Originally posted on r h i z o m i c o n 3 June 2011, 4:39 EDT

On Wednesday, I tweeted about a Pew Internet report on the US demographics of Twitter users. Just now {h/t:: LinnyQat}, I was informed of a new trending topic meme, #ghettospellingbee. There’s plenty of funny to be had, but the interesting thing I’ve noticed over the years is how memes cross cultural boundaries. First off, there’s a school of thought explained in this Slate article that says that blacks use Twitter differently::

“Black people—specifically, young black people—do seem to use Twitter differently from everyone else on the service. They form tighter clusters on the network—they follow one another more readily, they retweet each other more often, and more of their posts are @-replies—posts directed at other users. It’s this behavior, intentional or not, that gives black people—and in particular, black teenagers—the means to dominate the conversation on Twitter.”

So, these “blacktags” {perhaps made famous by #ifsantawasblack}  are more prone to go viral. According to Baratunde Thurston, the Web editor of the Onion::

“Twitter works very naturally with that call-and-response tradition—it’s so short, so economical, and you get an instant signal validating the quality of your contribution. (If people like what you say, they retweet it.)”

Where things get fuzzy is who can participate in the joke. I think things are more nuanced than being in stark terms of participants being “in-group” {black} versus “out-group” {non-black}, but more in terms of an ironic post-racial poking fun of cultural usage of language versus a poking fun of others for being out of the norms.
A few years back on NBC’s “The Office” {‘Diversity Day’, s01e02}, Michael Scott {Steve Carell} did a Chris Rock impression about blacks being racist against other blacks. This impression caused complaints, necessitating the staff to engage in diversity training under orders from corporate::

Mainstream culture is still figuring out where the lines are with respect to being racist, since one person’s context isn’t the same as another’s. This fuzzy area makes it easy for people to get slammed for what they don’t see as being as offensive—a more nuanced version of the “who can say the N-word” debate.
Twitterversion:: [blog] Explanation of how blacktags like #ghettospellingbee go viral. Demographics? Likely cause: usage & follow patterns. @Prof_K

{Hat tip:: LinnyQat} Republican strategist Jack Burkman and former NY Senator Al D’Amato, a Republican, went toe-to-toe on Fox Business. Burkman was rehashing arguments about US post office waste, but has a twist. He went after “unskilled Nigerians and Ethiopians” that he claims the US is “importing” and the massive unions protecting them. Burkman also claims that the post offices are used by politicians to plaster their names on them.

While D’Amato is actually for privatization of the post office {and public-private partnerships}, he berated Burkman for bringing national origin into the argument, as opposed to focusing on skills and organizational waste. D’Amato also said that Burkman hurts the cause with his remarks. Another panelist, attorney Tamara Holder, also in favour of privatization, found Burkman’s statements to be out-of-line and racist.

It appears that some libertarians or those with libertarian leanings are having less patience for wrapping economic arguments with jingoistic statements that are cheap ploys at stirring up emotions.

Twitterversion:: [blog] Fmr NY Senator Al D’Amato [R] goes after GOP strategist Jack Burkman for racist characterizations of postal workers. @ThickCulture @Prof_K

I like John McWhorter.  Even when I disagree with him (which is often), I at least think he is intellectually honest.  So here’s another example of me disagreeing with his honest assessment.  In McWhorter’s review of Amy Wax’s new book Race, Wrongs and Remedies

If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view. In 2004, the poverty rate among blacks who followed that formula was less than 6 percent, as opposed to the overall rate of 24.7 percent.

The implication of this is that the door is open for blacks people but, because of “culture,” many of them are simply not walking through it:

Even after hearing the earnest musings about employers who are less interested in people with names like Tomika, no one can gainsay the simple truth of that advice. Crucially, neither bigotry nor even structural racism can explain why an individual does not live up to it.

