Firas Alkhateeb profile in the LA Times August 18, 2009 9:51 AM   Subscribe

The LA Times has followed up with khateeb88. First, it's good to have him speak publically. Second, Brandon Blatcher scooped the LA Times! Ha!

He's a history student. His family is Palestinian. He supported Kucinich but didn't vote in the general election. He thinks the socialism caption is wrong:
"It really doesn't make any sense to me at all," he said. "To accuse him of being a socialist is really ... immature. First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"
posted by anotherpanacea to MetaFilter-Related at 9:51 AM (97 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

He supported Kucinich but didn't vote in the general election.

FAIL.
posted by dersins at 9:54 AM on August 18, 2009


Crappy of Flickr for taking it down; the Fair Use claim seems pretty obvious there.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2009


What bugs me about this whole discussion is that no one mentions that the Joker is cool. I can't think of a more widely loved comic book villain in the US.

And I thought that Firas Alkhateeb came out pretty well from that interview. If I'd been interviewed about something like that at 20 I would've shit my pants out my mouth.
posted by Kattullus at 10:03 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ordinarily I'd be with you on that, Dersins, but we don't know for sure whether he's eligible (he's a student -- there WAS the possibility that he wasn't old enough TO vote yet).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:03 AM on August 18, 2009


No, it said he's 20 now, so the youngest he could have been during the election was 19.
posted by scrutiny at 10:11 AM on August 18, 2009


Well, Nelson scooped you in the still-open thread.
Death to pointless update filter.
posted by carsonb at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2009


Sorry carsonb... did I use up the last pixels?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:26 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Meh, voting isn't always that big of a deal.
posted by kathrineg at 10:28 AM on August 18, 2009


except in 2000 and 2004 for example.
posted by gman at 10:30 AM on August 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


so... to be clear:

the original photoshopped image is not about Obama's race... the motivation behind the person who stuck the 'Socialism' text on there and posted it around LA is still unknown, as is his/her identity.

so where does this leave the racism debate?
posted by shmegegge at 10:31 AM on August 18, 2009


really, every vote mattered in every single state
posted by kathrineg at 10:31 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


shmegegge: there's a populist/nativist/militia site called "infowars" that's now holding a contest to promote itself and the image. I won't link to them, but maybe take a look.

Given Alkhateeb's concerns, it's likely that the poster is less about black and white and more about brown. He made the image just after becoming disgusted with Obama's pick of Rahm Emmanuel, which he interpreted, with some justification, as signalling a pro-Israel foreign policy.

I'd love to hear what he has to say about Obama's Cairo speech, though.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:36 AM on August 18, 2009


really, every vote mattered in every single state

Collectively, certainly. Are there still people who don't understand this?
posted by dersins at 10:53 AM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


anotherpanacea: "there's a populist/nativist/militia site called "infowars" that's now holding a contest to promote itself and the image. I won't link to them, but maybe take a look."

if it's ok, I'd prefer not to. not a huge fan of racism/nativism/etc... what I recall of the original debate, though, was that it was over whether the joker stuff in the image had been intended as a racist message, yeah? I mean, what racist dickheads do with it is unfortunate, but not the fault of this guy. on the other hand, if the SECOND guy who appropriated the image and spread it around with the socialism text had intended to transform it into a racist icon, well... fuck that guy.

but then, who the hell knows what that guy was trying to do.
posted by shmegegge at 10:55 AM on August 18, 2009


except in 2000 and 2004 for example.

Not in Illinois. The last time a Republican won there was in 1988, Bush/Dukakis. I don't think it's seriously been in play since. It certainly wasn't in this election.

I get the tension: we need to encourage people to vote, because if a lot of people decide as a group not to do it, it can change the outcome of an election. But it's very rare and certainly exceptional for a single person's vote to matter that much.

It's not like the guy just wasn't paying attention or didn't care; he was plugged in, knew what was going on, knew his vote wasn't going to change anything either way, and decided not to bother. It's not exactly laudable or something that ought to be encouraged, but it's not totally unreasonable either.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:56 AM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Collectively, certainly. Are there still people who don't understand this?

I feel like we are in collective denial that some votes are worth much more than others. But that's not the point and this is a huge derail. Sorry.
posted by kathrineg at 10:56 AM on August 18, 2009


It's impossible to derail this thread, kathrineg. It would have to be securely railed to begin with.
posted by Mister_A at 11:00 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


> really, every vote mattered in every single state

You can't possibly believe this, so why are you saying it? Is it some kind of religious thing?
posted by languagehat at 11:00 AM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Metatalk: Is it some kind of religious thing?
posted by shmegegge at 11:01 AM on August 18, 2009


whew! I never do taglines, but I think that was a good one. It felt good.
posted by shmegegge at 11:01 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


if it's ok, I'd prefer not to.

