All posts by kwiatekbeth

A white woman interested in changing the conversation, and much more.

Selling Whiteness

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     What is up with the popular resurgence of images from the post World War II and the pre-rights era (civil, women, LGBTQ, American Indian, etc.)  in our country? The desire for this nostalgic throwback in “time”, with it’s almost total absense of people of color, and especially the absence of our violent racial history — a literal and figurative whitewashing — speaks to popular culture’s desire to perpetuate and sell Trump’s mantra of Making America Great Again. These images are everywhere.  And we know is who is buying them: white Americans.

     The creation, production, and reception of images is important. Images become a kind of memory.  They render, imitate, interpret, and preserve. They hold, unchanged.  Image making  functions as the tool for the construction of identities. But, what happens when those images are created by the dominant culture? And, what happens when those images are reproduced ad nauseam?

     They reinforce the “histories”, ideas, values, and perceptions of those who control cultural and political production. 

     Try an experiment.  Google “Retro Images” and see what pops up. White America. Open items on the menu bar: Christmas, Woman, Good Morning, Diner, Party, Baby, Easter, and even Groovy and Cool, and you will immediately find images of white people.  It is as if people of color never existed.   

     Also, what does our culture’s hunger for retro images, items, and products really mean?  There seems to be a white collective belief that “everything old is cool again”.  The 20th Century may have been a time of technical and medical innovations, but it was also a century of race-wars and race politics.  The luxury of being white is the belief that one can step outside of the history of race and racism.  The luxury of being white is to pretend to be “color-blind”: as if one does not notice the color of skin, just the content of character.  The hypervisibility of white culture in retro media and images creates and promotes more than just an aesthetic.  It creates and promotes a history that is absent of race, racism, and racial upheavel. It creates and promotes of culture of whiteness as normal, desirable, and American. And, most importantly, it creates and promotes the idea that  anything and everything that is white is superior. 

 The flood of Retro  games available speaks to a collective desire for the past. But, whose past?

     

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You read that right! 2019

 

     “When I was in elementary school, this white, owning-class family was presented to me — a southern, semi-rural, poor American Black — as an opportunity to learn to read and at the same time to understand what the typical American family experience was.  Of course, when I was in elementary school, I didn’t know that most white Americans were not living like that — and I think that most of my Black teachers believed in the Dick and Jane story too.”                                                                                  

Clarissa Sligh, Artist

     Retro images that are produced and re-produced do affect our culture. It doesn’t matter if they are tongue-in-cheek spoofs , a Little Treasure or a self-help book sold at Barnes & Noble, or a design concept from Architectural Digest

 

     They perpetuate a false history and narrative of American culture.  They create a cultural climate; they contribute to a culture of whiteness that becomes synonymous with family, love, home, style, wealth, desire, identity, and especially nation. 

     The celebration and glorification of all things white is what lies behind the Make America Great Again movement.  To paraphrase the brilliant historican, activist, and Harvard scholar, Dr. Henry Louis Gates;

“Eight years of a Black president drove a lot of people crazy!”

     Celebrating a white-washed past of a literal raceless America, and longing for a childhood world that did not exist, is much more appetizing to the general white public than joining a white nationalist group. The examination of this popular trend is uncritical and unsophisticated. Critical analysis is reduced to sentimental commentary;  with the worst being; “it is dated” and the best being; “they bring back delightful memories of childhood”. Again, I ask, delightful for whom? Again I write, the “I” is always white. 

 

(And to think I purchased my sticky notes folio at a World Market store in Phoenix.)

An Open Letter to that shop keeper in Arizona

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Dear DeTrading Post Shop Owner,

    You made my friend and I smile when you handed back change from our purchase. You said, “1967.  It was a good year”.  When I asked you why you thought that, you said, “Because everybody was hopeful then.  We believed that things were going to get better.  We treated each other with respect.”  It was sweet to hear. 
    

     I thought the small talk was over. I really didn’t want to engage.  I wanted to take my purchase (a lovely leather and bead bracelet) and get back out into that gorgeous sun, heat, and blue, blue, sky. But, you continued with your commentary.  I assumed you were going to complain about Trump’s tweeting, the border wall, or even the Mueller report.  It was clear from your accent that English was not your first language.  I assumed you were either Native-American or from South America. Arizona may be a Republican state but most non-whites who live there identify as democrat or liberal or Mexican. However, you threw us for a loop when you asked us if we knew who  “Adam’s first wife was?”.  I did know the answer. “Lilith”, I said.

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So pretty. And, only $30. I wonder how much the artisan made?

          Apparently you mistook my response for an invitation to share your ideas. Lilith, you told us, was evil. You warned us about the evil that exists in this country. And, here is where the conversation got really scary.  You complained that we have “Muslims in our government and the next thing you know we are going to have Sharia Law in our country.” I countered with the first thing that came into my vacation-addled brain.  “So, are you okay with the U.S. doing business with Saudi Arabia?”   I  cannot remember what you answered. You blamed, “Bill, Hitlery, and Obama” for bringing “Muslims into this country.” “Hitlary?” Yes. “Hitlary Clinton, who is just like Hitler”.