McWhorter seems to be asking why more black folks aren’t “walking through the open door.” The more important question is “why does the door appears closed to many in the black community?”  As a trained linguist, McWhorter  seems to put too much stock in language and symbol.  he seems to suggest that there is a black cultural hegemony of ill-advised behavior that explains disparities.   On this I agree in part.  While overt bigotry and structural racism might not be what they were a generation ago, the perception of the black-male as dangerous and the perception of the poor black single-mothers as a “welfare queen” still pervade in American society.  They may not be the only discourses about African-Americans, but they are still strong frames that hover around policy discourse.  Being confronted with these stereotypes directly, even once, has damaging consequences.  Here are the implications of a new study from the University of Toronto:

Even after a person leaves a situation where they faced negative stereotypes, the effects of coping with that situation remain,” Inzlicht said. “People are more likely to be aggressive after they’ve faced prejudice in a given situation. They are more likely to exhibit a lack of self-control. They have trouble making good, rational decisions. And they are more likely to over-indulge on unhealthy foods.”

Undoubtedly, if one can persevere past pernicious stereotypes, one can succeed.  This no doubt is the message of Bill Cosby’s now famous “pound cake” speech.  However, “culture”, which I take McWhorter to mean a tendency towards out-of-wedlock birth and criminality, is just one response to racial bias.  African-Americans also have the highest levels of religiosity of any group in the US, which I presume he’d think was a good thing.  A recent pew survey found that 79% of African-Americans surveyed viewed religion as central in their lives.

I think social critics like McWhorter spend a lot of time focusing on mal-adaptations to racial stereotypes rather than emphasizing the overwhelming number of heroic, positive adaptations to a challenging set of social circumstances.  Let’s not pretend that culture happens in a vacuum.  Structure informs culture.  The fact that there are 10 times as many African-American males in prison as White males is not simply reducible to culture and  discourse.   If you could swap the population of central city Detroit with one of it’s affluent suburbs, I daresay you might see a spike in school dropouts, teen pregnancy and criminality.  It’s not the whole explanation, but it’s not inconsequential either.

via Andrew Sullivan.

Last summer, the Obama Administration got embroiled in controversy with the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrest and Barack’s comments about the Cambridge police. This summer, Andrew Brietbart set off a chain reaction with clips of a video at a NAACP meeting that he felt showed how a black USDA official, Shirley Sherrod, was expressing racist views. Here’s Brietbart explaining his position on Sherrod’s talk and his allegations that the NAACP audience was “applauding her overt racism”, although he also acknowledges how she draws distinctions between the “haves” and “have nots” in the context of the story::

Subsequently, the Obama administration pressured her to resign.

Well, as it turns out, the clip wasn’t the whole story. Sherrod’s talk in its entirety is about bridging the race gap and how she had to come to terms with her own feelings. In the aftermath, the wife of the white farmer that Shirley referred to in the video and helped, Elouise Spooner, came forward and said that she did right by them::

When the story broke, I saw it in Toronto on CNN, which was only showing clips which were damning and those outraged at Sherrod’s “racism” at a NAACP meeting. It was a jaw-dropping story, how it was framed, but I wasn’t all that surprised when I saw how the story was more complicated and not at all surprised to hear that the Obama administration is backpedaling after figuring out the rest of the story. Apparently, CNN jumped on the bandwagon, throwing caution and good journalism to the winds::

“CNN’s Rick Sanchez said producers there were intrigued by Biggovernment.com’s posting and immediately started reporting on it. But with all the questions involved — Was this a fair characterization of Sherrod’s full speech? Can she be reached to give her side of the story? — they wouldn’t be ready to discuss it on his afternoon show until Tuesday, he said.

By then, the story rushed by.

“As journalists, we have to protect ourselves the best we can,” Sanchez said. “It’s easy for it to happen to anybody, by the way — jump to a conclusion, get excited, look at the coverage. It’s kind of like creating a bandwagon effect. Once you get on the bandwagon, you can’t hit the brakes. According to the SF Chron::

“CNN’s Rick Sanchez said producers there were intrigued by Biggovernment.com’s [Brietbart’s] posting and immediately started reporting on it. But with all the questions involved — Was this a fair characterization of Sherrod’s full speech? Can she be reached to give her side of the story? — they wouldn’t be ready to discuss it on his afternoon show until Tuesday, he said.

By then, the story rushed by.