Uh, yeah. I'm definitely not going to hold it against you. That's why I didn't link: I find the fringe endlessly fascinating, in the same way that some people can't help but look at goatse, but I know it's not everybody's cup of tea. In any case, they're more scared of the international cabal of bankers that controls the US government than they are of a particular black man.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:01 AM on August 18, 2009


Hey Mister_A... weren't you the one claiming this was clearly a racist image? Perhaps you'd like to apologize to Mr. Alkhateeb?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:03 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


well, we are pretty scary.
posted by shmegegge at 11:03 AM on August 18, 2009


You can't possibly believe this, so why are you saying it? Is it some kind of religious thing?

I'm angry about the disproportionate power vested in some states and I think that shouting FAIL at people who thoughtfully choose to abstain from voting is really shallow
posted by kathrineg at 11:05 AM on August 18, 2009


An image can be racist regardless of authorial intent
posted by kathrineg at 11:06 AM on August 18, 2009


that is certainly true.
posted by shmegegge at 11:14 AM on August 18, 2009


Indeed... but does the author's intent change its status? Is Spike Lee's Bamboozled racist?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:20 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why are we assuming it couldn't have been racist? It doesn't sound as tough it was deliberately racist, but Republicans always say, oh, we didn't even realize that was racist when they produce images of Obama eating watermelon or whatever. There's as much of an undercurrent of anti-black racism in Arab and Persian circles as there is anywhere else. Additional, the artist is an American, or has spent a lot of time here, as far as I can tell, which means he would have been privvy to American racism.

I'm not saying the image was racist, mind you; I'm just saying that I don't know why that discussion is now considered moot.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:23 AM on August 18, 2009


Astro Zombie: "I'm just saying that I don't know why that discussion is now considered moot."

is it? I don't think anyone said it was.
posted by shmegegge at 11:24 AM on August 18, 2009


Perhaps I was misreading. It sounded as though the question was "Well, with what we now know, is the question of racism still valid?" which was reading into the comments. As far as I am concerned, it is still valid. When you put a black man in white face, it raises a lot of questions.

And I am not sure how Bamboozled plays into this. Spike Lee is black, and the way he addresses black- and whiteface is going to be very different than how Firas Alkhateeb, who is not black, does.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:28 AM on August 18, 2009


Astro Zombie: "It sounded as though the question was "Well, with what we now know, is the question of racism still valid?" which was reading into the comments."

sorry about that. what I was saying is "ok, so we've speculated on the racism of the person who gave obama a joker face. now we know who he was, and we know that he's a different person from the guy who made the final image and spread it around. where does that leave us?"

no further implication was intended, I was - and am - asking a legitimate question about what mefites think is the deal, here.

in truth, I'm starting to think I should have kept my mouth shut, because bringing it up is clearly saying something I didn't mean to say.
posted by shmegegge at 11:35 AM on August 18, 2009


No, it's a fair question. I read a little more into it than was intended.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:39 AM on August 18, 2009


Is Spike Lee's Bamboozled racist?

Of course. Of course it is racist. The words and images, the text and metatext of Bamboozled, are informed and infused with racism. The premise of the film is that racism is alive and well and popular entertainment. That doesn't mean that Spike Lee is racist, but I think it's a bit silly to compare this film, this commentary on racism in America at the turn of the century, by a well-known black director who has made several films about race in America, to an anonymous poster, embraced by sophomoric right-wing dickheads, depicting the black President of the US as a criminal and a buffoon. This is very much like the white kids who think they should be allowed to say "nigger" because they hear black kids say it. The fact that Spike Lee deploys potent racist imagery doesn't mean that it's OK for everyone to do it, in service of whatever ill-informed worldview they seek to promote.
posted by Mister_A at 11:43 AM on August 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


posted by shmegegge where does that leave us?

It leaves us with an important question: If you Photoshop a joker face onto goatse, is that racist?
posted by mattdidthat at 11:44 AM on August 18, 2009

Of Course Your Vote Counts!
by Stephen Colbert

In every election, many people grapple with the nagging suspicion their vote doesn't count. As a citizen and someone who is always right, it is respectively my duty and my pleasure to tell them they are wrong. In fact, our democracy depends on every citizen recognizing the value of his or her vote.

