That Wholesome Disney Image

Hey, kids! Wanna know what your role model, Miley Cyrus, does in her spare time?

Miley Cyrus doing "slant eyes"

Um. Yeahno. What they said.

Oh, and don’t read the comments at TMZ. We PoC need to watch our stress levels. No, seriously, don’t.

48 Responses

  1. wow. wowowowow. I wonder what that kid sitting next to her is thinking. ::shakes head::

  2. girl! I went home and told my family Hannah Montana will not be shown in our house AGAIN.

    I, stupidly, read the comments, tweeted angrily, then ate some chocolate mints. Every time I read comments for mainstream sites, i wonder if I’m wasting my time doing cultural competence training, and even if I should raise my children in a multicultural environment. I don’t have kids, but I’m just saying, I’m probably home school them to try to avoid the ignorance and ass—-ishness.

  3. Dear gods of mercy. Are we in the 21stb century yet? Aren’t we past disgusting crap like this?!

  4. OH HOLY GOD. Not another one.

    Remember when Paris Hilton was caught on tape saying incredibly racist things? And the media conveniently forgot? Yeah, it’s going to happen again with Miley.

    But I will spread the word!

  5. Brownstocking:

    You stated: “I’m probably home school them to try to avoid the ignorance and ass—-ishness.”

    My wife and I pulled all three our children out last yaer and are homeschooling now. Should you decided to bring little one’s into the world, homeschooling is truly a worthy endeavor. Look into it. One thing, a lot of literature that is published is put out by Protestant Evangelical groups, but this cultural phenomena is but done by people from all walks of life.

  6. Sorry for the typos.

  7. They’re selling Obama monkey dolls in Japan and see nothing wrong with black face and THIS is an outrage?

  8. Lala,

    Your point being? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can certainly be angry about more than one thing at a time; Outrage A does not preclude Outrage B being a problem.

    And I’m more concerned about the Obama monkey dolls being sold in the US, personally.

  9. It’s been a couple of days, and I’m still going with she’s a stupid cow who did something racist. She’s sixteen, not six. At SIXTEEN, when you work around “diverse” groups, and for the evil corporation who wants to promote the “It’s a Small World” ™ to everyone in Wal-Mart America, YOU. KNOW. BETTER.

    And her laughable response (http://www.popcrunch.com/miley-cyrus-racist-photo-response/) just shouts stupid.

  10. I’m glad the folks at popcrunch.com are able to be all self-righteous what with their page being covered with bikini babes…they’re obviously quite sensitive to all effects of racial and sexual stereotyping.

    Gotta say – I think some folks are making too much of this. Not everyone in that photo is making “slant eyes” – which lends some support to the “goofy face” scenario. Has anyone bothered to interview the Asian guy in the photo to ask whether this bothers him? Because if not, it seems more a case of taking offense (as in: taking it away from someone to whom it belongs) than anything else.

    I would also wish people to distinguish between racism of intent (which is malicious, and which therefore is likely immune to being cured by education) and racism of ignorance (whose cure is education…but which is unlikely to be cured by anathematizing the ignorant, who are likely to respond either by ignoring the argument or by pointing out that their accusers are flawed, imperfect people as well).

  11. 2fs,

    I think you need to read the Required Reading again, because I don’t think you “get” racism.

    Intent has nothing to do with it, so your distinction is meaningless. If I don’t intend to run you over with a car, you’ll still be dead/mangled if I do it. The problem with racism is the harm it causes, not whether the “causers” meant to cause it.

    And that harm goes beyond the individual level. It doesn’t matter if the lone Asian guy in the photo cared or not. The slant-eyes gesture and its offspring are in part responsible for some of the most pervasive and ridiculous stereotypes about Asians that exist. Like the idea that one “slant-eyed” Asian is indistinguishable from another (which has caused deaths due to mistaken ethnicity more than once), and the idea that anybody with “those eyes” isn’t really American, even if their family’s been in the US for centuries. These stereotypes affect every Asian, whether that kid in the photo realizes it (or cares) or not.

    And the contempt that Miley Cyrus and her friends are showing by making this gesture affects every person of color, not just Asians. If the kid in the photo had been black, would she have painted her face dark and poked her lips out? If the kid was Native American, would she have done a “goofy rain dance”? (Actually, she might’ve thought the latter was OK since we still have major sports teams pulling that shit.) The message she’s sending here is that non-white racial characteristics are weird and funny, and that people of color are objects for her personal amusement.

    You’re right about one thing; one of the cures for racism is education. But people have to be willing to be educated about their racist attitudes and the pervasiveness of racist thought in society. If they’re not willing to confront their existing issues, then they won’t learn diddlysquat. Before Miley can cure her own ignorance, she’s going to have to accept that she is ignorant, and her ignorance is hurting people. Her “goofy face” bullshit suggests she’s not ready to do that yet. Maybe a little anathematizing will get her to hurry up… or get Disney to fire her until she’s grown up a bit.

  12. And this little dumbass wants for the Obama daughters to appear on her show?

    Thanks but no fucking thanks.

  13. Damn it Miley. not only is this girl ignorant, She needs better handlers. i give her 4 more years before she hits total Lindsay status.

  14. nojojojo:

    You wrote, “Intent has nothing to do with it, so your distinction is meaningless. If I don’t intend to run you over with a car, you’ll still be dead/mangled if I do it. The problem with racism is the harm it causes, not whether the ’causers’ meant to cause it.” While this is true of the *effects* of racism (even though the running-over comparison rather overstates the situation), I was addressing *what to do about* racism when it exists. And there, it does make a difference whether it arises from knowing hatred or from ignorance.

    Which is likelier to get Cyrus to actually think about race in such a way that she realizes the potential harm of the actions shown in the photo: a bunch of people yelling “racist!” at her and sending angry e-mails, or someone sitting down and explaining those effects to her?

