My friend Morgan was discriminated against by her local YMCA for being a trans woman. This is less for her and more for her young daughter. Please read the petition and sign. And signal boost this, please!
(from http://raaw.wordpress.com/2007/10/15/caucasian/. The header is a clickable link to the original post.)
October 15, 2007
I read it on forms. I hear it conversation. And most annoying of all, people refer to me as such. I’m talking about the word Caucasian.
Sure we’re all trying to be PC when we invoke the formal racial title for a group of people we absolutely must designate. African American for blacks, Asian American for Asians, etc. But a history of struggle and racism called for such designators and more importantly, such designators as chosen by the people in question. It only follows that when making racial proclamations where you wish to include white folks, your brain will pause a moment to search for the nice formal self-designated word for whitey. Unfortunately, the word that comes up is Caucasian.
But where did that word come from and how did it rise to the lofty position of designated the white race as a whole? Some might be surprised to know, that like most racial designators, the history of the word Caucasian is racist, inaccurate and flawed. I’m writing this in order to bring light to this dirty word and hopefully work to remove it from our politically correct vocabulary.
Where is Caucasia?
I asked that same question when I was a wee lad first trying to divide my world into discrete boxes. Turns out, there really is a Caucasia. According to the mighty wikipedia this region is interesting for the following reasons:
It’s considered the “border” between Europe and Asia
Not surprisingly, the peoples and languages are extremely diverse
Noah’s Arc mythically landed in the Caucasus Mountains
Some human skulls were found there.
It’s that last point where we start. Popularized by a Joseph Friedrich Blumenbach, these Caucasian skulls were considered so modern (in the anthropological sense) and so well-formed that they must be the ancestors of the white race. Blumenbach goes on to compare them to the skulls of the pure and beautiful German race and even gives us an insight to his Georgian fetish:
[These skulls] produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (birth place) of mankind.
By “mankind” Blumenbach of course meant white people who were tainted along the way to produce the other, inferior races. Please see the summary on wikipedia for Caucasian race for more hilarity.
White Chicks are Hot
There are several things working together to contribute to the racial designator Caucasian. First you obviously have the erroneous and egocentric claim that not only is the white race superior in beauty, intelligence and culture, but also that it’s the oldest. News flash: it’s not and I’ve seen plenty of ugly “pure” white people.
Second, since the cranial features defined as Caucasian happen to also be found in many dark-skinned and decidedly non-European peoples (North Africans, West Asians and Indians), the science of morphology had to be tempered with some good ol’ racist explanations of impurity and the added “fact” that Caucasians’ natural skin color is white. A fact that cannot possibly be construed from a naked skull, but who’s really paying attention, right?
Third, as it may already be clear, the racial designator of Caucasian has less to do with science as it does with European requirements to justify imperialism through racial superiority and stewardship. Recognizing this, the use of Caucasian to mean white people in Europe is no longer preferred. It does, however, live on in the United States through legal precedent.
The Story of Bhagat Singh Thind
Bhagat Singh Thind was a Punjabi immigrant working his way through school in an Oregon lumber yard in the early 20th century. He fought in WWI and after his discharge, Thind applied for U.S. citizenship in 1920. Turned out several Indians had been granted citizenship before, but in Thind’s case a disgruntled naturalization examiner appealed the decision.
After a long legal battle, it was decided that Indians are not considered white persons using the famous “they just look different” argument.
This decision was important in cementing the American notion that white and Caucasian are one and the same. Justice Sutherland rejected the historical and anthropological reasoning (as flawed as they be) that included South Asians into the Caucasian fold and Thind was not white because he didn’t look white. Ipso facto, Caucasian began to mean exclusively white in further legal and demographic instances.
Caucasian is a Dirty Word
No matter how you slice it, the word Caucasian to denote white people is racist and inaccurate. From a physical anthropology perspective, Caucasians are currently defined by a diverse range of people, most of whom are not European; and before that it was used to denote a perfect race of white people. From a sociological standpoint, Americans are really the only people who use the word to denote whites due to a particularly faulty legal precedent. Perhaps most important is that we do not need a formal word to denote white people.