And here is the value of that vote. In the 2000 presidential election 105,360,260 people cast ballots. That means each person's vote counted 0.000000949%. I defy you to find a mathematician who will tell you that number is less than or equal to zero. Okay, so we can agree, your vote counts. It counts 0.000000949%.

Swish that around in your mouth for a while. How does it taste?

Taste like freedom? 'Cause to me it tastes like jack-all squat.

This brings up a related, better question than "Does your vote count?" Namely, "Does your vote make a difference?" To answer that, perhaps a more visual comparison would be more illustrative. Imagine your vote as a deer tick. And the election as the continent of Asia.

Do you notice the relative size of these two things? See how the deer tick appears in comparison with the largest continent on earth? This gives you a rough idea of the difference your vote makes vis-à-vis the entire electorate.

But there is good news. Due to the rampant (and growing) cynicism of people who feel their vote doesn't make a difference, voter turnout is steadily decreasing. Where this cyciscm comes from escapes me, but it means that with each electoral cycle, the value of one vote increases. Now, it's difficult to imagine a day when the candidates running don't vote. So that's two votes right there. But, it is not difficult to imagine a day when only one other person bothers to vote. And oh, what a valuable vote that would be!

You're welcome.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


people who thoughtfully choose to abstain from voting

It is possible to thoughtfully reach a stupid conclusion.

Just, y'know. fyi.
posted by dersins at 11:52 AM on August 18, 2009


The words and images, the text and metatext of Bamboozled, are informed and infused with racism. The premise of the film is that racism is alive and well and popular entertainment.

....I disagree. A thing can be about a given quality without possessing that quality. You are saying that because that film is about racism that it is therefore a racist film; to my mind, that's like saying that Schindler's List is a Nazi film just because it has Nazis in it. It may be about Nazis and their effect on a group of people in Europe, but that does not mean it itself promotes the Nazi viewpoint.

Similarly, Bamboozled is about racism, but it does not as such promote a racist viewpoint.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:52 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


depicting the black President of the US as a criminal and a buffoon. … The fact that Spike Lee deploys potent racist imagery doesn't mean that it's OK for everyone to do it, in service of whatever ill-informed worldview they seek to promote.

So because the President is black, it's impossible to portray him as a criminal and a buffoon—if that's what you think he is for some reason—without being racist? Or it's impossible to do it without being racist if the criticism is, in your view, "ill-informed"? How does that work, exactly?

Invoking his skin color in order to levy accusations of racism at a criticism you don't like, or worse yet turning it into some sort of blanket immunity from criticism of his policies and actions (keeping in mind that it was Obama's choice of Rahm Emmanuel that caused Alkhateeb to make the image in the first place) seems like it can only backfire.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:00 PM on August 18, 2009


Yes, I understand what you're saying, Empress. However, there have been many films that were about racism, but few that were so saturated and driven by the visual language of racism–it's about a modern-day minstrel show, after all. Here is the movie poster. It's a racist image, without question. Bamboozled goes the extra mile in the racist imagery department. In the end, though, it's a distinction without a difference. It's not really important whether we look at this as "racist imagery deployed to subvert conventional thinking about race" or "racially charged imagery deployed to..." However you want to slice it, the authorial intent is pretty clear in this case–he's not for racism, he's against it.

Clarification for anotherpanacea: As I said in the earlier thread:

It (the poster) is overtly racist. I was speaking about the poster itself, not the original image, which, for reasons I described earlier, could also certainly be taken as racist, but could easily be the work of a college sophomore goofing around with Photoshop. The caption, combined with the image, sent a pretty clear racist message to me, more so than the image itself (which I still think is lazy and uninspired, but this was after all a case of a college kid with too much time on his hands goofing around with Photoshop).

Short version: Of course I don't owe this kid an apology!
posted by Mister_A at 12:12 PM on August 18, 2009


I've seen the film, Mister_A. I think the idea that I'm trying to express is that calling something "racist" is tanamount to saying it is in favor of racism, for lack of a better way of putting it, whereas Bamboozled is speaking against racism and is using that kind of imagery in order to illustrate the problems of racism.

I realize it's a semantic point, but by saying that the film itself was "racist" it sounds like you're saying that Spike Lee's message was "yay, racism is COOL!" When that is not actually what you mean. I DO get what you're saying, but I don't think that "the film IS racist" actually says what it is you DO mean.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:24 PM on August 18, 2009


Spike Lee did his movie at the same time there was a New York production of my play Minstrel Show, which features two black men in blackface. Several of his staffers came to see my play a few times. But my play is about the sort of forgotten history of itinerant blackface African-American minstrels, and I tried to avoid the stereotypes of minstrelry as much as possible (properly, the performance my characters put on is an insipient sort of African American vaudeville performance drawing from folk traditions, and not a Mr. Tam and Mr. Bones-style minstrel show). Nonetheless, the image of blackface is so powerfully associated with racism that the show has drawn protests, and audience members have burst into tears (and, in one instance, vomited) on seeing the actors in blackface, even though both are black.