‘As journalists, we have to protect ourselves the best we can,’ Sanchez said. ‘It’s easy for it to happen to anybody, by the way — jump to a conclusion, get excited, look at the coverage. It’s kind of like creating a bandwagon effect. Once you get on the bandwagon, you can’t hit the brakes.'”

So, while CNN and Fox were both focusing on the reverse racism angle of this story, Fox’s O’Reilly kicks it up a notch. He cites several stories that the mainstream media didn’t cover as a journalism fail and evidence of a left-leaning bias. Bill practically accuses other networks of embracing a leftist agenda over giving the audience what they want::

All of this frenzy even duped the NAACP, which initially denounced Sherrod. While the media, politicians, and organizations are quick to jump the gun on incendiary bombs like this, what gets lost are the issues at hand on race and the Tea party movement. It gets convoluted, as even ousted Tea Party Federation activist Mark Williams defended Sherrod, as the controversy swirled. At around 7:30 EDT, there were two “highest rated” comments on the full video {link to all comments}, which shows that views are being expressed that show that people aren’t willing to follow a us-them mentality with respect to the Tea party movement and the NAACP::

“I am a white, Christian, Tea Party conservative from Texas….and I must say that while I appreciate much of Mr. Breitbart’s work, he really blew this one with his selective editing. I appreciated much of what Ms. Sherrod said about racial perspectives from all fronts. She sounded like she was sharing honest feelings based on her background, and how she came to terms with that. She should get her job back! Most of the Tea Party folks that I’m around would feel the same way.”—spastikmunkey

“I’m an Old (57) White Male. After watching this, I believe it is wrong for Mrs. Sherrod to lose her job. Yes, she had – and has – some racial issues – especially understandable given what happened to her father – but her heart is good and she has worked to overcome them and do the right thing. I’m all about grace and allowing people to grow. I only hope that blacks will give whites the same room and understanding. It’s the only way we’ll ever achieve racial reconciliation of any depth.”—lostcause53

The actions of CNN and {allegedly} the Obama administration, given USDA deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook who phoned Shirley and told her the White House wanted her to resign since her comments were causing a controversy, show how the media and politicians are preoccupied with hype and spin, as opposed to getting the facts straight.

I think it’s easy to characterize any social movement in a stereotypical fashion, but I wonder how this plays out in an era of network politics. Where is the agency and what is the exact configuration of the Tea party movement when it comes to positions on race? Clearly, not everyone in the Tea party movement is on board with race as a wedge issue, but can any leader realistically speak for what is a confederation of localized grassroots activity?

Song:: The Style Council-‘Long Hot Summer’

Twitterversion:: [blog] Sherrod debacle highlights media & political #fail, but implications for social movements in networked politics?  http://url.ie/6unp @Prof_K

Montréal comic, Samir Khullar AKA "Sugar Sammy", www.themovienetwork.ca

Notes from north of 49ºN

“Sugar Sammy” is an Indo-Canadian comic with a cultural studies degree from McGill who wants to portray the visible minority experience in Québec. While getting some acclaim in the anglophone realm and even had had a HBO special, the multilingual Sammy {who speaks Hindi, Punjabi, English, and French}, was up for an Olivier award for Québec humour.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a Wind Mobile ad airing here in Canada that uses cultural stereotypes of south Asians as a part of its humour.  In that post, I brought up the Apu “problem”, where a Simpson’s character also uses cultural stereotypes to get laughs and to shill for 7-11 with a promotional tie-in in 2007. In this stand-up clip, Sammy goes after Apu and how it’s voiced by a non-South Asian {Hank Azaria} and how media portrayals of South Asians tend towards the weird {go to 3:05}::

While using race as fodder for comedy is nothing new, there’s arguably more room for alternative cultural narratives, particularly with the proliferation of social media. Sammy’s experience of being Indian in a francophone region of a predominantly anglophone country is a story of confluences of culture, politics, and power. In Québec, Bill 101/Loi 101 is the law of the land, where the primary language of instruction in the province is French, as part of attempts to make French language the norm in the province.