    I think Miley Cyrus’s celebrity status is the engine here. Consider: if this had been some random group of 16-year-olds goofing off, would we even know about it? Would we be talking about its effects, and discounting whether it affects the actual Asian individual who was present when the picture was taken? (“It doesn’t matter if the Asian guy in the photo cared or not” – really? So his opinion and feelings should just be disregarded? Why?)

    That celebrity status essentially means we are taking out a whole lot of animosity on a dumb 16-year-old kid, primarily because she’s a celebrity and therefore her dumb photo is circulating all over the internet.

    It is true that the stereotyping shown in the picture *can* have negative effects. It’s also true that people getting irritated and pissed off about something they cannot change can also have negative effects.

    I wonder which is more toxic: the harm that might be done by the picture, or the hatred so many commenters are directing toward Cyrus?

  15. ” wonder which is more toxic: the harm that might be done by the picture, or the hatred so many commenters are directing toward Cyrus?”

    You had some good points until you said that – I am afraid there is something here you really do NOT get. Yes, she is more likely to listen to a reasoned argument.

    But let me respond to that last question from my personal POV – as someone whose family kept their “of color” status SECRET for 3 generations (and who has the priviledge afforded by that that option) – The harm done by the attitudes on display in that picture do the most harm.

  16. *sigh* whether or not the actual asian person present was offended doesn’t matter. Asian people all over are offended and were exposed to this because this girl is a celebrity- a celebrity that is largely adored by children, young girls. You don’t think Miley Cyrus has some young asian fans? How shitty it must feel to be them and see someone you admire and love making fun of you and your ethnicity with a common racist gesture that you’ve probably been assaulted with all over the place, have seen your parents exposed to the same kind of thing. THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART OF THE CONVERSATION- NOT MILEY CYRUS’S FEELINGS OR HER INTENTIONS.

  17. 2fs,

    You clearly haven’t done what I asked, and clicked on the “Required Reading” tab above. The first link, “Anger Does Not Equal Hate”, would clarify some of your obvious misconceptions here.

    One key thing I think you’re going to need to figure out, if you continue to hang out on this site, is that anti-racists try to deal with racism’s effects on everyone. That includes the PoC who are targeted by it. I feel I have to say this because, as so often happens during discussions of racism, it seems that you’re fixated on its effects on white people — in this case, the very white person who has just inflicted the harm. To go back to my “running over with a car” analogy, you’ve decided to completely ignore a whole crowd of people that the driver has just mowed down, and while sirens are blaring and paramedics are shouting and onlookers are weeping and upset, you’ve decided to pause and say, “Wow, that poor driver. Everybody’s so mad at her! How can we help her?”

    It’s not an invalid question to ask, but your priorities are a little twisted here.

    Here’s my priority: I don’t give a damn whether Miley Cyrus realizes the harm her actions have caused. The accusation has been made; if she chooses to listen to the outcry and figure out what she’s done wrong, then good for her. If she feels remorseful and takes steps to try and undo the harm, even better. But her self-actualization is her own responsibility, not mine, and in the meantime, people are still bleeding.

    To that end, I want her held accountable for what she’s done, regardless of whether she’s contrite or not. First and foremost, I want to stop her from doing it again. So I want Disney to lose her as a spokesperson/media property, because she’s making the company look bad (well, worse; Disney already has issues racism-wise). That means we need to spread the word about her actions, so that parents of kids who idolize this girl will realize just what kind of person they’re allowing to be a role model for their children. I want those kids, who might someday decide to imitate her “goofy face”, to realize that this is not a good thing to do.

    Then we can worry about Miley Cyrus’ feelings.

    Also,
    (”It doesn’t matter if the Asian guy in the photo cared or not” – really? So his opinion and feelings should just be disregarded? Why?)

    Because he has been run over by a car, along with a whole bunch of other people who look like him. Maybe he doesn’t feel it yet; shock can have an anaesthetic effect. Maybe he was drunk or high before the car hit. In any case, the appropriate response isn’t to ask him whether he minds being hit by the car; the appropriate response is to treat his injuries and do the same for anyone else who has been hurt.

    I’m going to stop talking here, and just say again, read the Required Reading. Otherwise you’re wasting my time.

  18. dianne: I think I’m not being clear. I think it seems to me as if many people’s reactions here are treating a symptom as if it’s a cause. That is, the reaction isn’t to this one image, or to the attitudes Cyrus and her friends may or may not hold; it’s to the history that underlies that ignorance and to the effects of both that ignorance and, worse, the intentional hatred that causes the harm and the fear you describe. That’s understandable (by which I don’t mean that I claim to be able to know another person’s emotional history or that “we’re just all the same”) – but see below.

    nojojojo: I have read the Required Readings. That does not compel me to accept everything in them as true, nor to agree with your readings thereof. My concern is not for Cyrus’s hypothetical feelings (“hypothetical” since none of us is likely to be in any position to do anything about them) but for (to borrow your car-crash analogy) what we can do to prevent people like Cyrus from driving around like idiots and running people over. The prevailing response seems to be: yell and scream at her. And again: it does make a difference why she did what she did. If she got behind the wheel of the car looking to run over the nearest Asian-American with murderous intent, she’s a criminal. If, however, she ran over this pedestrian because she never learned how to drive, or thought it was okay to drive that way (no matter how obvious it should be to everyone else that that’s no way to drive), then the answer to my bolded statement above is not the same as it should be if she’d intentionally run someone over with a car. It is, instead, again: educate her, prevent her from driving (to back out of the analogy: I’m agreeing with the people who say she shouldn’t be a spokesperson any longer), etc.

    It is simply untenable that every action that results in the same end should be treated the same, regardless of cause. Do we do that in any other arena of life? We don’t in driving; we don’t (or shouldn’t) in other areas of law – why do it here? Why rule out of consideration the notion that knowing the reason for someone’s actions is entirely relevant to determining what to do about preventing such actions in the future (for that person or for others)? That’s not about concern for *her*…any more than concern that a person accused of murder receive a fair trial means we don’t care about the victim. It means that it makes a difference whether the person aimed the gun, pulled the trigger, and killed the person intentionally, knowingly, and with hatred in her heart…or whether she stupidly didn’t realize the gun was loaded.

