Archive for August, 2009

WAT? Roger Sterling in Blackface????

If you follow me on Twitter, then you probably saw my shock and awe at seeing Roger Sterling in Blackface on last night’s episode of Mad Men. Wat? Blackface? In the 60s? I was in disbelief. In my last post I talked about my frustrations with the lack of race commentary on the show.  Wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing but I now think that we will see more commentary on race and white privilege in this season than we ever have before on the show.

From Basket of Kisses:

Matt Weiner has been criticized often enough for not quite getting there about race. We have, on this site, discussed “Magical Negroes” in Mad Men, and the Sheila storyline ended up fizzling in an unsatisfying way.

So now that he’s decided to address it, it’s not just a scene or an incident, no, it’s Matt, so it’s a holistic embrace of everything privilege; the privilege of race, of gender, of age, of money, of social class, and of how all of those things intersect.

Surely the most privileged person on the show is Roger Sterling; even more so than YodaBert, because Roger was born with his silver spoon. Roger is so incredibly privileged that he can parade an embarrassingly young wife and make a lot of powerful people treat her politely, and do it, nauseatingly, in blackface to boot. Blackface! (And don’t even try to say “sign of the times;” privileged people still do this). Roger can make people swallow any kind of bad behavior, because he’s got the money, class privilege, and power.

I certainly think Roger in blackface was a symbol of his level of privilege. On another note, I loved seeing the tension between Betty’s father and Carla–of course he accused Carla of taking the money without actually saying, “that n*gger stole my money.” And then when he got her name wrong? “We don’t all know each other, you know”…..a woman after my own heart as I’ve retorted with that in my travels.

Damn…the Black blogosphere might go nuts over this one.

So…what did you all think about Roger in Blackface? Did we like it? Was it a sign of the times? Do we hate him more?

And isn’t Joan’s husband just a complete loser (and a rapist)?

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Black people on Mad Men (or lack thereof)

As a pretty big Mad Men fan, I was so excited about last night’s Season 3 premiere. Not only did I want to know how the rest of the story unfolded but part of me hoped that maybe, just maybe, we’ll see more than a passing glance at a Black character on the show or the mention of race as an afterthought. Every time I watched the show, I couldn’t help but think, “gotdamnit! When are they going to say anything about race or Blackness! It’s the sixties for cryin’ out loud!”

It wasn’t until I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent post that I realized that it the absence of Black people is precisely what we love about the show as it explores what white privilege and masculinity is—and in the case of Mad Men it does mean that people of color are rendered invisible.

I actually think it’s a beautiful, lovely, incredibly powerful omission. Mad Men is a show told from the perspective of a particular world. The people in that world barely see black people. They’re there all the time–Hollis in the elevator, women working in the powder-room, the Draper’s maid, the janitors, the black guy hired at Leo Burnett–but they’re never quite seen. I think this is an incredible statement on how privilege, at its most insidious, really works.

It’s been argued that the absence of people of color is a romantic view of “the good ol’ days”, but I beg to differ. The fact that Black people are so absent and silent in the face of white privilege is exactly a commentary on race in the 60s, especially as there were already so few Black people who lived in worked in the type of environment that Don Draper and company were so accustomed to. There are several female writers on the Mad Men team, which is why the gender commentary is so on point, but I often have to wonder what would have happened on the show if there were people of color on that team. Would we be more present? Or would things remain the same?

Amber Rose in Complex Magazine: Sexy Beast (?)