Mr. Khullar delivers his routines in flawless French, the result of being streamed into French school along with all the immigrant children in his multicultural neighbourhood of Côte-des-Neiges in Montréal. At the time, the lack of choice wasn’t a big hit in the Khullar household.

But today, the thirtysomething comic acknowledges it’s given him his chance at succeeding on home turf.

‘I’m a child of Bill 101,” he says. “I’m happy I went to French school, because my French wouldn’t have been this good. The more languages I speak, the more people I reach.'”

Sammy’s jokes hit themes where many anglophones would fear to tread—at least in front of an audience at a comedy show. He touches on the cultural stereotypes of the Québécois, but he can do so in perfect French::

video [French]:: “Les Québécois” skit, nominee for Olivier Award

While it may seem like a double-standard that Sammy can poke fun of cultural stereotypes of the Québécois and it seems offsides that the dominant culture poke fun of the South Asian stereotypes, one could say it’s a matter of the dynamics of cultural power and which group has it. Arguably, Sammy gets away with his comedic critiques with respect to Québec audiences because {1} he’s not anglo—i.e., he’s not a member of the dominant anglophone Canadian culture that many in Québec see as hegemonic and {2} he speaks perfect French.

Sammy didn’t win the Olivier award, but you’d be hard-pressed to know that if you just followed the anglophone press. I had to dig deep and use my rudimentary French to find the winners on the Radio-Canada {French CBC} site.

When it comes to comedy in Canada, I think it’s safe to say there’s one safe target no matter who you are. Americans. Of course, this a topic for another blog.

Song:: Malajube-‘St. Fortunat’

Twitterversion:: [blog] Multilingual Indo-Canadian comic Sugar Sammy negotiates cult. boundaries in post-Bill/Loi 101 Quebec #ThickCulture @Prof_K

This is video circulating that might turn into a meme, but it’s not that exciting. It involves a right-wing candidate for Parliament in the UK getting into an altercation with local South Asian youths. The British National Party candidate, Bob Bailey, made a reference to the youths as “robbers” that caused them to come over. After some words, one of them spat at Bailey and a scuffle ensued. It looks like nobody was hurt and just some egos got bruised.

I’m not sure if the youths even knew who Bailey was, but his views might explain his interest in engaging them. Last June, Bailey went on the record stating his concerns about Islam, how the “British” birth rate is below the Islamic birth rate in the UK, and his looking out for the white indigenous population of Britain {go to 1:33 to see Bailey in an interview-via Iranian PRESS TV}::

Bailey lost the election and finished in 4th. place. The Conservatives won the outer east London constituency of Romford.

Song:: The Specials-‘Simmer Down’

Twitterversion:: British National Party candidate taunts S.Asian youths, gets spat on, & a scuffle ensues—a perfect YouTube moment. @Prof_K

Notes from north of 49ºN

A shorter, more applied version of this appears on rhizomicon.

The above Wind Mobile commercial is for a Canadian cellphone carrier, competing with the big three, Bell, Rogers, and Telus. The humour is derived from characterizing the major wireless carriers as entities that turn a nominal charge into a much larger one with extra fees and charges. Another facet is the use of a South Asian hot dog vendor to make the point, using an accent and cultural stereotypes familiar in North America. The South Asian-Canadian population was 4% of the population in 2006, categorized as visible minorities., i.e., visibly not one of the majority race in a population.

Is this Wind commercial offensive?

This reminds me of a 2007 Guardian UK piece by Manish Vij criticizing the use of The Simpson’s character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon by 7-11 as part of a tie-in promotion.

“Apu is quite a unique character on The Simpsons. Unlike the show’s parodies of policemen and Irish-Americans, he’s the only character to mock a small American minority relatively unknown in the mainstream, and he’s by far the most visible immigrant. For desis (South Asians) growing up in America, just one eighth as concentrated and visible as in the UK, Apu shadowed us at every turn. Until the rise of American Idol chanteur Sanjaya Malakar, Apu was the most widely-known Indian after Mahatma Gandhi. And he has that fake Peter Sellers simulacrum of an Indian accent: Apu’s voice Hank Azaria, a Greek-American, is a brown man doing a white man doing a brown man.