    So I’m not defending Cyrus, nor am I denying that racism is a loaded gun whether or not the person firing it knows that or not. I’m just saying that doing something about it requires some awareness of where the person’s coming from.

  19. She is an arsehole loaded to the rim with shit!!!! she can fuck right off!!!

  20. My question is, why don’t people ever seem to get why somebody may find something offensive. Also, why the need to rationalize what you are doing. I’m mean if somebody finds something you do offensive to their group don’t do it at all or at least around them. End of discussion.

    The other thing that always amazes me is how everybody is oooh sooo tired of PC whining but never tire of saying or supporting stereotypical stuff

  21. So here’s my deal: I don’t hate Miley Cyrus; I barely know she exists on any given day of my life, so hating her is way too much effort. I can also differentiate between someone *doing* a stupid thing and that person *being* stupid. But there’s no doubt about three things: (1) She did a really, really dumb and insensitive thing, and she’s old enough and has been in the spotlight long enough to know what the wages of public stupid behavior are for the famous. (2) She (and/or her handlers) chose the anger and self-righteousness low road instead of owning up, which is beyond trashy. (3) None of us knows what her intent was – or even if she had a particular intent – unless someone’s claiming to be an infallible mind-reader.

    The thing is, her intent doesn’t matter a fig. My academic ground is linguistics, but much of what applies to spoken/written language can also be applied to the language of gesture. Incidentally, I think the “driving a car through a crowd of innocent people, murdering and horribly mangling them” analogy is hyperbolic and inappropriate. So I offer an analogy to another gesture.

    If I walk up to someone (assuming we’re in my usual cultural surroundings) and flip them off, then get on my high horse and say I didn’t *mean* anything by it, I have still flipped them off. My intent or lack of it doesn’t change the fact that that lifted finger means “fuck you.” And that little gesture she and her friend are making means something demeaning to Asians, even if she would never think of it that way. It comes pre-loaded with its own set of meanings and associations, whether she likes it or not (and, judging by her “It doesn’t mean anything because I don’t WANT it to!” tantrum/statement, she doesn’t). The ethical thing to do would have been to apologize – for doing it at all, for being ignorant of how offensive it is, or both. It’s a shame she’ll have to be hated, boycotted, or forced into doing what’s right.

  22. Lookout Mama,

    I agree with you, except for the hyperbole of the car analogy. I think these kinds of “little gestures”, demeaning words, and other racial epithets do a lot of damage. I think somewhere there’s a little Asian or part-Asian girl — and hell, possibly a Native American one and a black one too; some of those groups have epicanthic-fold eyes too — who sees her hero treating a natural feature of her body as a “funny face”, something so innately ridiculous that just imitating it is apparently a laugh riot. I think that little girl’s self esteem has just taken a powerful blow. Enough such blows can cause kids to internalize the racist messages inherent in the gestures — the idea that PoC aren’t as pretty as whites, for example, or that our beauty is weird (to be polite, say “exotic”) while theirs is “normal”. The idea that it’s OK to be objectified in this way could lead to the idea that it’s OK to be objectified in other ways — sexually (Google “Asian fetish” sometime), educationally (the “Model Minority” myth does more harm than good to Asians), or otherwise. And the overemphasis on racial differences can lead to the mistaken assumption that Asian faces =/= American faces, or faces which can appeal to the mainstream, which leads to debacles like this, and yellowface in general.

    These “little gestures” have effects which manifest in real, physical, economic, employment-related ways. That’s why I’m talking about “harm” and not “insults”; the insult of the gesture is only the beginning of the problem.

  23. 2fs,

    nojojojo: I have read the Required Readings. That does not compel me to accept everything in them as true, nor to agree with your readings thereof.

    You can argue them if you want, but you won’t get very far here if you do. The RRs exist so that we can speak from a common language and common position of understanding on this site, and so that we don’t waste our time arguing about, say, definitions of racism and other “racism 101″-level stuff. There are people on this site — from whom I’ve learned a great deal myself — who’ve studied racism in-depth, along with intersectionality and a lot of other higher-level anti-ism concepts, and it stifles discussion for them to have to constantly bog themselves down in trying to establish that common lexicon. If you’d rather have 101-level discussion, there are other sites where you can go. This is not the place for you.

    My concern is not for Cyrus’s hypothetical feelings

    Actually, she made her feelings pretty clear in her rebuttal.

    but for (to borrow your car-crash analogy) what we can do to prevent people like Cyrus from driving around like idiots and running people over. The prevailing response seems to be: yell and scream at her.

    Uh, no. My response was, and I quote, “I want Disney to lose her as a spokesperson/media property, because she’s making the company look bad (well, worse; Disney already has issues racism-wise). That means we need to spread the word about her actions, so that parents of kids who idolize this girl will realize just what kind of person they’re allowing to be a role model for their children. I want those kids, who might someday decide to imitate her “goofy face”, to realize that this is not a good thing to do.”

    That certainly isn’t yelling and screaming at her. (It’s not talking to her at all, but to the parents and kids who buy her albums, etc.) I think that would be pretty effective in preventing other celebrities like her from imitating her behavior — because if nothing else, they’ll see that it has real economic consequences for them.

    And again: it does make a difference why she did what she did. If she got behind the wheel of the car looking to run over the nearest Asian-American with murderous intent, she’s a criminal. If, however, she ran over this pedestrian because she never learned how to drive, or thought it was okay to drive that way (no matter how obvious it should be to everyone else that that’s no way to drive), then the answer to my bolded statement above is not the same as it should be if she’d intentionally run someone over with a car.