     I continued to listen to you politely. You extolled the virtues of Judaism and said it was the most progressive of all world religions. You made a joke about Jewish women being closer to God than Jewish men. You also said: that you loved Trump; that Trump is helping us to see who our real enemies are; this country is the best country in the world; and that you would die for this country.  You ended your monologue by saying “If people don’t like it here then they can go back to where they came from”.  I made no gesture of annoyance or discomfort. I just kept smiling. When you were finished, I thanked you for sharing your thoughts, shook your hand, and exited your shop.

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     Do you remember me shopkeeper? I was the woman wearing the Free Palestine t-shirt. Now that my vacation has ended, and I have had time to think about our “conversation”, I would like to ask you several questions.

  1. Why do you think my friend and I were interested in what you had to say?
  2. You don’t want Muslims in our country? How about in our golf clubs?
  3. Because Harvey Weinstein was Jewish, are all Jewish men rapists?
  4. How is Hillary Clinton like Adolph Hitler? 
  5. Why start with a question about the Old Testament? Why not the Egyptian Book of the Dead? 
  6. Did you know Lilith’s origins lie in ancient Babylonia and that she doesn’t appear in Jewish sources as Adam’s first wife until the Middle Ages?
  7. Have you studied the religious beliefs of Native Americans?  I think they can make that claim of being the most progressive.  
  8. Did you know the U.S. Constitution was shaped by the Iroquois Great Law of Peace?belt
  9. How did you get into the business of selling Native American jewelry and artifacts?
  10. If Native Americans don’t like living in the United States, where should they go?
  11. How can the U.S. be the best country in the world when according to The United Nations Human Development Index, the U.S. News & World Report, The Economist, The Social Progress Imperative, Numbeo and Wikipedia, the U.S. is not even ranked in the “Top Ten” when it comes to quality of life?
  12. What is with the “De” in the name of your shop? 
  13. How can you like Trump when he has broken most if not all of the Ten Commandments?

     Thank you for reading my questions.  I hope my letter helps you for the next time you talk with your customers about political issues.

Peace Out,

iiswhite

Fashion Is White

     This is my response to the dreadful Fashion Focus column by the Home and Style Editor, Susan Martin, of the The Buffalo News.  If you read it, you would think that the only “fashions”  worth reporting are those worn by mostly white, middle-class, shop or gallery owning, suburban-looking types. Most, who I assume, are her friends.

https://buffalonews.com/topic/fashion-friday/

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Fashion Focus brought to you by me…

Meet the professor who according to

Rate My Professor 

“Is cooler than the flip-side of a pillow”.

 

Henry Taylor in Office

Name:  Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., Ageless

Who He Is:  A Black-Marxist Intellectual, Scholar, Full-Professor, Writer, Activist

     Soldier, Warrior, and probably someone’s lover.  Or depending on your perspective, a really scary, and angry Black guy.  A Tennessee native with a penchant for raining on people’s parades, who came to Buffalo because the struggle is really happening here. He’s won multiple awards and is affiliated with numerous professional organizations.  You will not find him at The Buffalo Club.  Nor is he an “Uncrowned King”. 

     He can’t sing and he can’t dance.  But, he can act. He knows all the lines to The King and I.  He can whoop your ass ‘cause he knows karate.  He exercises regularly to maintain a level of fitness that keeps him ready to work at all hours of the night, and morning, and day, and evening.  Oh, and he drives a little sports car that he named, “El Diablo”.

He is a black cat: smooth, singular, and indifferent. 

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What He’s Wears:

     Whatever the fuck he wants! The important question is what he won’t wear: a Polo golf-shirt, a suit with a tie, Sperry boat-shoes, socks with sandals (unless it’s really cold in the office because the air-conditioning is on and no one else is around), a leather logo jacket, a sweater vest, or anything that is defined as being “professional” or that screams “white-guy”.   

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Signature Pieces:

1) Sunglasses:  A Black-Marxist Liberation Movement soldier has no problem looking white people in the eye.  But, sometimes, that soldier cannot afford to be identified.  

2) Wrist Cuff: In direct opposition to the cuff-link, Taylor can always be seen with an Afro-centric leather cuff, a Native-American silver cuff, or a beaded bracelet made by one of his beloved students from Future’s Academy. 

3) Necklace: An Inuit face-mask scrimshaw carving on a leather cord.

Fashion Statement: 

     Cool by all standard definitions. The fashion intellectual center of the left in Buffalo; and uncompromising in his resistance to the oppression of the established  fashion order. Upscale (i.e. expensive) athletic sports clothing: Black Hugo Boss sweat-pants coupled with a black Calvin-Klein (super soft t-shirt) and a black or brown military-style sneaker.

Last Purchase:  He won’t say.