African American, Asian American, Latino American and everything in between, came out of ethnic movements and struggle. The people in question — long given names by the controlling white population —decided it was time to give themselves a name. That history of struggle is not apparent with whites and in fact a history of assimilation and quite literally “white washing” makes up the culture of white America. Whether we can make claims to European ancestry is often rendered moot when considering the race politics of this country. Each European ethnic group had its period of struggle in America, this is true, but the ultimate goal was to be considered white. The Irish, Italians and Jews have all gained access by assimilation.
Why create another name in light of this peculiar history of whites in America ? The reason for this underlying need to be associated with a white race is the larger theme of this blog and it only starts here. But the fact of the matter is Caucasian is an improper and offensive word that shouldn’t be used to denote white people. White people, white folks and whites, are all accepted names for the people I identify with and while I find it charming and polite that some folks use the word Caucasian in formal speech on race topics, the dirtiness of the word irks me each and every time I hear it. Please strike it from your vocabulary.
“We Americans take these institutions for granted. We assume that private enterprise generates what is so casually called “innovation” all by itself. It does not. The Web browser you are using to read this essay was invented at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The code that makes this page possible was invented at a publicly funded academic research center in Switzerland. That search engine you use many times a day, Google, was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation to support Stanford University. You didn’t get polio in your youth because of research done in the early 1950s at Case Western Reserve University. California wine is better because of the University of California at Davis. Hollywood movies are better because of UCLA. And your milk was not spoiled this morning because of work done at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.”
What are 3 sex and/or kink related acts that you consider to be soft limits and under what circumstances would they not be a soft limit?
Wow! Straight to the good stuff!
So, three things. This is really hard. I don’t really have soft limits. There are hard limits (waste play, age play, etc.). But my soft zone is tiny. There are very few things that I would only do situationally.
Submitting to a man. I use the words top/bottom and dom/sub in specific ways. To me, top/bottom describe physical acts. I’m versatile. Dom/sub refers to energy and relationship. I’m a sub. I will switch and dom men if playing with a female partner who is more dom than I am. But I generally will not submit to a man. It would take an incredible amount of trust AND have to be under the supervision of a female dom that I trust.
Non-consent role play (as a bottom) with a man. Similar to #1, this requires enormous trust. I love role playing non-consent with women. It’s not something I can top for, but as a bottom I have a unique set of buttons.
Domming a woman. This is hard for me, period. I think I would require the supervision of a female who is more dom than I am in the scene.
It’s not the structural denial of resources or the inability to get a job to support your family or the huge chemical plant in your backyard or segregated housing or living with the threat of physical and/or sexual violence because you’re not white (enough) or having your land stolen.
It’s “people made fun of me in a movie!!!!”
How did we miss the entire part where the REASON that racial stereotypes are bad and dangerous is not because they’re MEAN but because they’re USED TO JUSTIFY THE CONSTANT PHYSICAL REALITIES OF RACISM? That portraying Black people as stupid or silly or criminal is not bad because it’s NOT NICE or because it’s STEREOTYPICAL but because those ubiquitous portrayals are USED TO JUSTIFY SLAVERY, JIM CROW, AND THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX?
Don’t answer that. The answer I seek is whiteness.
Brave, Pixar’s 13th feature film, is indeed rather brave. Yes, it strays from the romance focus; yes, it gives us a strong female lead; yes, it questions hetero-monogamous-marriage as the happy ending. But the real derring-do comes from the fact that it is woman-centered and focused on a mother-daughter relationship. Less overtly, it also supplies a witty visual onslaught of gender as performance, particularly via the body-swap portion of the narrative in which Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) acts out her uber-feminine ways in big bear drag.
The relationship between the rebellious Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who is more interested in archery and horseback riding than in learning how to be a “proper lady,” and her very proper mother, the queen, captures the complexity of mother/daughter relationships and (mis)communication. Indeed, the film could serve as a companion text to Professor Deborah Tannen’s book You’re Wearing THAT?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation.
Noting that the book was inspired by a reporter asking her, “What is it about mothers and daughters? … Why are our conversations so complicated, our relationships so fraught?” Tannen wrote:
There is a special intensity to the mother-daughter relationship because talk–particularly talk about personal topics–plays a larger and more complex role in girls’ and women’s social lives than in boys’ and men’s. For girls and women, talk is the glue that holds a relationship together–and the explosive that can blow it apart. That’s why you can think you’re having a perfectly amiable chat, then suddenly find yourself wounded by the shrapnel from an exploded conversation.