To be sure, Apu has many redeeming qualities: a loving wife, passive-aggressive cunning, and a Ph.D. Culture-vulture Simpsons fans have felled entire forests in arguing that he’s a parody of a stereotype, rather than the stereotype itself. But the plain fact is that most viewers are laughing at Apu, not with him. They’re enjoying the simple pleasures of a funny, singsong brown man with a slippery grasp of English.”

Manish states that not all South Asians were against the promotion, but quotes a post on an online 7-11 franchise forum::

“This is an absolute embarrassment for our company… The vast majority of franchisees are immigrants… [A]ccepting our portrayal of Apu is nothing less [than] accepting the images portrayed years ago in the US of black people with very black faces, big lips and white teeth… [T]hat image is considered racist, so does Apu [seem] to me… I cannot imagine any store willing to rebrand to Kwik-E-Mart even for a day… I am not proud to be part of this promotion.”

Some commenters on the Guardian’s site and elsewhere this was discussed were quick to say the reaction is overly-PC and that The Simpsons have poked fun of the Scots with Groundskeeper Willie.

It’s easy to get into pissing matches about who one can and cannot make fun of in a post-racial world, isn’t the real issue about cultural power, privilege, and dominant and dominated positions? Does the rise of black cultural power in the US explain why outrageous stereotypes and iconography are now taboo? While some may eyeroll at complaints by groups that point out racism as overly-PC, isn’t protesting/complaining one means of how cultural power is obtained/negotiated?

The problem is that the stereotypes often serve to reinforce unflattering or negative attitudes towards a stigmatized outgroup. So, in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle {2004}, despite Kumar being an upper-middle class medical school candidate who speaks perfect English without an accent, local thugs use cultural power to harass him with the taunt,”thank you, come again.” Later in the film, Kumar used the taunt ironically right back at his harassers::

The lines of cultural power and privilege can get blurry. Media and advertising infuse meaning and shape attitudes, but what’s a marketer/advertiser to do? The use of stereotypes is meant to increase the efficacy of the communication, i.e., ideally the content resonates more with the audience. On the other hand, should marketers and advertisers steer clear of using stereotypes in a non-ironic way, in order to protect the brand from being labelled as insensitive? Some might say that those who take offense need to “get over it,” but before someone goes on the record as saying that, perhaps they should ask themselves how much cultural power they have.

Twitterversion:: Wind Mobile hotdog cart ad in Canada uses stereotypes to make a humourous pt. Is it offensive or benign? #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: M.I.A. -‘World Town’

Bully {2001}

In the early 2000s, there were two films that came out, Bully {2001} and Thirteen {2003} that were cautionary tales about the darkside of teen life and bad influences. I’ve noticed that in the media recently, bullying is getting quite a bit of attention recently, with a focus on suicides, suicide attempts, and the use of the Internet, i.e., cyberbullying, which got widespread media attention with the Megan Meier suicide catalyzed by Lori Drew’s creation of a fake persona.

I’ve been watching how the media portrays these cases, often focusing on white and/or middle-class incidents, which is part of the “shock and awe” of the story. The narrative is that your kids aren’t safe where they should be—in school, public or private.

A few weeks ago, I was watching an Anderson Cooper special on CNN, where he returned to the Hollenbeck neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Anderson wasn’t talking about bullying, but about gangs.

Bullies and gangs often use similar tactics to instill terror and intimidation, but gangs are often made distinct by their “criminal activity.” The motives are linked to similar needs for perceived control, belonging, and identity. Is this an artificial distinction, one of degree and not of kind? I think so and I feel that if the media were portray suburban bullies like gangland thugs, there would be a backlash tied to attitudes surrounding class and race.