For me, I think part of the discussion regarding the potential racism of putting Obama in whiteface is that the artist was either unconcerned or ignorant about the racial message that this might send, and that speaks to a priviledge that non-white --even Muslims -- enjoy that blacks don't.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:02 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


So, uh, are the links borked? Would it make more sense if they were not?
posted by fixedgear at 1:15 PM on August 18, 2009


The Question is MOOT!!!
posted by slogger at 1:16 PM on August 18, 2009


that speaks to a priviledge that non-white --even Muslims -- enjoy that blacks don't.

Wait, what's the privilege that Palestinian refugees enjoy?

And how does being the President of the United States not count as privilege? The US military is one hell of an invisible knapsack.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:24 PM on August 18, 2009


what?
posted by shmegegge at 1:26 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not all black people are the president. All US presidents are currently black people, though.
posted by Mister_A at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember the original charge looks like this:
By using the “urban” makeup of the Heath Ledger Joker, instead of the urbane makeup of the Jack Nicholson character, the poster connects Obama to something many of his detractors fear but can’t openly discuss. He is black and he is identified with the inner city, a source of political instability in the 1960s and ’70s, and a lingering bogeyman in political consciousness despite falling crime rates.[...]

Urban blacks — the thinking goes — don’t just live in dangerous neighborhoods, they carry that danger with them like a virus.[...]

Superimpose that idea, through the Joker’s makeup, onto Obama’s face, and you have subtly coded, highly effective racial and political argument. Forget socialism, this poster is another attempt to accomplish an association between Obama and the unpredictable, seeming danger of urban life.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:28 PM on August 18, 2009


Wait, what's the privilege that Palestinian refugees enjoy?

A lot of privileges not shared by black people. One example, in this instance, would be not even having to think about what it might mean to create an image of a black man in white face. You can lack many privileges but enjoy others, which is why poor white people can be racist, Jews who are men can be sexist, and straight black people can be homophobic.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:31 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Honestly, your description of Infowars doesn't even come close to the full-on batshitinsane that is contained there. It's full-on Bilderberger-fearing, UFO-seeking (and fearing), conspiracy-suckling madness brought to us by AM Radio nutjob Alex Jones. That they are now trying to create their own reality in the real world rather than just talking about the imaginary ones inside their heads is only more frightening.
posted by hippybear at 1:40 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Astro Zombie. That's a good reminder.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:48 PM on August 18, 2009


The chef should have understood the implications of using black beans.
posted by fleacircus at 3:30 PM on August 18, 2009


Man, Bamboozled was one shitty movie.
posted by item at 4:31 PM on August 18, 2009


Who cares?
posted by fire&wings at 4:38 PM on August 18, 2009


"So because the President is black, it's impossible to portray him as a criminal and a buffoon—if that's what you think he is for some reason—without being racist?"

It's certainly more difficult. That's, in fact, one of those things that you can blame racists for—making legitimate criticism of minorities more difficult, just like concerns over racial profiling make pulling over a black guy more fraught. Criminality and buffoonery are tied to a racist stereotype here in America; I also wouldn't make Obama/monkey jokes the way I did with Bush.

And regarding the intelligence of Mr. Alkhateeb—he prefers the foreign policy of Democrats and the domestic policy of Republicans, which should get a lol what (and is the only real justification for voting for Kucinich in a game-theory sense).

Oh, finally, on voting: While the efficacy of each vote in deciding the election outcome is low, it is real. And perhaps more valuable from a policy perspective is the additional force that comes with the popular margin in terms of creating a mandate, which is a decent enough proxy for enthusiasm. There are also other races and ballot initiatives, though in Chicago, most of the contention happens at primary time. That all combined with the reinforcing action of voting (each person voting multiplies the expected value of their friends and family votes by a factor between 6 and 10, if I recall correctly) means that even in a relatively uncontested election, voting still matters.
posted by klangklangston at 4:46 PM on August 18, 2009


> I'm angry about the disproportionate power vested in some states and I think that shouting FAIL at people who thoughtfully choose to abstain from voting is really shallow

So... you were being ironic? Or something? I'm confused.