In The Market For: 

     A pair of Fort Belvedere Napa-leather, hand-woven, driving gloves, with an adjustable snap-button and woven knuckle pattern, in British Racing Green and Off-White.

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Colin Kaepernick

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     In 2016 Colin Kaepernick took a kneel to protest police brutality. The NFL owners   reported that they felt “under assault”.  Trump told them to “get that son of a bitch off the field.” And, fans reacted as if the football field was a political-free zone and told Colin that he “should just focus on the game”.

      In 2017 Kaepernick remained an unsigned free agent. According to the Washington Post, signing Kaepernick “would be far more than a football decision.”  The Buffalo News reporter Bucky Gleason wrote that hiring Kap would bring “controversy over something that has nothing to do with football.”  And, Houstan Texans owner Robert McNair [now deceased] told fellow owners that the NFL “can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

     Last September Nike used Colin’s activism in their Just Do It ad which read “Believe in something. Even it it means sacrificing everything.” Once again, people reacted.  A Louisiana mayor wanted to ban Nike products from the city. The hashtag “boycottNike” erupted with images of people burning Nike products. And, some Christian colleges banned Nike products from their campuses.

Colin Kaepernick

       It is early 2019 and Kaepernick is no longer a professional athlete.  The NFL tried to ban players from any kind of protest, until they realized that such a ban was unconstitutional.  And, most recently, the Wisconsin GOP leaders removed Wisconsin-born Kaepernick from a resolution recognizing Black History Month and Kaepernick because they considered him too “controversial” to be included. 

     Let’s be honest. Kneeling is a gesture of respect. More importantly, it has only been white America who has reacted with such hostility to Kap’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement.  And, to other Black athlete’s who continued the conversation.  Remember Laura Ingraham telling LeBron James to “shut up and dribble”? It is white America who believes they have the right to tell Black and brown people when, where, and, how to protest.  It is white America who tells Black America who their heroes should be. 

     Nike does not speak for white America.  Nike is a global corporation.  Nike knows that many of their consumers are people of color.  Nike knows that “Taking the Knee” is the modern-day legacy of Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics. Nike knows that Black athletes have a long history of being social justice activists; and those beliefs have always cost them something, if not everything.  

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     The irony is that Nike’s ad truly represents American patriotism. Because to believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything, is the American way. Abraham Lincoln. Sitting Bull. Sacco and Vanzetti. Malcom X. So, white America, be honest with us about why you hate Colin Kaepernick.  Accept the the fact that like Muhammad Ali, Kap will go down on the right side of history.  

The Whiteness Project

 

images-1     (I am just going to start out by saying that this so-called documentary, project, interactive whatever, is: cringeworthy, telling, and painful to watch.  I have yet to  decide if it adds to the conversation on whiteness.)

     Filmmaker Whitney Dow, who has been recognized as “making smart films about race” with Marco Williams (or as Dow refers to him, “my Black producing partner”) decided to get serious about race.  Dow believes that, “If white people are going to participate in changing the racial dynamic, we need to deal with our own shit.”I agree.  In 2014 Dow premiered his documentary, The Whiteness Project, on PBS.  The project is a multi-media documentary described as an investigation into how Americans who are white identify with being white.   

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      Dow gets that white supremacy is one of the central organizing forces in American life and, that white is  “the most powerful racial identity in America”. He does not want white Americans to get away from identifying themselves as being white.  During an interview with CBS, Dow argued that  being white is a defining characteristic that actively “impacts every interaction of every moment in our day.” The goal of his project is to encourage debate about the role of whiteness in American society among white people; people who “have been very tentative about engaging.”   He offers the project as venue to help white people reflect on white identity and white privilege.

     The Whiteness Project website states:

     “By engendering debate about the role of whiteness in American society and encouraging white Americans to become fully vested participants in the ongoing debate about the role of race in American society, The Whiteness Project aims to inspire reflection and foster discussions that ultimately lead to improved communication around issues of race and identity.”

     White individuals are filmed within a white frame with  an intense focus on their face.  There are no other distractions: no background, no interviewer presence, no interviewer voice. The viewer immediately understands that the participants are asked a series of questions about being white in general.  The only conversation in the film is when the participants are talking to the camera.  The audience gets to know the questions only from the interviewee’s comments, such as; “Do I think it is beneficial for me to be white?”, “Do I think about race?”, or “Do I feel a common bond with white people?”  Between each screen interview a statistic is given.  The statistics are there to help the audience place the views in a societal context and, to hopefully provide some fodder for self-reflection.

73% of whites believe that Blacks should receive “no special favors” to overcome inequality.

More To Come…

Up Next: Two Reviews

The Whiteness Project

 

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     Described as “an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as white, or partially white, understand and experience their race.”

In one word: Scary

The Blackness Project

 

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     Described as “an inspiration from conversations about the “Whiteness Project” which is a similar documentary discussing race and the perceived loss of white privilege by white Americans. The main purpose of The Blackness Project film is to bridge the gap between white and black Americans with in depth interviews on race.”

In one word: Brilliant