In our post devoted to vintage douche ads, we present a number of examples of such ads that warn women that if they do not take steps to control their smelly, disturbing girly parts, they risk permanently alienating their male partners. Such ads encourage women to feel shame and anxiety about their bodies, which require constant vigilance or they become offensive to men.
Jeff S., Saed A., and Yvette send in a Indian commercial for Clean and Dry Intimate Wash that includes the same theme. The commercial starts out with a despondent-looking woman who cannot get her male companion’s attention. But a quick shower is just the trick; Clean and Dry apparently lightens as it deodorizes, with the word “fairness” appearing as the darkish smudge on the cartoon image magically disappears. According to the product description,
To be used while showering, its special pH-balanced formula cleans and protects the affected area, and even makes the skin fairer. Life for women will now be fresher, cleaner, fairer!
And presto! She’s confident, sassy, and suddenly has her boyfriend’s full attention; all is right with the world:
Norton Sociology recently posted an image that illustrate differences in rates of imprisonment in a number of countries. Imprisonment rates are influenced by a number of factors — what is made illegal, how intense law enforcement efforts are, preference for prison time over other options, etc. The U.S. does not compare favorably, with 74.3 per 100,000 10,000 of our population behind bars (click here for a version you can zoom in on, and sorry for the earlier typo!):
Here’s a close-up of the breakdown of the U.S. prison population:
I’m still trying to work my way through my discomfort and analyze exactly where my discomfort of this Sociological Images post is coming from, so if this critique seems a bit scattered, it’s because my thoughts about it, at the moment, are that way.
First: I agree with where the post is coming from, in that the disenfranchised rarely ever have a voice of their own in mainstream Western culture, are always portrayed as the Other, which is defined as everything that said mainstream Western culture isn’t (at best as something that props it up and provides an aesthetically pleasing contrast, at worst as something that must be exterminated). And this leads to remarkably similar cycles of dehumanization and disenfranchisement. As so many minority thinkers/activists have noted, manufactured binaries between the privileged West and everyone else, even seemingly positive ones, ultimately end up reinforcing destructive hierarchies.
Where I disagree with the poster is the framing, which I feel makes the post, in some ways, as reductive as what it’s critiquing. Because there are different contexts in which the above cycle/process of exotification occurs, and those contexts matter and shouldn’t be handwaved, even (and I would say especially) if you’re taking the pov of the white outsider and attempting to deconstruct it. Social justice discourse loses its meaning when it becomes divorced from one of power relations.
In this specific example, while making its comparison of India as a magical negro, the post fails to both note and appreciate the following bits of context:
That both the main white actress and the main desi actor in the film are British, with Dev Patel adopting an Indian accent and playing the part of a “native”. That all the featured Indian characters are coded as middle/upper class (the dress, able to speak fluent English, etc) and light skinned. That in many ways this is how India is actively marketed by its tourism sector (and also its government. Did a project once which involved collecting promo material from the Indian consul — I think in Chicago? — and it was quite hilariously illuminating), because they’ve judged that this type of pandering will bring in the tourist dollars.
And this exotification of India in the West has been happening since before the time of Columbus, and reducing said things to a “phenomenon in which a white character in a tv show or movie finds enlightenment…” seems rather glib. (Just because it appears in tvtropes does not mean TV created it!) And that’s not even getting into how most isms seem to inevitably become just like the racism that blacks (had) face(d) in the US.
I also thought it was telling how none of the links elaborating on the “magical negro” trope went to one of the many black writers who’ve done the major work of deconstructing and dissecting it, much less linking to desi writers talking about colonialism and othering.
So what my disagreement boils down to, I think, is this: that this is a discussion about the Othering/exotification of India in mainstream Western culture that succeeds in further marginalizing/disenfranchising desis and other minorities. It doesn’t consider that we might be among the audience for this post (much less making room in the conversation for us, much less acknowledging all the times we’ve already discussed this), and in the way it takes something that rose out of certain contexts, misidentifies said contexts while applying it to different ones with no mention of the consequences of the differences, makes it, again, similar to what it’s aiming to critique.