Anyone who has read Geoffrey Canada’s Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America {1995} {Amazon.ca} could see the social structure, habitus, and behavioural parallels between bullying in suburban schools and Canada’s recounting of growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s. This is a good summary of one of Canada’s anecdotes about growing up:

“One day his two older brothers came back from the playground. ‘Where’s John’s jacket?’ their mother asked. John answered, ‘A boy took it.’ She asked Daniel, ‘And what did you do when this boy was taking your brother’s jacket?Daniel muttered, ‘I didn’t do nuthin’. I told Johnny not to take his jacket off. I told him.’ ‘My mother exploded. ‘You let somebody take your brother’s jacket and you did nothing? That’s your younger brother. You can’t let people just take your things. You know I don’t have money for another jacket. You better not ever do this again. Now you go back there and get your brother’s jacket.’ Though his older brothers were both smaller than the playground bully, they got the jacket back. Their mother gathered them around and told them they had to stick together, ‘she would not tolerate our becoming victims.’ That philosophy of ghetto parents he summarized as, ‘Accept it, this is a violent world, so teach (children) to cope by acting more violently than the others.'” [*]

Canada goes on to describe how the institutions in the neighbourhood, schools, police, etc., aren’t factored into the social order for various reasons, cultivating feelings of powerlesness and fueling taking matters into one’s own hands, i.e., violence. Again, I see parallels here with the bullying being portrayed in the media. While some may argue that the parallels fall apart with cyberbullying, I disagree. The warfare of bullying is a psychological violence, which can have just as deadly consequences. Technology isn’t the enemy though. It’s the social institutions enabling the behaviours.

Twitterversion:: Bullying is media darling now, but what about insights re: gangs? Is drawing that parallel too radioactive? #ThickCulture  @Prof_K

Song:: Belle & Sebastian-‘We Rule the School’

The United States of america at the time of the Civil War

The Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, is currently under fire from some by renewing a tradition ignored by his Democrat predecessors by declaring April as Confederate History Month. Ah, perhaps someone will take a droll jab with a T.S. Eliot reference to April being the cruelest month .

My take is on this is what’s the Governor’s approach to recognizing Confederate history? It is a celebration or a sober reflection? If one thinks about it, the month could be coöpted by those with a less celebratory take on that era.

It was about a year ago, I was working on a project and in the background, this “odd” documentary came on IFC. Odd, in that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It happened to be the 2004 “mocumentary”, C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. It was a tongue-in-cheek early 2000s look at what if the South won the Civil War, told from an outside British perspective. The idea is that the film was so controversial, it was banned. Now {in 2004}, the ban was lifted and can be shown on network television, with more Confederacy satire. Not surprisingly, the Weinstein Company had a hand in this Kevin Wilmott film {part 1 of 9}::

Parts 2-9 are on YouTube and the DVD is available at Amazon.

Not to get all postmodern, but this is an example of how the metanarrative is dead. While there may be power in the term of “Confederacy” and its iconography, ultimately that meaning is up for grabs and can be contested and subverted. Although, it also matters in how symbols are used, e.g., to intimidate or alienate, which is a whole different Oprah.

Twitterversion:: VA Governor declares Apr. as Confederate History Month—controversy ensues.Is this a matter of perspective? #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Luda-‘Welcome to Atlanta’ {I still think Jermaine Dupri sounds like a bit like Urkel}

Montréal Habs fans on RDS network wearing "Subbanator" jerseys in support of P.K. Subban, from Deadspin.

Notes from North of 49ºN

A few days ago, a mini-controversy erupted when this vidcap from the sports network RDS started making the rounds. Here’s the Deadspin article. Two Montréal Canadiens {nicknamed Habitants or Habs} fans donned the jersey of a hot prospect, P. K. Subban, who happens to be Jamaican Canadian. They also painted their faces black and wore afro wigs.

Toronto Mike blogged about the incident and one of the Habs fans came on to comment. The words got pretty heated, but in the end, the fan apologized and Habs and Leafs fans once again could resume their hockey-based hatred of one another.