In the film, Merida and Elinor have many such explosive conversations, with Merida railing against her mother’s attempts to imprison her in the princess box via directives such as, “A princess does not chortle … rises early … above all a princess strives for perfection. … A princess does not raise her voice.” In these exchanges, Elinor comes off not only as an overbearing uber-critical mother, but also as a defender of the patriarchy. However, referring to Tannen again, who speaks of her own mother’s focus on marriage, “I think she was simply reflecting the world she had grown up in, where there was one and only one measure by which women were judged successful or pitiable: marriage.”
Elinor’s quip to Merida, “It’s marriage. It’s not the end of the world,” reveals that she grew up in just such a world. And though the film is set in a mythic past, this is still largely true of our present–so much so that reviewers still have to insist, “The pinnacle of a woman’s achievement doesn’t have to always be a husband.” It is disconcerting that such a statement is still necessary here in 2012.
Also disconcerting is the same reviewer’s claim that, “For all the feminism, the boys will still get a kick out of the movie as well.” Ah, yes, ’cause feminism is sooooo off-putting, especially for the testicle-carrying pack. Thankfully, as Varietyput it, “This new Celtic princess comes off as enough of a tomboy to ensure near-universal appeal.” Wow! So male-centered films are “universal,” while ones with females at the helm better have a “tomboy” element so as to be appealing.
A similarly bewildering response is the attempt to “out” Merida as a lesbian simply because she doesn’t wish to marry. For instance, Indiewire claims “Merida goes out of her way to assure middle-American audiences that she is not a lesbian.” (I missed this assurance from Merida, or maybe my more hopeful feminist-viewing self chose not to see it.) More problematically, the reviewer suggests that, despite assurances, “She totally is [a lesbian] and the movie would have been much stronger if it had actually admitted it.” This “she must be a lesbian” read is reductive. Sure, it would be awesome to have a lesbian lead in a family-oriented film, but let’s not force Merida into a sexual-preference label just because she is more interested in horses than in her decidedly unappealing male suitors. To her credit, Merida seems more bent towards a queer take on love than beholden to fitting into any hetero or not-hetero label, as when she asks in a crowd-pleasing speech, “Might our young people decide for themselves who to love?”
What makes the film most brave is not its non-glorification of hetero-romance and it’s poo-pooing of gender norms but that it focuses on female characters relationships with other females. Finally! Yes, readers, this film passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.Not only does it give us a likeable, non-evil woodcarving witch (Julie Walters), it also gives us (gasp!) a mother that is not dead, not jealous, not vengeful and not absent, plus a heroine who does not need saving any more than she needs/wants a man. This is a rarity in any genre, but especially in animation. Sadly, this is what some reviews cite as the weakness of the film. Indiewire, for example, bemoans the focus on the mother/daughter relationship as simplistic:
The movie changes … going from the tale of a plucky young girl who discovers herself and her power (and causes everyone else to acknowledge the same) to being both broader and more simplistic. It’s now about the relationship between her and her mother (Pixar can never walk away from a good buddy movie set-up), and instead of a young girl’s empowerment it’s about things like responsibility, entitlement, selfishness and communication. Things get much, much less interesting.
I’m not sure when responsibility, entitlement, selfishness and communication became so uninteresting. Maybe this is linked to Hollywood as a largely male club where adventure, death count and special effects are what counts as “interesting.” I found the film’s focus on Merida refreshing–not to mention how beyond gleeful I was that Merida never hooks up with, nor shows interest in, male suitors. Furthermore, though she clearly loves her fun-loving hulk of a dad, Fergus, she also loves and defends her mother–unlike the mostly absent mother/father-focused females that precede her. (For example, as noted at Hypable, “Mulan fought in the Chinese army for her father’s honor. Tiana builds a restaurant in her dad’s memory.”) Merida, in contrast, defends her mother, stating defiantly to the evil man-bear Mordo, “I’ll not let you kill my mother.” Sheesh, if only she had been around to tell Walt and crew to keep mom alive.