MetaTalk: So... you were being ironic? Or something? I'm confused.
posted by languagehat at 4:47 PM on August 18, 2009


the Joker is cool. I can't think of a more widely loved comic book villain in the US.

Awww. Now you made Galactus sad.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:28 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


So... you were being ironic? Or something? I'm confused.

She meant it as a question, but left off the question mark: "Really, every vote mattered in every single state?"
posted by CKmtl at 5:32 PM on August 18, 2009


> She meant it as a question, but left off the question mark

Ah! It all makes sense! Thank you, I'll be able to sleep tonight.
posted by languagehat at 5:40 PM on August 18, 2009


Emanuel is a fervent anti-Islam voice in Washington. A Zionist, he takes a hard line stance against the Palestinian cause, and shows a clear anti-Muslim racism.

DERP

Not a huge R.E. fan, but this kid comes off as a typical mouthy undergrad mudslinger with little attention to detail and more rhetoric than substance.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:05 PM on August 18, 2009


he prefers the foreign policy of Democrats and the domestic policy of Republicans

Huh?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:21 PM on August 18, 2009


She meant it as a question, but left off the question mark: "Really, every vote mattered in every single state?"

Thanks for the translation, I've obviously been spending too much time in the metafilter bookmobile
posted by kathrineg at 6:52 PM on August 18, 2009


a New York production of my play Minstrel Show, which features two black men in blackface

Holy fuck, that's you? I loved your play like a wild play-loving thing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:20 PM on August 18, 2009


Man, Bamboozled was one shitty movie.

There were parts of Bamboozled that were amazingly awesome, and parts of Bamboozled that were egregiously crappy. It had one of the highest quality fluctuations I've ever seen in a movie made by professionals.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:22 PM on August 18, 2009


Huh?

Hey man, he said it, not me.
posted by klangklangston at 7:24 PM on August 18, 2009


BitterOldPunk: Awww. Now you made Galactus sad.

Is Galactus a villain anymore? He seems more like a tragic figure, forced by circumstance to cause all that destruction because... eh... he holds the universe together or something... something something... I feel like his planet destruction has been explained away somehow as noble by now.
posted by Kattullus at 7:36 PM on August 18, 2009


He eats Celestials (in the alternate Marvels future)!
posted by klangklangston at 8:53 PM on August 18, 2009


I loved your play like a wild play-loving thing.

Wow, you've seen Minstrel Show?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:58 PM on August 18, 2009


kathrineg: An image can be racist regardless of authorial intent

How
posted by koeselitz at 10:34 PM on August 18, 2009


Sorry - not snarking; I don't see how an image can be racist regardless of authorial intent. Aside from, I suppose, the case in which it's used with racist intent by others.

It just seems oddly out of joint to speak of a work of any kind as "unintentionally racist;" racism is quite purely a matter of intent, isn't? Without intention, how can there be racism?
posted by koeselitz at 11:07 PM on August 18, 2009


some people can't help but look at goatse, but I know it's not everybody's cup of tea

Why so serious?
posted by flabdablet at 4:34 AM on August 19, 2009


"racism is quite purely a matter of intent, isn't?"

Well, there's also interpretation. It seems reasonable enough to me to say that Firas Alkhateeb made the image without racist intent but that whoever created the "socialism" poster saw that image, interpreted it through a racist lens and then reproduced it.
posted by Kattullus at 4:55 AM on August 19, 2009


I don't believe that racism is merely an act of intent. There are two types of racism, personal and institutional, and the genius of oppression is that it is possible to support institutional oppression without personally feeling one way about it or the other. So, for instance, during the Jim Crow era, if you were a white person in the south and you enjoyed the whites only area of a movie theater, and drank from whites only water fountains, and sat at the front of the bus, you could do all of these things without feeling one way or another about black people, but these acts would still support the institutional oppression of black people. If you're a Republican nowadays and you appropriate an image of Obama surrounded by fried chicken and watermelons, as happened, you might be entirely innocent in intent, but you are still continuing to perpetrate a hateful stereotype.

Ultimately, as far as I am concerned, intent doesn't matter, because I can never really know what somebody's intent is. All I can do is look at heir actions, and if they engage in an action that supports oppression, I can fairly say that was an oppressive act, regardless of whether they intended it to be or not. I mean, you could light a cross on a lawn just because you think it would be pretty, but it's still going to be a racist act.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:47 AM on August 19, 2009


> Ultimately, as far as I am concerned, intent doesn't matter, because I can never really know what somebody's intent is. All I can do is look at heir actions, and if they engage in an action that supports oppression, I can fairly say that was an oppressive act, regardless of whether they intended it to be or not.