    But she would not get off scott-free. No one would give her a “stern talking-to”, or a few driving lessons, and let it go at that. She would probably go to jail for manslaughter instead of first-degree murder but she would go to jail. Even if she bought her way out of serving time, she would have a felony conviction on her record, with all the attendant consequences. She would almost certainly lose Disney’s endorsement and a number of other career opportunities. She would be held accountable.

    It is simply untenable that every action that results in the same end should be treated the same, regardless of cause. Do we do that in any other arena of life? We don’t in driving; we don’t (or shouldn’t) in other areas of law – why do it here?

    No. Treating every action “the same” would mean having a single harsh punishment for everyone who commits a racist act, intentionally or not. I have not argued that Cyrus should be charged with a hate crime under federal statutes. I don’t want her sent to prison. All I’m saying is that she should lose her status as a wholesome fresh-faced representative of Disney, and an icon to American teens. Does this sound like I want her put up against a wall and shot?

    Why rule out of consideration the notion that knowing the reason for someone’s actions is entirely relevant to determining what to do about preventing such actions in the future (for that person or for others)?

    Because we know the reason for this action. We’ve seen the “slanty eyes” gesture done enough times by enough white (and other) people that we’ve kinda figured out by now where it comes from. You may disagree with the Required Readings, but one of the things they point out is that the people doing the most harm these days are not the “intentional racists”, which you seem to want to fission off from the rest of humanity, but the unknowing ones — the people who’ve internalized all kinds of fucked-up messages and assumptions about people of different races, and who then drive around sideswiping people all over the place because of it. (And when you try to point out to these people just how wrong their behavior is, they invariably do what Cyrus has done and retreat behind the shield of intent. “I didn’t mean any harm! It was just a goofy face! There’s no reason why all these people should be angry and hurt about it because I didn’t mean to hurt them!”

    We can use any analogy here that you prefer, if hitting people with a car seems too harsh. I’m fond of the “you’re standing on my foot” analogy that’s been used in the last couple of International Blog Against Racism Weeks. (Was trying to find out who to attribute it to, but can’t at the moment.) The idea is this: you’re in a crowd and someone steps on your foot. Stands on it, actually, unmoving. Maybe you politely ask them to move, but they ignore you — too busy paying attention to other folks in the room. You definitely yell, because it hurts and that seems to be the only thing that’s getting their attention. Maybe you shove at them. Finally they look down and notice you. And instead of apologizing they say, “What the hell are you so upset about? I didn’t mean to hurt you.” But in the meantime they’re still on your foot. They haven’t apologized or tried to rectify the error, and now everyone’s yelling at you for being rude.

    So I’m not defending Cyrus, nor am I denying that racism is a loaded gun whether or not the person firing it knows that or not. I’m just saying that doing something about it requires some awareness of where the person’s coming from.

    Which would make perfect sense if stuff like this hadn’t occurred before, and had never been analyzed to determine the cause of such thoughtless racism. But that’s really not the case here, is it? So again, I see no point in paying attention to Cyrus. She’s deep in Been There, Done That territory, and if she wants to get out of it, that is for her to do. You’re talking as if others can force her to see and understand the racism in what she’s done; I’ve found that this is not the case, particularly with people Cyrus’ age. She’ll see it when she’s ready to see it, and teach herself when that time comes. It is not the responsibility of her victims to teach her how to drive, or walk through a crowd without stepping on people, or have fun in public without resorting to racist gestures. She must do this. And since she isn’t even ready to acknowledge that she’s hurt and angered people through her actions, I don’t think she’ll do it anytime soon. She may never do it, and that’s fine too. She can be as racist as she wants to be… but not on my television. Not in front of my (hypothetical) kids. That’s really all that concerns me.

  24. *bows in nora’s direction*

  25. Now, I prefer the “standing on your foot” analogy – not because of degrees of hurt so much as because comparing something to death when no one’s died *is* hyperbole, and it can have the effect of making people think “Mangled bodies? *Really*?” and walking away. Something less fraught is less likely to do that. That doesn’t mean I think no harm was done, as you’ve inaccurately intimated – just that there are far more effective comparisons to make.

    I also think comparing things to being mangled, raped, slaughtered, dying of a wasting disease, etc. is really insensitive to people who’ve been victims of those kinds of things or lost loved ones to them, and I try to avoid it whenever I can.

  26. nojojojo:

    The gist of your last comment, as I read it, is that Cyrus should not be let off w/o punishment, should lose her spokesperson/sponsorship status, etc. In my last post, I agreed with that. So it seems we agree after all.

    Except for a few things: Throughout this debate, I have tried to be civil and reasonable, and to genuinely engage and understand others’ ideas. And most other correspondents, including you most of the time, have also done so. But what I object to is your repeated assertions and assumptions that if I do not agree with the Required Readings (or, it is strongly implied, you) 100% of the time, then I am ignorant and naive – remarks like “101-level discussion” etc. – and your repeated attempts to, basically, shut me up (“this is not the site for you,” “you’re wasting my time” and the like). Sorry – but that’s no way to disagree with someone. You mischaracterize my statement that I am not compelled to agree with everything in the RR as saying I *disagree* with them, in toto – such limited, binary thinking is exactly the sort of thing measured, reasoned debate is supposed to move away from – as is name-calling, dismissal, and the like. It is entirely possible to disagree with a person without assuming their opinions come only from naivete or ignorance, or hinting that you’d rather they just shut the fuck up.

    None of us is a perfect being, possessed of absolute understanding of everything that goes through others’ minds, their motivations, their intentions, or even the results of others’ actions upon them. The certitude with which some people here express their “knowledge” of the attitudes and feelings of others is…well, sadly reminiscent of the most recent and thankfully departed resident of the Oval Office. Less of that, please.

  27. Lookout Mama,

    I think people do die because of stereotypes, which is why I use that comparison. It’s never just words. But your point about that comparison being disrespectful to people who’ve suffered tragedy IRL is something I hadn’t considered, and you’re right. I’ll avoid that comparison in the future, because of it. Thanks for pointing that out.