In addition to its woman-centered tale, Brave also offers a funny take on gender as performance when the very prim and proper Elinor is transformed into a hulking bear with a decidedly non-feminine body. Despite her new furry form, Elinor still “performs” femininity, prancing and posing and doing her best to have “good manners” with her unwieldy claws as she eats berries and fish. Though she can’t speak (perhaps a sly wish-fulfillment on the part of many a daughter, let alone the male filmgoer/maker, that mothers–and women in general–were rendered mute), she is actually able to say volumes with her actions and gestures, allowing for real communication between her and Merida to finally occur. Once the words are out of the way, once the past arguments between mother and daughter become impossible, the way for true communication is made possible. This is no doubt partly due to the fact that Elinor is able to get outside her own role as queen–one she earlier bemoaned by telling Merida, “I can never get away with anything. …I am the example.” Merida, in turn, complains, “My whole life is planned out.” Hence, for both of these females, the role of being female is confining.
Masculinity doesn’t get away without critique either. Instead, men are shown as adopting various masculine tropes as they try to out-macho one another to win Merida’s hand. Their propensity for endless, pointless battle is also skwerered, as they fight their way through the entire film, chasing a bear that does not exist through the castle while unaware of the real adventure, or the real stakes, that are taking place in relation to Merida and Elinor.
Despite its rather groundbreaking depictions of a positive mother/daughter relationship and a princess that doesn’t give a fig for traditional romance, the film is getting a rather meh response. Variety claims, “Brave seems a wee bit conventional by comparison with, say, how radically The Incredibles reinvented the superhero genre … on par with such beloved male-bonding classics as Finding Nemo. The Hollywood Reporter bemoans the “standard-issue fairy tale and familiar girl-empowerment tropes,” arguing that the film “has played it safe instead of taking chances and going for something new.” The Indiewirereview cited above complains that as “it’s been this long since they’ve taken on a female protagonist … this really should have been a bolder, more experimental exercise.”
I didn’t find The Incredibles all that radical. White male hero–how experimental! And aiming to be “on par” with a male-bonding classic? Yeah, what we need is more films focusing on male bonding, with females as side candy.
As for the “familiar girl-empowerment tropes,” I wish these were more familiar. We need more girls who can hold their own, who rebel, who fight against being crammed into too-tight dresses and having their hair tamed (as Merida is forced to experience in the film).
I did find the film to be bold, and that is sad. It shouldn’t be a bold move to have a strong female protagonist–but, alas, it still is. As Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood notes, Pixar’s next three planned films will not be about women nor directed by women.
Much like Merida grouses to her mom, “Do you ever bother to ask what I want?,” I feel like asking Hollywood the same question. And I want to tell Hollywood to give us more characters like Merida, Katniss, Lisbeth and Elizabeth Shaw. Give us more good mothers, more complex females characters interacting with one another instead of with the hunk-o’-the month, more women of all ages and colors and sexualities that don’t need saving, and more dads like Fergus, who, instead of “protecting” their daughters, say things like, “Princess or not, learning to fight is essential.”
Princess or not, Merida is brave. So, too, is Elinor. Thank you, Pixar, for finally having the ovaries to peg a summer-tent-pole movie around female characters rather than giving us more Woody.
also if you’ve ever spent any time around crack fiends or meth tweakers, watched someone be arrested for dealing, or heard/witnessed/been in gang violence related to drugs, you know how damaging drugs can be to communities and homes and families. if you’ve ever…
look. i’m glad, i’m really REALLY glad that there’s a million emails in my inbox talking about the upcoming “drinks for vaginas” and “rallies for vaginas” events that are set to happen in michigan. i really am. there’s next to NO feminist movement in michigan, and as…
I picked up John Irving’s new book with a little trepidation, since I knew that one of the characters is it is a trans woman, and cis people writing about trans women never ends well. I’m 36 pages in, and I haven’t gotten to the part where they mention which character is trans, but I think…
I hate it when people mistake pansexuality for dating trans binary people, like pansexuality means something like "oh I'm merciful enough to date these excuses for actual binary genders". I know it's not their intent but eh, it pisses me off anyway. I can't say that lesbians that won't touch you aren't real lesbians, because it's their identity and such, but I can say they don't know what they're missing and they're awful with their transphobia.