I'm reading about the French Revolution these days, and this is exactly how they justified hauling increasing numbers of obviously innocent (in the bourgeois/legalistic sense of the term) people off to the guillotine. Not snarking, just pointing out that this is a very dangerous stretch of road to embark on.
posted by languagehat at 6:03 AM on August 19, 2009


I could see your point if I was advocating the guillotine. But the same logic -- that we may be unknowingly bolstering an institution of oppression -- was also being women's consciousness raising groups in the 1970s, and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody was decapiatted as a result.

We cam, I hope, discuss the concept of collective responsibility without always having to worry that it will lead to mass execution.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:51 AM on August 19, 2009


So... you're saying I should stop greasin' up the ol' guillotine?

Oh, back to the basement for you, ol' beaut'.
posted by Kattullus at 6:57 AM on August 19, 2009


> I could see your point if I was advocating the guillotine. But the same logic -- that we may be unknowingly bolstering an institution of oppression -- was also being women's consciousness raising groups in the 1970s, and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody was decapiatted as a result.

We cam, I hope, discuss the concept of collective responsibility without always having to worry that it will lead to mass execution.


Of course. I'm not claiming you are advocating the guillotine, just pointing out where the concept of collective responsibility (which I deplore) can lead, and has led. And I will also point out that radicals don't usually start out planning to guillotine anyone; they assume that once they've gotten rid of the bad system that was spoiling humanity's natural goodness, everything will be hunky-dory and the lion will lie down with the lamb. Then—surprise!—things continue to be fucked up, in some ways worse than before. And the ungrateful people are starting to blame us. It must be... sabotage! treason! And Kattullus gets to bring ol' beaut' back out of his basement.

It's very easy to say "My motives are good and my heart is pure, I don't want any violence." But you never know where things are going to lead. If you think people are unknowingly bolstering an institution of oppression, you put it that way and treat them as misguided potential allies, you don't lump them in with the oppressors by some theory of "collective responsibility."
posted by languagehat at 7:04 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think you are not distinguishing between collective responsibility and collective guilt. I am not arguing for punishing anybody, but rather for asking that people recognize that if they benefit, even unknowingly, from an institution of oppression, that they then have some obligation to address that institution.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:11 AM on August 19, 2009


We should distinguish "exercising privilege" from "supporting discriminating institutions." Married folks exercise a privilege unavailable to many gays and lesbians, but it's not clear that they support marriage discrimination by doing so.

The point of talking about privilege is to illustrate the way our institutions supply unearned benefits in subtle ways, and that the same institutions that help us harm others who do not deserve the hurt, whether they be non-white, non-Christian, non-male, non-heterosexual, or non-disabled. Folks who experience those privileges can't simply repudiate them, so it would be absurd to suggest that, just by being born or making juvenile mistakes, an able straight white Christian male's enjoyment of unearned privileges render him racist. They especially can't repudiate ignorance: they have to be educated. Since all college students start off with a great deal of ignorance, perhaps we should blame his history teachers for not equipping him for such subtleties.

If the charge against Alkhateeb is not overt, intentional racism, then the charge is that he made an image that thoughtlessly ignores the history of stereotypical depictions of African-Americans, that he exercised an unearned privilege of thoughtlessness. The privilege of thoughlessnes comes at other's expense. I know I don't like the image, but I can't say exactly what offends me about it, just that it feels like an attack. Propagated for political purposes, it causes visceral fear and disgust in African-Americans who see an icon of racial achievement marked with symbolic violence. Still, I don't think it's fair to equate that with cross burning.

The blackface issue is significantly subtler and more complicated than the KKK chasing African-Americans out of their homes or instituting sundown laws. It's not even exactly clear how the transition from blackface to whiteface should be read: Kennicott's analysis, contrasting Jack Nicholson's "urbane" makeup to Ledger's "urban" makeup, ignores the the fact that Obama was one of the last American politicians to receive the "Joker" treatment. It's also a comically reversed depiction of one of the most level-headed (even zen-like?) Presidents we've had in a long time.

Is Obama being depicted as an imposter, stealing a white man's job, as minstrels did in perpetuating the segregation of entertainment? Is he being depicted as pretending to be white to amuse black audiences with stereotypical white behavior? Is he being depicted as selling out the black community by playing to whites' prejudices?
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:20 AM on August 19, 2009


ack!

non-white, non-Christian, non-male, non-heterosexual, or non- disabled
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:21 AM on August 19, 2009


Well, one dimension of what I mean is that a text* stands separate from its author, who holds no special ability to limit the meaning of the text.