  28. 2fs,

    I’m not trying to shut you up. I’m also not name-calling you, though I was being dismissive — because I feel like you were dismissive in saying that you’re not compelled to go along with the RRs. Actually, you are. You can go along with them, or I can ban you, which amounts to a form of compulsion. You don’t need to agree with me, but you need to understand that the RRs are not up for debate. The RRs are there to establish a baseline for civilized, respectful discussion. They also exist to level the playing field between clueless white people — who are often used to their words being given greater weight than the words of PoC in greater society — and PoC. If you refuse to accept the RRs (and The Rules), then in my eyes you are refusing to do what is necessary for civility, and showing disrespect for the PoC who choose to speak here.

    See, there’s this thing that frequently happens in Racism 101-level discussions and forums — and you may not like my hierarchical language here, but I don’t know of any better way to explain it. This site gets something like 1800 unique hits on an average day. (Many more when there’s something controversial being discussed.) Most of those people never talk. Out of those who do, I’m going to group them into rough categories. We’ve got a) the long-haul truckers. Most of these are anti-racist activists like ABW herself, and most of them talk about and act against racism in other spheres of life. They’ve learned a lot over the years, and dealt with a lot of shit, and somehow managed to keep up their commitment to the task. Because of this, they tend to take on the role of teachers/elders in this community. (They often aren’t actually elderly; ABW is younger than me. They just know more.)

    Then we’ve got b) the short-term stay guests, who come here occasionally or for a period of time. Some of these are as earnest and knowledgeable as the long-haulers; some have other agendas. And there’s c) the lurkers, who are listening, hopefully learning. They rarely speak, but they’re paying attention. That hit count doesn’t go up on post-days by itself. There’s also d) the newcomers. (Intentionally not using “newbies” here to avoid the negative connotations.) They’re not stupid or ignorant, nor are they kids, most of them. They’re earnest and they’ve got good ideas and they mean well. But they’re new to the discussion of racism, and they haven’t lurked long enough to learn much, and they may not realize the danger in their constant questioning of the established paradigm. (There’s some other categories I’d include besides this, but I’ll stop there.)

    What happens in most 101-level situations — and here I’m counting discussion of all “isms”, because I’ve seen it happen in feminist and GLBTQ forums too — is that the long-haul debaters, the ones who know the most and are the most eloquent, get worn down by wave after wave of newcomers refusing to accept the core paradigms of the debate. (The Required Readings in this case.) Now, I’m with you on the idea that occasionally questioning paradigms is a good thing… but it’s not an occasional thing, on anti-“ism” sites. Every newcomer asks the same questions. They nearly all want to buck the paradigm. Maybe they have an honest disagreement with the definition, or maybe it’s just a natural defense mechanism, or maybe they just feel like being contrary — whatever. Problem is, when people keep questioning the paradigm of a discussion, they can’t discuss. You (figuratively speaking) have to have a basic paradigm in place to get work done; if you’re constantly questioning that paradigm, then you can’t move on to “next steps”. You’re too busy retreading the same ground. It’s fine to reexamine that paradigm from time to time, decide whether it’s still appropriate or needs to be refined — but until that time, the paradigm needs to be accepted as true.

    To break this down — one of the core paradigms of this site is the idea that racism = prejudice + power. A lot of people — particularly anyone new to anti-racist discussion — take issue with this definition, mostly because it runs counter to the definitions of racism used by the mainstream. (e.g., racism = treating people differently based on race, or racism = hating people of different races) They think it unfairly demonizes the people who committed racist acts out of ignorance (rather than intent) by making them complicit in a bad system; they prefer a definition that rewards individual goodness and penalizes individual evil. Or whatever. So they frequently try to excuse a racist act because the person/people who committed it “didn’t mean it that way”, or “didn’t know any better” or whatever. This forces the long-haulers to explain — again — that they know the person didn’t mean it and didn’t know any better, but that person must still be held accountable for the act’s harm, and the act must be acknowledged as part of a wider system of control/power. Hopefully the newcomer accepts this argument, but if they don’t, then the discussion goes off-topic — as this one has — into a discussion not of the racist act and its correction, but a discussion of the discussion, and of whether the racist act was racist at all.

    And yes, that’s a waste of time. Because we’re not here to discuss whether racism exists, or whether it’s pervasive and harmful. That’s 101-level discussion. We’re here, as you keep saying, to do something about it. For example — we could start a letter-writing campaign to Disney, or a boycott of Miley Cyrus products. Or we could (as I keep saying) spread the word, with everyone who sees this blogging about it themselves and sending the story to friends and making a big fucking stink about it, until Disney has to act to protect its reputation. Or all of the above. But while you and I are bogged down in a discussion about this discussion, rehashing the Same Old Shit version 8231.5, nothing’s getting done. People are probably losing interest in this discussion. Momentum is being lost.

    And on a broader scale, if this sort of thing happens too often, the long-haulers stop coming back. They get fed up with repeating themselves; they’re teachers, and they start to feel like no one’s listening. Once they’re gone, the discussions turn into endless cycles of newcomers asking and answering the same questions over and over, never taking action because they can’t decide whether any action needs to be taken. And to put it bluntly, since the long-haulers are usually PoC and the newcomers are usually white, this results in many anti-racist forums becoming all white circle-jerks which subtly reinforce and maintain the very systems they’re supposed to be working against.

    I see one of my roles, as moderator, as facilitating discussion for everyone — not just the newcomers but also the long-haulers. Not just the ones who come to learn, but the teachers as well. This means I require everyone to speak from the same core set of assumptions. And I shut down those who don’t seem willing to toe those lines. It’s not fair, and it’s not nice. But I believe it’s what’s necessary to keep this site a place where many levels of anti-racist discussion can take place. This is the only method I’ve seen used that actually works.