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saartjiebwJezebel talks about Amber Rose’s most recent photo shoot for Complex Magazine:

The industry’s general unwillingness to embrace models of color as anything besides the exoticized “other” is thwarting the development and popularization of other kinds of black beauty. Even Alek Wek, the Sudanese supermodel, noted that she was often asked to pose in spreads that she felt fitted into a wider and more troubling tradition of black peoples representation in the mainstream media, particularly with regard to a Lavazza calendar where she posed inside a coffee cup, her skin intended to represent the espresso. As Wek wrote in her memoir, “I can’t help but compare them to all the images of black people that have been used in marketing over the decades. There was the big-lipped jungle-dweller on the blackamoor ceramic mugs sold in the ’40s; the golliwog badges given away with jam; Little Black Sambo, who decorated the walls of an American restaurant chain in the 1960s; and Uncle Ben, whose apparently benign image still sells rice.”

It’s worth noting that in re-creating these pictures, Complex did tone them down; gone are the chains from the whip photo, and so too is the raw meat and the sign explicitly referring to the model as an animal in the cage photo. The choices the Complex art director made are almost certainly intended to mitigate the offense of the original images; we’ve come at least some way as a society since Jean-Paul Goude’s day. But how long will it be before we automatically recognize any picture of a black woman caged up like an animal as offensive?

If the pictures above look oddly familiar and even similar to you,  they should. When I see the image of Amber Rose  or Grace Jones in a cage, I immediately thought of Saartjie Baartman, a black woman in the 18th century captured in S. Africa by British imperialist and then put on display at carnivals and fairs because of her voluptuous body.

It’s no secret that the “black woman as sexual beast” meme is still very prevalent in portrayals of Black women, particularly in fashion and music. That said, I really don’t think it was that deep for Complex. What I mean is, I don’t think their intention was to fetishize Black women at all in these pictures. It seems as though they just wanted to pay homage to Grace Jones* and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. However, even though the magazine had the best intentions it doesn’t mean that the implied racial and sexual implications of these picture don’t exist.

*and stereotypes aside, Amber Rose ain’t SEEIN Grace Jones in these pictures. Grace Jones is SO stylin on her.

Vogue Italia’s Black Barbie: A Step Forward or a Step Back?

This month, Vogue Italia is doing another take on last year’s successful Black Issue: a fashion spread featuring all Black Barbies.

from Jezebel:

Last year, Italian Vogue shook the fashion world with its “All Black issue, which sold out on many newsstands. This year, the July issue features Kristen McMenamy on the cover, but comes with a delightful supplement devoted to black Barbies.

It is Barbie’s 50th birthday, after all, and Mattel does have those new black Barbies to promote. And while this supplement is not full-sized like a regular magazine (it’s about 6 inches wide; 7.5 inches long) somehow the doll scale makes sense.

As a girl growing up in Los Angeles, my mother always made sure to buy us Black dolls, especially Barbies. I even had a Black Ken doll! And while it was great to have a doll that looked like me, the reality was that it still sold me and other little girls dangerous ideas about what a woman’s body should look like, and what was considered beautiful. In preparing to write this post, I spoke with a friend of mine who happens to be a Black dad with a young daughter. He told me that while he reluctantly buys his daughter Barbies because she loves them, he is concerned about what it teaches his little girl about having a positive self-image. As a result, he makes it his responsibility to teach his daughter about how special and beautiful she is as a black girl.

I loved Vogue Italia’s Black Issue last year. I loved that it featured Tocarra, a voluptuous, curvy woman who was far from a size 2. And I like the concept of using all Black Barbies in a Vogue spread. But I have to wonder if it is actually a step backwards. Barbies themselves use the white female body as a the prototype for beauty. Even the new Black Barbies do not have the hips, ass and curves that myself and other Black women possess. It’s great that Mattel has barbies of all shade, but what about all sizes? What taking into consideration that other races and ethnic groups have different ideas of what women’s bodies actually look like? The fashion industry often creates fashions, ad campaigns, and yes, even Barbie photo spreads that leave Black female bodies out of the equation and therefore, out of the question when defining what a “perfect body” looks like and who is able to possess it.

So what does everyone else think? Is the Black Barbie issue of Vogue Italia actually progress? Or does it still perpetuate anxiety and even denial of the Black female body as one that is indeed normal and beautiful?