Western film, American particularly, has a long but limited history. It started with Sabu Dastagir, who at the age of 13 was given the role of an elephant driver in the 1937 film Elephant Boy, based on a story by Rudyard Kipling. In 1942, he played Mowgli in a film adaptation of The Jungle Book, also by Rudyard Kipling. In the 1940s and 1950s, a man who went by Korla Pandit became America’s “Godfather of Exotica,” except he was born John Roland Redd, an African-American. In the 1960s, a young man by the name of Sajid Khan starred alongside Jay North in a film called Maya. It was subsequently spun off into a series on NBC of the same name from September 1967 to February 1968. Around this time the mystique of South Asians in the West peaked when the hippies discovered Ravi Shankar.
In the 1980s, all we had was Fisher Stevens, who said he went to India and learned yoga to be “method” about his role as Ben Jahrvi in the Short Circuit movies. In the 1990s there was a guy in the Sprint commercial who counted “one minute, two minute, three minute.” That actor also lost his arm when a train suddenly stopped in a Rice Krispies Treats ad. I think he’s on Glee now as a principal. With the 2000s we finally saw a somewhat humanized depiction of South Asians with actors like Mindy Kaling, Kal Penn, Aziz Ansari, Danny Pudi, and Maulik Pancholi on TV and in films. All this is to say, we’re relatively new at being portrayed on television and in film despite our history here since the mid-1960s. I’m a little protective of how we’re put out there.
I got a chance to see Life of Pi at the 50th New York International Film Festival back in October, but I missed the press screening and had to attend the official premiere. Everyone was in a suit. The women wore fancy dresses. The only people of color I saw in this colossal room were myself, Suraj Sharma, the lead actor in the film, and Ang Lee, the director. I looked for Irrfan Khan, an old-school Indian film actor who was also inSlumdog Millionaire, but he was nowhere to be found. Ang Lee spoke about his film and about storytelling, and I got excited.
Stupid Shit White Girls Say to Me
Commuting between my shitty backwater town in rural England and London freaks me out: I get lulled into this safety net of functional multiculturalism in East London, and then the second I get home the whole thing falls apart faster than you can say “fashion bindi.” I go from being dismissed by some sighing style blogger with rolling eyes and brothel creepers on Bethnal Green Road, to having “Paki bitch” squawked in my face when I trip over some woman’s monster stroller on the bus. Suddenly people don’t notice my (impeccable) nails, or questionable crop top—everyone just chucks me in the Asian bracket and that’s that.
The problem is, the longer I spend at home the more I come to appreciate this flagrant racism—at least with those people you immediately know where you stand (or lie, crushed under decades of racial prejudice). It’s actually the casual questions and comments from friends that are the worst, the ones that don’t register until later, when you’re ploughing your way through your third naan, and you realize that “actually, maybe that was some seriously offensive shit back there.”
To everyone who’s asked me how often I have to moisturise my “type of skin,” please take your Mean Girlsignorance elsewhere. At this point I’m amazed shit like this still comes up; everyone knows that even the most white-bread racists gulp down chicken korma on the weekends. Sadly for you stupid fucks, it does still happen, all the time. So here’s a rundown of some genuine questions that have left me feeling particularly deflated.
“OH MY GOD, ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE?”
The first time a white girl asked me this, I was nine years old and I burst into tears. The memory of it has been seared into my mind ever since. I can even tell you that it happened as I was writing a thank you letter to the organizers of our fifth grade sewage works field trip (I was a weird kid).
Seriously though, I know you think a bit of provocative racial jibing is a great way to break in our new friendship, but chances are we’re desperately trying to avoid being asked this question by our own parents, and they really did meet through an arranged marriage. Which means that you are both a) making things massively awkward, and b) shitting on our moms and dads. Neither of which are particularly endearing traits, especially when my mom was kind enough to tell me I could elope with a white boy or experiment with lesbianism as soon as all my ageing aunts and uncles were too dead to be offended by it.
“WHY DON’T YOUR PARENTS LIKE YOU HANGING OUT WITH WHITE PEOPLE?”
I suppose we are quite fond of our all-Indian wolf packs. The thing is, our elders don’t really trust you and your wayward ways. Of course we could never understand why when we were younger, and I assure you we have had scathing arguments with our parents because of it. But basically they don’t trust white kids because they can’t forget the time a gang of tween skinheads tried to push us into oncoming traffic on the way home from school in 1980s Leicester. Chill though, we only need six months or so to convince them that you won’t scalp us on a night out.
“SAY SOMETHING IN YOUR LANGUAGE!”
The first time you ever ask is humbling. Unfortunately, the multitude of further requests will result in so many eye rolls that I am in actual danger of my ocular muscles spasming and my eyeballs ejecting as a result. Therefore, when you ask this to anyone over 14, we will always give you the wrong word.