    Does that clarify things? You’re right; you’ve been civil, which is why I’m putting this much time into explaining. But again — there’s more to civility than being polite.

  29. nojojojo: Fair enough. A couple of clarifying points: I’m not disagreeing w/the RR in any substantial way, only saying that on occasion, the specific applicability of some aspects might be discussable. No set of rules, principles, rubrics, what-have-you, can cover 100% of situations 100% of the time – otherwise, why have discussions at all: just point to the relevant paragraph.

    You write above, as a “core paradigm” of the site, that “racism = prejudice + power” and counterpose that to definitions that think of it as differential treatment by race or outright hatred of race. Thing is, in some respects what I was doing was questioning whether that equation (which is old news to me and which I accept – hell, I use it all the time in teaching, because my students, unsurprisingly, default to the other two definitions you cite…) is wholly applicable here. “Power” is present, true, by virtue of Cyrus’s social position at the apex of several socially dominant groups. But “prejudice” seems like maybe the wrong word…”ignorance” is more to the point. “Prejudice” implies consciousness (“judgment” is inherent in the word), more than just stupidity. Then again, if someone proposed that ignorance + power also equals racism, I wouldn’t argue: it does exactly that. My *only* reservation was that preventive measures differ depending which equation is in force.

    Of course it doesn’t matter much which it is to the victim. But from the beginning, my concern was the way many people moved right past the actual situation, right past even the possibility of what might be done (not with Cyrus literally, but with people in their actual lives who might do something equally ignorant and harmful), and right to worst-case scenarios…and that they did so with a gusto that, against a sheltered, seemingly none-too-bright 16-year-old girl, felt unseemly. I mean, some of the comments people posted: would you actually say those things to her face? And if you did: would your anger communicate itself as righteous, focused on obviating the harms of the situation?

    None of that was meant to defend Cyrus, to suggest she shouldn’t be held accountable (penalized by losing commercial opportunities, at a minimum) – or that her actions, and her ignorant defenses thereof, might not cause harm. Other people here have expressed the depth of those harms, and far more eloquently than I could. And when you’re being presented as some sort of role model or spokesperson for youth, particularly for a company that pretends to be all squeaky-clean like Disney, then you do have to get some difficult learning being thrown at you, hard.

    Here’s a point lost in the shuffle: part of what sort of set me off originally was that the post I directly responded to contained a link to a self-righteous rant against Cyrus…a rant whose context reenacted, in the realm of sexist imagery, very nearly the same sort of harmful, stereotypical assumptions that Cyrus’s friends’ photo demonstrated…only in this case (popcrunch.com) there’s no possible mitigation of youth or context.

    I’d say this, too, about that hypothetical mitigation: that might – might – apply to Cyrus herself…but it sure as hell does not against Disney, which should have acted swiftly to publicly apologize, remove Cyrus from whatever promo things she has going, and (if they want to benefit from her in the future) made damned sure she got smarter.

  30. Miley Cyrus should try performing the following test: walk up to random persons of Asian descent on Hollywood Boulevard while doing the “slant eye”. What’s the problem, Miley, it’s just a goofy face! (Hint: this is a mental test, please don’t try this for real at home!)

    If my kids were ever to do this I would be hugely ashamed as a parent. Probably as ashamed as I felt when having lunch with a small group of high school friends (all Asian American) as some white kids at the next table started to imitate “us” (I put “us” in quotes because although I’m white our group was acting like a bunch of nerds — we were talking about comic books instead of girls) by copy catting our discussion and making “slant eyes” and other gestures. This was a different time when most kids (including me) thought it was kosher to make ethnic gestures and jokes — yet the anger I felt at the kids in that restaurant made me realize how hurtful such behavior can be. I actually became consumed with rage and was close to losing control, but fortunately the punks left in a hurry when I turned a dark shade of crimson, started foaming at the mouth and skewered them with my stare. Later I realized that I was probably as angry at myself as I was at those punks. After all, I had made similar gestures myself while “goofing around” with my friends. In my case, I “got it” after being part of a group on the receiving end of the ugliness, but I’m pretty sure the “walking up to random people” test would have educated me nearly as well. The thing is, I’m not sure my friends ever considered these gestures offensive (they claimed no but several of them not very convincingly), and if they did, whether or not they forgave me or any of the others. This is a concern that Miley needs to have about EVERY ONE of her own friends and fans of Asian descent but she probably won’t get it until she feels genuinely ashamed about what she did.

  31. I’m so glad to see a post about this story. I read it, was disgusted by the comments but was not surprised by them. What ticked me off was the fact that Miley waved it off by saying she was just “making a goofy face” and according to a poll on TMZ the majority of people thought that statement alone absolved her from the stupidity of what she’d done. All is forgiven. After all, she was just imitating those goofy-faced Asians!

    It kills me how people are only offended nowadays if you’re making fun of anyone who isn’t a minority or if you criticize America.

  32. Sorry, forgot to add:

    What also disturbed was that in a lot of comments people were saying that they’ve done the exact same face, as though this is something that is normal to do. Am I the only person who’s never made a face like this? True, my grandfather is Asian, although many people don’t know it, and I’d find it highly disrespectful to my ancestors to do it but regardless, how could I feel okay with doing something to demean another person’s race, especially as a black person? I’m sorry but this is not normal behavior.

  33. Wait, she’s still being called a role model? The next generation is severely disadvantaged here.

  34. nojojojo, let me clarify my statement “it doesn’t matter if the asian guy in the picture was offended.”

    yes, it matters- i was responding to all the (white) people who are saying, “well why are you people offended? the asian kid in the picture obviously doesn’t feel offended and is friends with them. if he can take a joke- you should be able to as well.”

    i think he probably was offended and had to try to pass to be friends with these assholes. it happens all the time. very sad.

    but also if he isn’t offended, it doesn’t mean that it’s ok and other people aren’t offended. that is what i meant.