What struck me as interesting was how this drama played out. The French language cable network covering the 11 March game against the Edmonton Oilers chose to air 10 seconds of the two friends. Was the intent to be controversial? Was the intent to be a facepalm moment? The back-and-forth on Toronto Mike’s blog was interesting, as the polarizing effect of race brought up assumptions about the Habs fan and his intent by commenters. In the end, I thought the Habs fan handled himself well, given how people were responding and what was being said. Toronto Mike did a good job of not divulging the fan’s name. This was one of those rare moments where Web 2.0 seemed to actually foster a dialogue and didn’t degenerate into a protracted flame war. That said, it wasn’t always pretty, but a lot prettier than what one typically sees on news article comments on issues of race, which are often tantamount to text equivalent strangers yelling at each other at the top of their lungs in an open hall.

Here on ThickCulture, we have examined race in the post-racial era. Racism isn’t dead, it’s just gotten to a late stage where there is a consciousness about what is offensive and debates of this now enter into the public discourse space. I get a sense that race gets so intertwined with speech and knowledge structures that it often becomes a confusing and convoluted morass for many. This impinging upon liberties of speech, in terms of what one can and cannot say or should and should not say, creates a tension, which may result in a backlash.

Where are the lines in the post-racial era? Here in Toronto, last fall there was a party where a group of guys dressed up as the Jamaican bobsled team, depicted in the film, Cool Runnings {1993}. This story caused a stir and points were argued through social media comments on whether or not this was racist.

Photo of Halloween partygoers dressed as the Jamaican bobsled team inspired bu the film Cool Runnings {1993}, MacleansOnCampus

Four guys darkened their skin and one guy lightened his. The Torontoist chronicles how the story unfolded and offers a tutorial on what blackface is and its cultural significance. The students offered their explanation for their choice of costume::

“First and foremost we would like to apologize if anyone was offended…Throughout our childhood, Cool Runnings was something we reflected on with fond memories and therefore in the process [of] choosing Halloween costumes, seemed to be a promising candidate. With this idea in mind, we took notice of how the primary cast, consisting of four black characters and one white character, coincided with our group ratio of four white and one black member. This sparked the idea to add another comedic element to the costume, and have the black student go as John Candy and the white students going as the four bobsledders. At this point, several of us was already of aware of what blackfacing was and therefore took out various means of investigation to further our knowledge of the topic and ensure that what we were doing be doing may not be considered similar in anyway. The conclusion that we came to that simply painting our faces dark brown would not be a portrayal of blackface….understand that we did not act in a negative or stereotypical manner [at the party]. We acted ourselves the whole night, and did not internalize the characters.”

Here’s the theatrical trailer for Cool Runnings::

University of Toronto Sociology professor Rinaldo Walcott offered a different take::

“I think that in particular [Cool Runnings] became a part of the popular culture imagination of [white] Canadians in a way that [they] took responsibility for that film as though it was somehow an extension of them. And one of the reasons that I think Canadians identified with that film so deeply is because that film weathered something that many white Canadians come to believe strongly—that black people don’t actually belong here. That we are an insertion into a landscape that is not actually an landscape where we naturally fit.”

“For black people who understand this history [of blackface], Cool Runnings was never a funny film; it in fact replicated all of the techniques of blackface. It is in fact one of the ways that we have come to see that blackface does not require painting of blackface anymore. Just look at the work of Marlon Riggs. We know that in North America there is a deep resonance around producing images of black people that make black people look disgusting. Cool Runnings is a milder version of that. So we should ask… why do they remember Cool Runnings so fondly?”

Post-racial means navigating these choppy waters where intent collides head-on with history and its interpretations. Not to get all postmodern here, but while the metanarrative is dead, social media is a site where clashing mini-narratives that structure perceptions of the world, culture, society, etc. battle it out. I think the fellow Contexts blog Sociological Images is a social media site where clashing mini-narratives are de rigueur. I’m wondering if we will ever “get over” issues of race. I’m beginning to think we won’t, given globalization, etc., but perhaps it’s due to the fact that what this is really all about is identity.

What troubles me more than this is when the “right” language is used by individuals doing so strategically. The talk is talked, but the walk isn’t walked. That’s a topic for another blog.

Twitterversion:: RDS airs footage of Habs fan dressing to resemble P. K. Subban —controversy ensues. Social media mediates differences. @Prof_K

Song:: Fun Boy Three/Bananarama-“It Ain’t What You Do, But It’s the Way That You Do It”