Also, despite English being my first language (hello, duh, as if, etc.), if I do happen to go all buck buck dingin the checkout line, it’s because you took the last salad box and I hate you. Or I just hate your kid because it’s ugly. Deal with it.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer McCreight
Being an atheist is a hassle, but being a lady atheist can be the pits. Not only do you have to deal with Christians saying you’re going to hell all the time, your beliefs will undoubtedly put you in close proximity with “enlightened” male unbelievers who will unabashedly hit on you and maybe even make rape jokes because, well, there’s no God to punish them. Atheist blogger Jennifer McCreight became well versed in godless misogyny when in 2010 she devised a stunt called “Boobquake” via her blog that called on women to dress immodestly for a designated day (April 26) in response to Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi’s claim that things like female cleavage and bare legs cause earthquakes. Of course, Boobquake went viral. The unfortunate by-product was that Jennifer’s instant internet fame resulted in a deluge of hateful, misogynistic emails from fellow nonbelievers.
Once again she took to her blog to respond, authoring a post that called for a “new wave” of atheism that concerned itself with feminism and social justice. And again Jennifer’s ideas exploded all over the insular, male-dominated world of atheism blogs. This led to her setting up an online forum that concerns what has come to be known as “Atheism+.” She plans to continue what she’s doing without compromise, despite objections from the same sort who said nasty things about her boobs. I called her up to see how the fight was going.
VICE: When did you begin getting hassled by sexist atheists?
Jennifer McCreight: When I first started going to atheist conferences, I was warned to avoid certain speakers because they were known for going after younger women. I was often approached after I gave talks, and people would make really lewd, sexual comments to me or basically be talking to my chest.
Then you wrote the post that begot Atheism+.
I basically said that we have to fight back against this. We need to make our own space where we don’t tolerate that kind of discussion or people trying to silence each other with really hateful things. I was actually surprised to see that people were excited about it.
It’s been pretty divisive—I’ve read some blogs that really don’t like the idea of Atheism+, or the message board you’ve created around it.
The people who have been really hateful in the past are obviously pretty cranky about it. They see it as being exclusionary toward white people or men, but that’s really not the point. We have a lot of white men who are happily participating. It’s a space where we can talk about feminism, race, or social-justice issues, and not have people come in with slurs or threats. I think some people feel threatened by that.
Is it fair to say that, on the whole, atheists aren’t that crazy about feminism?
I think, for some people, atheism is the one minority identity they have. They’re not gay, they’re not black, they live in the United States, and a lot of them are middle-class or higher. Being an “atheist” is the one thing that they take on as their cause, and they think it’s the most important because it’s the only one that affects them. It puts their priorities out of order a little bit. Once you’ve figured out God doesn’t exist, that’s great! But there are other irrational things you might believe in, like sexism.
5 Tips for Ruining Your Interracial Relationship
Regardless of the result of the upcoming presidential election, Barack Obama will be minted as one of America’s most important leaders. This won’t be due to his fiscal policy, murder of Osama Bin Laden or smoking hot wife. Obama will remain far away from obscurity through the decades because of the color of his skin.
The accepted wisdom is that Barack Obama is black, as in “homie has a sweet jump shot and loves Tribe Called Quest” black. Most of the electorate is perfectly comfortable ignoring the fact that President Obama’s mother was white. He’s technically just as white as he is black, but in this country, if there’s just a hint of non-white ethnicity in your background, you have to forfeit your European cultural heritage. That’s like putting a slice of pizza in a tortilla and calling it a burrito.
The interracial relationship that spawned our first minority president didn’t last very long. Mr. and Mrs. Obama split after a single year together, leaving the future Commander-in-Chief to grow up not truly knowing his biological father. My own interracial family stayed together 23 years longer, but my parents got along as well as Rick Santorum and Barney Frank at a Pussy Riot concert.
I’ve ruined my share of interracial relationships. I just have an insatiable addiction to white women and an inability to fit in anywhere. I don’t know how to keep a white woman happy, but I do know how to pass on quality advice to my readers. So, for those of you interracial gentlemen looking to split up from your white girlfriend, I offer you the following five tips for kicking her to the curb.
One of the first things a white woman expects from her black boyfriend is expert dancing ability. Dancing is very important to a white woman dabbling with jungle fever, even more so than the carnal benefits. I hate to be the one to reveal this to all curious white girls out there, but a lot of biracial guys can’t dance. Also, some of them wear stupid Ghostbusters t-shirts to bars and expect to get laid.
Be Terrible at White People Things Like Guitar Hero
You need to fit in with your significant other. It’s bad enough that you look totally different. Acting different is a double whammy that you can’t recover from. I tried very hard to master “Love in an Elevator” by Aerosmith on a plastic guitar to satisfy my girlfriend, but she saw through my ruse. I kept mistaking the green button for the red button and completely forgot about that whammy bar. I asked if there were any KRS-One songs on the game, but I was told “absolutely fucking not” and was commanded to go sit in a corner until the master race was done jamming out to “Dookie” by Green Day.