And it brings home the point that, for all its social justice aims, this is a blog for a specific group of white people, by a specific group of white people, with all the marginalizations that entails.
Another note: it is interesting to read the comments, to see all the places East/West binaries crop up. For example, this comment (which thankfully was critiqued):
So, this is probably why you’ll never find a movie about a Westerner in Latvia trying to find himself- “finding oneself” usually requires immersing oneself in a setting completely different from the everyday humdrum norm.
I do find India humdrum normy, actually. And infrastructure specifically designed to ape the west is increasingly common in cities, and you can always find people in the touristy parts who speak English and cater to Western tastes in a thousand and one ways. (Actually, you won’t need to find them, if you are white they will find you and you will not be able to escape them!) Latvia, I am assuming not so much?
I feel as if the manufactured differences that so many Westerners create for India, while completely missing the deeper and more significant ones, are part of the same binary that Fanon was talking about when he said: “The settler is all that is good and of value. The native is the negation of the settler’s value”. And a lot of the appeal of India, the reason for it not being “everyday humdrum normy”, is that it still gives middle class white Westerners who go there chances to personally experience the colonial British sahib lifestyle.
The phrase “Magical Negro” refers to the phenomenon in which a white character in a tv show or movie finds enlightenment through the wisdom of a Black character. It is widely considered an offensive trope in which Black people — imbued with special spiritual, religious, or primitive powers of insight, often ostensibly due to some disadvantage like poverty — serve only to support a white person’s transformation. The white person, and their ultimate redemption, remains the central story.
I couldn’t help but think of this when I watched the trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, sent in by Katrin. In this trailer, the Magical Negro isn’t a Black person; it’s not even a person. It’s the entire country of India.
Yesterday I posted about U.S. immigration trends, updated through 2010. Following up on that, Dolores R. found another immigration-related post by KPCC…this time, a look at the wait time to get a family-sponsored immigration visa. With the removal of strict, racialized quotas in 1965, the U.S. turned to a policy based on a set of priorities for deciding who would be granted a visa; among the various categories was a preference for those who had sponsoring relatives already living in the U.S., with different visas and priorities based on family relationship:
F1 = unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens
F2A = spouses and children (under age 21) of permanent residents
F2B = unmarried adult children of permanent residents
F3 = married adult children of U.S. citizens
F4 = siblings of adult U.S. citizens
According to the U.S. State Department, the annual minimum family-reunification visa target is 226,000 (note that this excludes spouses, parents, and minor children of U.S. citizens, who are highest priority for immigration and are exempt from immigration caps). The Immigration and Naturalization Act requires that family-sponsorsed (as well as employer-sponsored) visas be granted in the order that eligible potential immigrants applied. Unsurprisingly, many years there are more eligible applicants than there are available visas, leading to a backlog of individuals who qualify to immigrate but are waiting for a visa to become available. In particular, China, Mexico, India, and the Philippines are “oversubscribed,” meaning there is a significant backlog.
How long? The table below shows the cut-0ff date for visa applicants in each category as of January 2012. That is, the dates given here are the date by which a person had to apply to finally have a visa available this month; the 2nd column shows for all areas excluding the four countries singled out because of their particularly long wait times:
The least oversubscribed visa category is the F2A, where those now receiving visas will have waited a bit under 3 years. But look at some of the other dates listed. For F1, F2B, and F3 visas from Mexico, the people now at the head of the line have been waiting nearly two decades, having applied in 1992 or early 1993. F4 applicants from the Philippines have been waiting almost a quarter century, since 1988.
This is part of the reason why undocumented immigration continues, and arguments about fairness and waiting their turn in line may not be particularly compelling to individuals who want to reunite with family members in the U.S. Waiting a year, or two, or five, may seem reasonable. If you learn there’s a 20-year wait, the cost/benefit analysis of whether to wait for the visa to come through or to find other means may shift significantly, regardless of how otherwise law-abiding a person might be.