  35. I just read her defense that they were making “goofy faces.” Um, so…what sort of face is the Asian guy making? Because he’s the only one not doing anything odd in the picture.

  36. *applauds* Well argued nojojojo and Lookout Mama.

    I’m sick to death about centralising the ‘intent’ of people who offend other people. I don’t care what Miley Cyrus ‘meant’ by it (although I think I can make a pretty educated guess. Because please – of all of the ways one could pull a goofy face THAT’S what she comes up with?)

    The issue here is what those gestures mean to others, the traditional social coding that is embedded in slanty eyes and ‘buck teeth’ and Japanese peace signs, and how they are commonly read.

    I also couldn’t give a damn about how attacked and beleagured she feels because someone actually had the audacity to hold her accountable for her actions.

    Also don’t care about what is the best way to educate poor ‘little’ Miley, a tired specious concern which perpetually puts the responsibility on those who get victimised by this rubbish to be ‘nice’, completely ignore their own anger/pain and go out of there way to ‘educate’ the offender/s. All of which effectively sidelines the victims and centralises the perpetrator. Neat.

    Yeah – there’s nothing about that suggestion that reeks of white privilege. It’s bad enough that white privilege has allowed a mediocre ‘talent’ like this girl, a career that most young POCs in colonial countries could barely dream of, but then to see her exercise her privilege in this way is just – ugh.

    To me, the real question to me is how, in this day and age, you could get to the age of 16 and *not* realise that those kind gestures are racist, stereotypical and offensive? How could she not know? Especially since America has apparently entered a post-racial age and all the rest of it *eye-roll* But as they say, racism is handed down from generation to generation like grandma’s silver.

    It’s also sickening to think that Miley Cyrus would not even have been alive when films like ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ was made and yet those insulting images and stereotypes STILL persist today, and she is simply adding to the canon of a long list of demeaning depictions of Asians in the media.

  37. RANTS/
    Although anyone is more likely to listen to someone speaking to them calmly – this is something that is all too often thrown out as a reason not to listen.

    After all, if I do something horribly rude to you and you respond with outrage, what you are doing is behaving like we are EQUALS. If I say, “well, I am not going to listen to you or change my rudeness until you talk nice to me,” then I am responding as if you are my child. And heck, if I do that with MY CHILD it might be OK, but it is NEVER okay to do with another adult.

    This, plus the “Oh, what you say happened isn’t what really happened” is so….insulting.

    But I rant. And about something most of the regulars here understand better than I. It’s just that the on-going commentary got to me…/END RANT

    When I was five, my sister and I used to pull the corners of eyes back and shout “Mommy mommy – my pigtails are too tight.” (Then run from her) I have no idea where we got that from (probably not a nice place). We stopped by the time we were 6 and had things to do beside torment our Mom. At 5, the thought it might be mean (to someone besides Mom) truly never crossed our minds – but then no one was doing it to US. Given that these kids are NOT five, given that they are sitting there with a friend who clearly is dealing with the gesture RIGHT THEN, there is simply no credence to claims of innocence.

  38. Westerly,

    I would say education is precisely what is needed here. OF COURSE you can still get to the age of 16 today and behave this way. Many kids do (and worse). Unfortunately, the populist idea that people are becoming increasingly PC in this day and age is a major barrier to understanding the hurtful impact of various “-isms”. To overcome this, most offenders need to be told why they are wrong and this should be done in very specific ways. If Ms. Cyrus received a few hundred letters from her fans letting her know how they have been hurt by such gestures in their personal lives, she would likely be very ashamed. If her fans rag on her hard enough, she might even take a future active role in helping stop the perpetuation of stereotypes in the media (or at least the projects in which she is involved).

    Is it the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the oppressor? No, but when the oppression is subtle, it sure helps to scream and shout if you wish to be heard.

    The most disgusting thing isn’t that a 16 year-old girl doesn’t get why this is a big deal, it is the deafening silence coming from Disney. Kellogg’s immediately yanked the rug from under Phelps for his reefer pic while the corporation a mouse built doesn’t seem to care a whiff about basic human dignity.

  39. D,

    Thank you! I’m sooooo sick when White folk grab one PoC whose mind is colonised or has internalized racism out the yang (because I believe that ALL PoC in colonized areas suffer from that to an extent) and wants to gain Most Favored Darkie status to bolster their rights to be racist asshats.

    “So-and-so doesn’t mind if i make the ‘chinky’ eyes/call her ‘bitch’/call him ‘nigger’/tell ‘Jew’ jokes/use the word ‘spic’ around him so YOU shouldn’t be offended either!

    I remind those folks that there were Black people back in the day that didn’t mind slavery and were traumatized when it ended. Does that mean I should be chopping cotton now for free?

  40. So there’s a lawsuit against her, which makes me happy. I don’t think the woman suing will be awarded the 4 billion she’s seeking, mostly because the majority of people don’t really seem to understand what was wrong about her actions but maybe I hold off on that prediction- I was also the main person thinking that Obama wouldn’t win the election because people wouldn’t be able to see past his race. Still, I’m at the very least glad that Miley has some very real charges against her and is being taken to court and made to explain herself like she should do. It should be common sense, but maybe a lawsuit will make her consider her actions more.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,491304,00.html

    I’m sorry that this is coming from Fox News lol

  41. Cathy, There is no basis for such a lawsuit, it is frivolous and totally ridiculous. Actually, filing such a lawsuit could be a violation of the civil rights of Miley Cyrus (first amendment). At a minimum, it represents a severe blow for the credibility of a cause that seeks to increase understanding between ethnic groups as now the focus will be on an “un-American” attention whore (ie. the plaintiff — and these are not my words but rather those of the average Jane and Joe).

  42. Tom, do you understand what a class action lawsuit is? The reason for the filing of a lawsuit of that much money is that it is on the behalf of the one million Asians who live in LA county, and she is asking that each one be rewarded the minimum damages for a civil rights violation — $4,000 per person.