Lil’ Thinks - Witness the Whiteness, by Kate Carraway
Some imperative sociocultural maneuvering was missed when Girls debuted; instead, a really embarrassing junior-kindergarten level of communal reinforcement led to the collective conclusion that Lena Dunham’s show is racist (and, yeah, that communally reinforced idea was right, because that show is racist to the point of making Brooklyn look like a sundown town). It is still being missed, which is cute because of how everyone I know—the “communal” in the “reinforcement”—is sure about race and especially about whiteness.
Following the retrospective social insight of five or ten years, Lena’s trial by ordeal will probably seem painfully, entirely, wholeheartedly retarded. There is, of course, everything right with calling something that is racist what it is, but often, something that is all milky white is criticized simply and specifically for its milky, cummy whiteness and not criticized specifically—and more crucially—for its values, assumptions, casting choices (the first season of Girls skewed very Magical Negro), and antiverisimilitude. (No affluent white girl in urban North America is without rich Asian and Indian friends. She’s just not.) So while the story within the criticism was all “La-la-la-la-la Lena!” whiteness and white culture snuck by unexamined.
Ignoring whiteness as its own thing to be considered is the easy way out, yeah, but it’s also a dangerous re-re-reestablishment of a bad precedent, in which whiteness generally is positioned and congratulated as being the dominant culture. And since whiteness holds fast to the most capital of every variety of culture except “cool” and remains very few generations (fucking one! one generation!) removed from institutionalized and mandated racism, it’s left as the cultural standard to which everything else responds. Which, as everybody knows, is racist.
Two important contextual items, here: America isn’t so white. If you didn’t know or live somewhere stupid, more black, Hispanic, and mixed-race babies were born last year than white ones—and since you and I have been conscious, the internet has (correctly) negated the social, economic, gendered, whatever boundaries of once-discrete subcultures. Sooo, that’s good. But because the collective consciousness moves as fast and elegantly as you do jogging in a hot tub following diazepam and margaritas, whiteness remains understood as this abstract, almost-imaginary but deeply embedded dominant paradigm.
After reading Annette Lamothe-Ramos’ piece about walking around in a burqa all day, I felt, like many of you, I had to write something in response. I am not going to throw insults at her or defame the things she said. Those were her opinions and perspectives. These are mine. I’m an American Muslim college student. My family is from Bangladesh, but I was born in Hawaii and raised in Georgia.
Before I continue further, I want to say that the hijab/burqa/abaya/niqab is simply something that we Muslim women wear to protect our beauty from the public. It is mentioned in the Quran, our holy book, but I don’t want to get into the religious aspects of wearing it. We believe that a woman’s beauty—her hair, her face, the shape of legs and buttocks, her bust, her bare arms—is not for just any man to see. We cherish our bodies so much, we don’t want to give everyone the right to see and enjoy them.
When I first read Annette’s article, I was offended. Then I thought maybe she needs to see something from the other perspective. My experiences with these garments are much different than hers. For one thing, she says that most of the articles she’s read about burqas reference “oppression.” Maybe I just read different things than she does, but I’ve found a lot online about burqas that don’t discuss oppression at all. So I decided to address some of the things she discussed in the article and explain them to her. Hopefully she—and the rest of you—will understand burqas and hijabs a little better.
As a practicing Muslim, I have worn a burqa outside quite a few times. Mostly, I dress modestly and cover what needs to be covered. Yes, it does get hot in the summer and I might break a sweat sometimes. But back in the day when I used to have my arms and neck exposed, I used to get sunburns, which was worse than breaking a sweat. And wearing modest clothing protects us from UV rays much better than sunscreen. I’d much rather be a little uncomfortable a few months out of the year than get skin cancer.
The Wind and Rain
Wearing a burqa is actually quite helpful on certain occasions, like when it gets rainy or windy. I remember once, before I was a practicing Muslim, getting soaked when I got caught out in the rain at school. My wet clothes clung to my body like a second skin, and not in a flattering way. Everyone could see every little curve of my body, and all I could do was run to the restroom and try to dry myself off in front of the inadequate hand dryer. Another time, I went out with my friends with a pretty dress on. All of a sudden the wind picked up and blew my dress in all the wrong directions, forcing me to hold my dress down in one hand and hold my shopping bags in the other. It got to the point where I was frustrated and just wanted to go home or wait in the car. Now when I go out on a windy day, I feel safe. I don’t feel like “Batman” or anything of that sort as Annette did; I feel free because I can enjoy the wind without holding my clothes down for dear life.