I agree. Pansexuality is about openness to combinations of gender ID and expression that many bisexuals are not open to.
It’s perfectly valid for a lesbian to categorically reject trans women, but saying that lesbian = cis women implies that only cis women are really women and is transphobic. I really don’t care if someone has a fetish for a specific AAB gender status, but let’s call it what it is.
Those lesbians are closed-minded assholes. Pansexuals just want to separate ourselves from people like that, doesn't mean that there aren't lesbians out there that can understand that you are a woman. I have a gorgeous lesbian work friend that has dated trans people, 2 woman, and considers herself a lesbian. I'm sorry there are assholes out there, though.
Thanks. I know there are lesbians, both cis and trans, who do not categorically reject trans women. It’s just hard…
About no lesbians touching you, this is why pansexuals exist, to appreciate your sexy womanliness and your fantastic body. Good luck, just wanted to put something nice in your ask. I'm not on here much, but whenever I see your posts I think how much I would want to know you irl
Thank you for your message. But it’s utterly invalidating to my gender identity that lesbians feel their orientation precludes me.
The problem with cultural appropriation is that it replaces the original with a copy created by the dominant culture. It dilutes the original, removes all symbolic value from it and replaces it with a ready to consume product devoid of context and meaning.
Cultural appropriation, at its most extreme, is a violent form of colonization because it removes the original group behind the culture and reinforces stereotypes about that group (i.e. ALL First Nation folks are reduced to “war bonnets”, whether their culture uses them or not; all Latin@s are reduced to a stylized version of Catholicism regardless of their spirituality; etc.). The mechanism of commodifying a culture ends up being a tool to re-inforce [sic] racism as it reduces the people behind those cultures to a mere cartoon like representation of their realities. It’s a great way to ultimately Other and objectify entire groups of people by taking something that is dynamic and ever evolving and freezing it for a marketing photo opportunity.
This just came to mind during a conversation on Facebook, and I realised I need to tell people about it.
A couple of weeks ago, during the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, I was in a lesbian bar (Sisters, of course) with a couple of girlfriends, and we got involved in a casual conversation with two or three women next to us in the way that bar patrons will often trade tidbits about what’s on telly, or so. One of the women came up to me and very slyly made a remark about my body that left no doubt that she was cis and that she’d clocked me while she surreptitiously put her hand in my crotch just to satisfy her curiosity. I was wearing a short dress as a long top that falls just below my crotch over a pair of jeans.
I was so stunned by her behavior that my brain locked up, and since we were on our way out the door, the moment was over before I could even react. It wasn’t until a few minutes later, as I was walking down the block, that I realised what she’d just done, and the feelings of violation hit me like a ton of bricks.
I said nothing to my girlfriends, and I’m not sure if they saw it happen, but I haven’t been able to talk about it until now, when commenting on one of Pam Spaulding’s posts, where the subject of white people touching black women’s hair without consent came up. Here was what I said to preface the above remarks:
”I can sympathise. My Asian heritage has blessed me with skin that is very smooth compared to that of many of the white people I have known in my life, and it sometimes induces people who should know better to reach out and touch, and as a trans woman, people too often have laid their hands on various aspects of my body without consent or warning to assess their veracity, if you take my meaning.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about it all night. I was so embarrassed and ashamed, and after that night I’d blocked it out, until just now, when the memory was triggered.
To all my so-called “radical”, but actually reactionary, cisgender/cissexual political pretendbian lesbian cultural feminist chaser admirers who love to claim so often that trans women are by definiton dangerous sexual predators, go fuck yourselves. Cis women are just as capable and culpable of sexual assault as any other class of people, and trans women are the victims of these types of sexual assaults by other women far more often than you will ever understand or acknowledge.
To the woman who assaulted me, if you ever read this: You know who you are, and you had better hope you never come within my reach ever again, because if you do, I promise you, I won’t freeze.
I have such fucked up reactions to this that I need to process with someone.
“Tumblr just emailed me to let me know I might get suspended for “hate speech,” literally the weekend after they emailed me to say that people calling me a nigger doesn’t technically violate any of their rules.”—