I also think that people are responsible when their actions are, themselves, racist, whether they meant them that way or not. Does that mean that everyone who does something racist is a horrible KKK Nazi-lite David Duke? No, but it does mean that they have done something racist. And it sucks. It sucks to feel like you've done something wrong out of ignorance or thoughtlessness. But it happens to all of us, regardless of intent, and we need to learn to recognize that we are all capable of fucking up from time to time.

So the best response is not to say that you are not a racist and you can't have done something racist. Instead, it's appropriate to take a moment, think about why someone is hurt, educate yourself with an open mind, apologize if appropriate, and try not to do it again.


*obviously, this is not the written word but I am using the word "text" in the sense that everything can be a text, it has been a while since lit theory, so forgive me
posted by kathrineg at 7:25 AM on August 19, 2009


Well, one dimension of what I mean is that a text* stands separate from its author, who holds no special ability to limit the meaning of the text.

Is Dumbledore gay? If so, then the author of a text has the ability to limit the meaning of the text.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:41 AM on August 19, 2009


koeselitz: "kathrineg: An image can be racist regardless of authorial intent

How
"

the way i see it, it's typically through the cluelessness of the image's creator. that may seem overly simplistic, but I think it's a relatively simple distinction. imagine a racist image. then imagine the author sincerely going "gosh, I never thought of that interpretation" and there you go.

an example from another perspective would be the imagery of women in comic books (which was recently discussed here), where artists who i don't believe are sexist routinely objectify women in their art - either through sheer thoughtlessness, adherence to tradition (thoughtlessly), or a misguided belief that such depictions are not objectification. I would call these sexist images from people who are not sexist.
posted by shmegegge at 7:45 AM on August 19, 2009


"Is Dumbledore gay? If so, then the author of a text has the ability to limit the meaning of the text."

Of course an author has the ability to limit the meaning of the text—every word prescribes meaning. However, that limitation is not insurmountable, nor is it purely dependent upon authorial intent.

Take, for example, the rhetoric of white nationalists. What they claim, at least openly, is to not hate anyone, just to defend the traditions of whiteatude or some such. Presume we take them at their word—their speech can still be considered racist, regardless of their intent, because it still argues for negatively discriminatory treatment of minorities.

All of that is before any idea of textual ambiguity, which also makes authorial intent more of a canard—in an extremely ambiguous work, the intent of the author may never be communicated and the whole of the meaning may be constructed almost purely by the audience.

This is further complicated by the fact that when it comes to certain issues, race in America most certainly one, many of those who hold unpopular views may attempt to advance their views through disingenuous or misleading rhetoric. It's similar to the question of mens rea, where establishing ill intent is left as a reasonable inference from acts—actus rea—but where any reasonable criminal would deny his criminal intent. People have an incentive to lie about racist intent, and since intent is subjective, we may judge their actions racist even when they protest, assuming that there's a reasonable inference to be made. This is especially true when addressing things that should be common knowledge, and unlike a court, we have the ability as critics to argue a gradation. A cartoon showing Obama as a chimp—any cartoonist should be reasonably expected to understand that it's a racist iconography, but that doesn't mean that every cartoon of Obama as a chimp is racist, simply that it's reasonable to presume that it is racist absent a compelling reason from the cartoonist. Or that a racist motive has commingled. Or that the cartoonist was being deliberately provocative, and thus "deserves" the disapprobation for flirting with racist iconography.

Similarly, while blackface is incredibly fraught, whiteface is less so, but still not without obvious racial connotations. And the idea that the poster wasn't racist isn't really much of a defense—if it wasn't racist, it was stupid and flirted with racist iconography. Being stupid isn't a defense from criticism, nor is it really a defense from charges of racism, as the harm of racist iconography comes from the subjective sense of the audience. If they have been harmed, regardless of the intent of the author, then they have a right to say so and to pursue ends that will make them whole. The author may oblige or not, but if he does not, then he runs the risk of being considered an asshole.
posted by klangklangston at 9:21 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: Sorry - not snarking; I don't see how an image can be racist regardless of authorial intent. Aside from, I suppose, the case in which it's used with racist intent by others.

Well, just as an example: do you think Birth of a Nation is racist? D.W. Griffith didn't.

Sometimes people are so ignorant of offensiveness that they think they're not offensive simply because they're not Dennis Leary, or so thoroughly racist that they think that they're not racist because they're not in the KKK.
posted by johnofjack at 9:36 AM on August 19, 2009


I agree with most of what you've written, klangklangston. I was merely responding to kathrineg's kneejerk New Criticism with an example that usually helps people see the error in that theory. I think you've parsed some of the major issues here: ambiguity v. clear meaning, for instance, and intention v. effect.