    It’s clear from both of Miley Cyrus’s apologies that she still didn’t quite understand what she did. She’s sorry if anyone was offended, which isn’t being sorry for her own actions exactly. To me, this lawsuit is more of a reinforcement of who exactly it is that she offended and the negative consequences of racism, regardless of intent. Plus, it is possible that the details of this lawsuit were in the works prior to the apologies, and that this lawsuit may be rescinded soon.

    Also, you’re average Jane and Joe, whose words you are “quoting,” are most likely looking at the fact that this is a lawsuit and the amount being asked for. (And how are those not your words exactly since you didn’t give a quote or paraphrase let alone a link?) They’re ignoring the fact that it’s a class action lawsuit for one thing, which is a much different situation than a civil lawsuit, and that it may just be a symbolic act rather than a greedy Asian seeking to line her pockets. They would rather believe that Miley Cyrus did nothing wrong and all the evil PC police are after her over a simple “goofy face” because we are a postracist society and she’s free to do whatever she wants with her face. The plaintiff should not be blamed for these people’s misconceptions of her intent.

  43. Tom,

    While I think Brad did an excellent job of clarifying why there is a basis for this lawsuit and what it represents and could represent for the offended Asians who aren’t having their voice heard, I can’t help but comment on the fact that you believe this lawsuit infringes upon Miley Cyrus’s First Amendment rights. How does the First Amendment give Miley the right to be allowed to take photos that are clearly offensive to a group and continues to perpetuate stereotypes for a race that is already misrepresented and underrepresented in this country? And yet, when said group decides to voice that they are offended and demand fair action against Miley, their First Amendment rights seem to be non-existent. Please help me, I’m failing to see how this works.

    The First Amendment was not meant to be taken literally. Period. People need to stop saying and doing dumb, hurtful shit and then hiding behind their First Amendment rights because they believe it gives them the right to say and do whatever the fuck they want.

  44. Tom,
    Actually, first amendment dictates that the GOVERNMENT/CONGRESS cannot shut you up. Individuals, however, can feel free to sue. Doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll win (and I don’t think that it’s likely that this will happen), but I do think that it sets an important precedent that Miley will have to be responsible for her actions – and if she can’t be responsible for her actions, she needs to make sure not to leak it to the public.

    The apology will likely go from, “I’m sorry you were offended,” to “I’m sorry” because she’s under threat of losing money.

  45. Brad – I understand what a class action lawsuit is, but do you understand what a civil rights violation is? Clearly neither does Ms. Kim. Hint: It involves denying somebody’s rights. I agree with your points about the PC police, etc. but Ms. Kim did nothing to advance the cause, in fact she sabotaged it. If you want to see where I got the average Joe attitude then take a look at the comments below the articles at TMZ and all the other sites and blogs that discuss the lawsuit.

    Cathy – Brad did not clarify the basis for the lawsuit, which is completely frivolous. This is not an issue for the courts to settle and Ms. Kim’s filing is an abuse of the legal system. She should know that especially since she is a legal secretary and her attorney is her boss. You do realize that with herself as lead plaintiff and her boss as class attorney they stand to receive the lion’s share of whatever proceeds might result from this frivolous case, which is nearly certain to be nothing? Why couldn’t she find someone less conflicted to file the lawsuit? Answer: because then she wouldn’t be entitled to lead plaintiff fees and expenses. The only “group” she is representing is herself and her law firm and the only thing Asians as a group might get out of this is a backlash. Regarding my first amendment quip, you apparently have bad radar for sarcasm. As to “hiding behind their First Amendment rights because they believe it gives them the right to say and do whatever the fuck they want”, are you suggesting we change or reinterpret the U.S. constitution to make “hate speech” illegal (as it is in most countries)?

    A – Another malfunctioning sarcasm radar I see. My subtle point was precisely that Ms. Kim is as likely to prevail over Ms. Cyrus on civil rights as Ms. Cyrus would prevail in a first amendment lawsuit against Ms. Kim. In any case, individuals can’t just make up shit and sue without consequences — they can file whatever they want but they do so at risk of being fined, sanctioned and required to pay the defendant’s legal costs. The only precedent this is likely to set is that legal secretaries represented by their own bosses should be more careful with the lawsuits they file.

  46. A: “Actually, first amendment dictates that the GOVERNMENT/CONGRESS cannot shut you up. Individuals, however, can feel free to sue.” Uh, yeah…but once there’s a lawsuit, the legal system is a component of government. So sure, go ahead and sue to limit someone’s speech rights…but if the court decides in your favor, that would assuredly be “government shutting you up.”

    The legal system doesn’t seem to be the right venue for this, because however idiotic Cyrus’s actions, they are clearly “speech” and are therefore protected…from *government* (i.e., legal) restriction.

    Disney should, though, have let her go, or at least better managed her “apology.” And she’s got a Hannah Montana movie coming out…I wonder what a group of protesters at theaters would do to its grosses.

  47. Tom, it seems like you missed the part where I said, “To me, this lawsuit is more of a reinforcement of who exactly it is that she offended and the negative consequences of racism, regardless of intent.” That is the basis of the lawsuit. That is the basis of almost any class action lawsuit — it’s not about the money; it’s about the change and redress. Whether it stands up in court is not necessarily the point. The point is that Cyrus’s actions hurt people, and since people are concerned about their money mostly in this country, the most effective way is to attempt to go after the pocketbook. While I’m not sure that this is the best way to achieve redress, I don’t think Ms. Kim deserves the criticism she is getting. There is a logic behind the lawsuit, and people are purposefully missing the point. Also, I read most of the comments on TMZ and another celebrity gossip site, and between those two I never once saw anything about the plaintiff being “un-American” or “an attention whore.” I saw comments defending Cyrus’s picture is not racist and one or two that used racial stereotypes against Ms. Kim. So I am still unclear on who you’re quoting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 144 other followers

%d bloggers like this: