Tuesday, April 04, 2017

What are you asking?

I want to take a scattered trip down memory lane today. It is partly because I saw this article:

There are things that make it more interesting to me now, as Marvel tries to talk around how attempting to embrace diversity is sinking their profits, and how Ghost in the Shell is apparently not doing well, though Hidden Figures did quite well. The really persistent memory came from seeing Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One again.

It is interesting to me that both Swinton and director Scott Derrickson referred to Fu Manchu as what they didn't want to do. Fu Manchu was an evil criminal mastermind. I haven't read a lot of Dr. Strange titles, but I doubt they make the Ancient One a villain.

More to the point, it kind of seems like they think having this character be an Asian man makes him a stereotype, but having him be a white woman makes it charming and quirky. I enjoyed the movie, and the character, but I believe I could enjoyed James Hong or Clyde Komatsu or Michelle Yeoh as well. Chow Yun-Fat could have been fantastic.

And yes it is textbook white feminism, especially that part about how there isn't much that relates to her on the screen. She gets a lot of parts for not much relating to her.

I had posted an article about the Swinton-Cho situation back at the time (thought I can't swear that it was this particular article). I got a sincere question on Tilda's behalf, because it looked like she was trying to do the right thing, and she requested privacy and did not get it. How can people learn if this is how they get treated?

My response wasn't terribly critical of Swinton. There is a tendency to immediate go to people of color with race questions when a little research would generally answer those questions. To instead put the burden on someone for whom it is personal, and who is asked for that labor more than you can imagine, is inconsiderate.

I thought perhaps it was that lack of consideration that made it so easy for the original requester to get offended with the response. A little searching and reading of accounts should create a big shift in mindset without even taking that much work. Without that groundwork, questions can unconsciously be more of a request for validation. When the honest answer is not validating, I have seen people get really offended and feel persecuted.

That's not too surprising. Coming to recognize privilege is disconcerting at best. Even when you are sincerely trying to understand it feels gross, so if you were just looking for confirmation that you didn't really do a bad thing, well, you can imagine.

But as far as the memories go, I have done it. I remember it really clearly. There was an article about an athletic recruit getting hassled for his color at the Eugene airport. I hadn't even known there was an airport there. I was not so naive to think that there was no racism left in the world - I had heard stories from the South - but outside of that I thought racism was an anomaly that only really bad people do. Current events caused me to question my assumptions, so I went to my closest Black friend.

I did not feel like a cliché. In my defense, this happened at a time before internet research was really a thing.

I remember asking him if he had experienced prejudice, and I remember this hesitation that has stayed with me. At the time it felt like shame - not that he had anything to be ashamed about, but that this is a gross thing, and he was about to disillusion me. If it had been a pause for him to question whether it was safe and valuable to open up to me, that would have been understandable too.

As it was, he gave me really good insights into racism, and how it was experienced in our area, and he was patient with my mistakes. That year I also learned how the Gulf War could inspire stupid old white men to make stupid comments about damn Arabs to someone Latino (brown is brown, right?), and a few years later I would be in a discussion where a student of Asian descent would talk about being mostly accepted but not quite.

I was very naive in my privilege. The best thing I can say about me is that when people told me things I listened instead of saying "Are you sure that's what they meant?"

It is a valuable thing to listen to others' stories, and then to listen more when your first impulse is to contradict. The internet is full of voices, and it is also good to listen to the people around you. But don't burden them. Especially don't ask them to validate you, because if that ends up being unsatisfactory for you, it is probably your fault.

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