However, I would disagree that the harm in racist iconography is purely subjective: it's the harm to a representation that matters most, except in situations like a cross-burning in front of my house. So, it's the harm done to all black men by depicting one black man as an animal full or rage and lust. I'd say it's a kind of defamation: racist iconography hurts the image of African-Americans in a way that undermines the efforts of all.

That's part of why whiteface is so difficult: it's not clear that it does the same kind of damage. Sure, it offends: so does a rudely scrawled epithet. (Turning "socialism" into an insult, for instance.) But not all offense is racism. Especially because Alkhateeb's somewhat muddled message seems to have been: "I thought all of us non-whites were in this together, but you've disappointed me." I think he's calling Obama an Uncle Tom.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:41 AM on August 19, 2009


johnofjack: Well, just as an example: do you think Birth of a Nation is racist? D.W. Griffith didn't.

Wait... what?!

Let me quote Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman again:
Indeed, as Stokes shows, The Birth of a Nation grew organically from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Thomas Dixon, a lawyer, politician and Baptist minister born into a slave-holding family in the Confederate state of North Carolina three years into the Civil War, was enraged by the success of a stage version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. His response was to write a quasi-autobiographical novel, The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden (1902), which was both a sequel and a corrective to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s story, extending it into the Reconstruction period. Among the characters who reappear in Dixon’s book is the sadistic slave-master Simon Legree, who opportunistically turns Republican, gets elected governor of North Carolina, steals a fortune and relocates to New York City.

The Leopard’s Spots sold more than a million copies; Dixon’s subsequent Civil War-Reconstruction novel The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905) was even more successful, and was turned into a hit play which toured for several years. Dixon even attempted to make his own movie version of it before joining forces with Griffith, who was another son of the South – indeed, the son of a Kentucky colonel. Griffith, who had been brought up on his father’s war stories and a belief in the nobility of the Confederacy’s lost civilisation, streamlined the melodrama by focusing on two families, the Stonemans of Pennsylvania and the Camerons of South Carolina, and simplified the narrative even as he expanded the story backwards to the eve of the war. He also invested Dixon’s material with his own family history, not to mention his fear, race hatred and sexual paranoia.

Among its other outrages, The Birth of a Nation presented itself as historically accurate. Stokes enumerates its most blatant distortions. Courts in South Carolina were never dominated by blacks, and ex-Confederates experienced only a partial and temporary disenfranchisement at the polls. Blacks held a majority of the seats in the state legislature but never controlled the state apparatus (and made no attempt to legislate on intermarriage). There was no period of corrupt black rule or black terror; the collapse of law and order had more to do with white attacks on blacks than vice versa. The Ku Klux Klan disbanded in 1869 and was moribund by 1871; it played no role in an anti-Reconstruction counter-revolution. The radical Republican senator Thaddeus Stevens, represented in the film as Austin Stoneman, died in 1868 and never visited South Carolina.
People rarely make overtly racist works of fiction by accident.
posted by Kattullus at 10:10 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, one dimension of what I mean is that a text* stands separate from its author, who holds no special ability to limit the meaning of the text.

Is Dumbledore gay? If so, then the author of a text has the ability to limit the meaning of the text.


Dumbledore doesn't exist, dude.
posted by kathrineg at 10:16 AM on August 19, 2009


Dumbledore doesn't exist, dude.

Which means... what?
posted by CKmtl at 12:11 PM on August 19, 2009


That he isn't gay or not gay
posted by kathrineg at 12:24 PM on August 19, 2009


wait, what?
posted by shmegegge at 12:30 PM on August 19, 2009


This "kathrineg" character fancies itself quite the gadfly, no?
posted by dersins at 12:32 PM on August 19, 2009


So, by extension, people shouldn't be offended by stereotypes/mistreatments in fiction, because the characters don't really exist and aren't actually members of the stereotyped/mistreated groups?
posted by CKmtl at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2009


Of course Dumbledore doesn't exist. He was killed by Snape some years ago.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:54 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


ok, dude, first: spoiler alert?

second: SPOILER ALERT!
posted by shmegegge at 2:13 PM on August 19, 2009


SOME YEARS AGO.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:19 AM on August 20, 2009


Dumbledore exists inside of us all

Well, not me so much because I'm a ladyperson
posted by kathrineg at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2009


Ladyperson or no, Dumbledore Gandalf Neo Aslan died for your sins. Oh yes he did.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:46 PM on August 20, 2009


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