It’s the kind of finding to warm the hearts of us liberal, Larry-Summers-hating, gender-egalitarians. Summers — you saw him in “The Social Network” as the Harvard president who had no patience for the Winklevoss twins (he didn’t have much patience for Cornell West either and probably many other things) — suggested that the dearth of women in top science and engineering positions was caused not so much by social forces as by innate sex differences in math ability (more here and many other places).
As others were quick to point out, those differences are greater in societies with greater gender inequality. That’s why the math gender gap in the U.S. has become much narrower over time. In societies with greater equality, like Sweden, Norway, and Israeli kibbutzim, the male-female gap in math disappears. But even in those societies, males still score higher on one type of mathematical skill: spatial reasoning.
I’m sure that evol-psych has some explanation for why male brains evolved to be more adept at spatial reasoning. I’m equally sure that those who favor social explanations can find residual sexism even in Sweden to explain spatial differences. That’s why a field experiment reported last summer is so interesting.
The research team (Moshe Hoffman and colleagues, pdf) tested people from two tribes in northern India — the Karbi and the Khasi. These had once been a single tribe but had split recently — a few hundred years ago. (Recent is a relative term, and we’re talking evolution here.) So they were similar economically (subsistence farming of rice) and genetically.
The Karbi are patrilineal. Only the men own property, and they pass that property to their sons. Males get more education.
Khasi society is matrilineal. Men turn their earnings over to their wives. Only women own property, which is passed along only to daughters. Males and females have similar levels of education.
Researchers went to four villages of each tribe, recruited subjects to solve this puzzle:
They offered an additional 20 rupees if the subject could solve the puzzle in 30 seconds or less.
In the patrilineal society, women were much slower to solve the puzzle than were men. But among the matrilineal Khasi, the difference was negligible.
I’m not sure how much weight to give this one study, mostly because of sample size. Is the sample the 1300 villagers who worked the puzzle? Or is it 1 – one inter-tribal comparison? But the results are encouraging, at least for those who argue for greater gender equality.
by Guest Blogger Christie Barcelos, Sep 14, 2011, at 10:19 am
According to a 2008 market research study, 72% of yoga practitioners in the U.S. are women; 71% are college educated and 27% have postgraduate degrees; and 44% have annual incomes of $75,000 or more. Yoga practitioners, then, do not reflect the general population.
As she points out, the historical progression of covers illustrates how the magazine started out with explicit connections to India and traditional yogis (below) and gradually moved towards featuring (and thus creating) western yoga superstars.
Of the 186 Yoga Journal covers that include a photograph (not an illustration) 78% show only white people. Though a 1997 issue with a story on “yoga in the inner-city” features a man of color:
66% of single-person photos are of a woman. At least two covers include a story on yoga for people who aren’t necessarily young, thin, and able-bodied, but show a photograph women who are.
Although the feminization of yoga has been noted (and conversely, the need to masculinize yoga in order to appeal to men), it is rarely acknowledged that while women make up the majority of yoga practitioners, studio owners are more likely to be men. Moreover, yoga superstars, such as Bikram Choudhury (the creator of the Bikram style of yoga practiced in a heated room), with incomes in the multi-millions, are overwhelmingly men.
In addition, while most yoga practitioners are female, the language of yoga is male, and assumes a gender-conforming (and often athletic and thin) body. Some bloggers have called attention to raced, classed, gendered, sizist, and trans-phobic practices in American yoga culture that can be alienating and discouraging to current or would-be yogis, thus denying the potentially therapeutic elements of yoga to much of the U.S. population. For example, the costs associated with yoga practice (classes, equipment, etc.) make it out of reach for most low-income people, while the gendered way that yoga philosophy understands the human body can make it uncomfortable for some transgender folks.
So, through the past 35 years of Yoga Journal covers, we can see how the representation of yoga in America both creates and reinforces a symbolic understanding of a practice intended for a very particular audience.
Christie Barcelos is a doctoral student in Public Health at the University of Massachusetts who rarely sees anyone who looks like her in yoga class.