Sunday, April 11, 2010

I've moved

Come visit me at my new and improved blog.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I am a writer...

I am a writer because sometimes I weep when I speak and you think that I am weak /

I am a writer because often my voice is not heard, not because I don’t have anything to say but because you haven’t given me the space to be heard /

I am a writer because when I speak, my mind goes blank and I forget what I had organized in my head to say /

I am a writer because I hate the sound of my voice when it is recorded /

I am a writer because at least I’m not looking at you when you shut me down and decide to check out /

I am a writer because I have to, how else will our future know where we have come from if it isn’t documented? /

I am a writer because these pain needs to be documented and it should be remembered /
I am a writer because I’m not invited to all of your meetings and how else do you expect my opinions to be heard? /

I am a writer because I do observe and I will report /

I am a writer because I think, feel, and do and you cannot tell me what to do /

I am a writer because I breathe and then remember that the pen is mightier than the sword, and if more people used one, the world would be a better place /

I am a writer because I can’t and won’t compromise for your feelings, I write what I think and I will not run my thoughts my your first /

I am a writer for her, she has all these amazing thoughts and experiences, and doesn’t speak them because she feels that her daughter is superior to her because of her college education /

I am a writer for her who is always so caring and loving like her name means, but is always misunderstood and judged /

I am a writer for them, the two young soldiers who inquisitively watch what is going on in their world, I see them and I want them to know that I care /

I am a writer for him, my little habibi, who will grow up in the world that will judge him for being a man of color, and a community which will resent him for being mixed and having a different skin shade /

Monday, May 4, 2009

Police, patriotism, and the public...and also journalism

One bright, warm and sunny afternoon I was walking over to my service learning site, Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), and I thought to myself, “hmmm…something looks very strange here.” I stopped, looked around and saw six police cars, one paddy wagon and even more “boys in blue” just hanging around all calm and collected outside of Walker Church where CUAPB and the supporters of the RNC 8 were congregated. Apparently, right before I got to the church the vice-president of CUAPB, Darryl had been arrested for disorderly conduct – his actions – standing in front of the church, merely surveying the police presence meant to intimidate and scare supporters, protestors and community members. Naomi Wolf, argues in her book (2007), The End of America: Letter of Warning to a young patriot, that the “experience of accountable detention and release is eroding in America. Activists are not being beaten. But they are being watched and sometimes intimidatingly detained and released (Wolf, pg. 95).”

The police presence at CUAPB that day (which was several hours on a Saturday afternoon when there probably were lots of other places they could and should be), did not go unnoticed by people coming and going from the church. Some members were quite anxious as they have had personal experiences with police brutality, while others were upset and angry, muttering “look at these police terrorists,” under their breath as they smoked. Wolf explains that “if you are an activist...your e-mail may be monitored and your phone calls tracked (Wolf, pg. 81).” This makes me a bit apprehensive about my personal activism efforts – I have joked about being watched by “big brother,” but I’m not doing anything violent or harmful to anyone, so why would the government waste its time on a lowly college student like me? All this surveillance seems to be unnecessary and quite scary considering that Wolf says: “If your communications reach a certain level of interest to the government, a human being may be tasked to read and listen in on what you are saying, and you won’t know about it. The White House surveillance program is triggered by certain key words and names (Wolf, pg.81).”

Yikes. I can totally see this off-the-charts excuse for protecting our freedom and homeland as starting out kind of innocent and acceptable – except, I’m sure it wasn’t at all innocent and totally acceptable to those in power who deemed it necessary. In my social justice senior seminar we have discussed this book and the “Ten Steps,” Wolf says forming a growing crisis we face as Americans who are slowly losing our rights and freedoms. I know this sounds a bit paranoid and maybe even a little off-the-cliff-liberal reasoning, but I’m willing to entertain the idea that the government doesn’t always have my best interest’s at heart – sure it’s a little different now that President Barack Hussein Obama is in the White House – but there is still a lot of mending and healing that needs to be done to our civil liberties and rights.

Wolf discusses her ninth step: “Restrict the Press,” via recounting staged photo ops, the history of censorship of the press, and the violence that the men and women of the press face continually at home and abroad, I found myself thinking about bias, and what that words means to someone like me – a journalism student graduating in less than three weeks who has somewhat of a history online and in print documenting her activism efforts and “bias.” What does that mean for my future career if I am surveyed and continually analyzed because of my political and social beliefs? Do I even want to be objective if one side of the story is all we as Americans ever hear? If it at all realistic to expect objectivity from humans who have opinions and beliefs? I heard recently that many popular journalists don’t even vote, or are encouraged strongly by their media companies to not participate in the voting process so that they present their lives as objectivity as possible.

It’s shocking that the one freedom men and women of color, and women of all colors have died for – the freedom to vote – some journalists aren’t using because they want to seem objective? Apparently, I have a lot to think about in terms of what I am doing, where I will be doing it, and who I will be doing whatever it is that I choose to do with. Clearly, my belief system and my passion for social justice will be requiring me to move ever so decidedly outside of the field of objective journalism into something more advocacy related. What exactly? Not sure quite yet, but I’m sure “big brother” will know when I do.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Buying Beauty: The power of color...(pt. 3)

Power is in the technique of struggle or in whatever characteristics make up an individual, but it is important to remember that power and subjectification go hand-in-hand. Power is in countless forms: pastoral, sexual, structural, ethnic, social, religious, governmental, political and philosophical. In this particular case, power is in beauty, media and societies’ standards of what is desirable and what is not. Foucault writes, “…struggles which question the status of the individual: on the one hand, they assert the right to be different and they underline everything which makes individuals truly individual (Foucault, p. 211).”

He argues that the action of struggling is important in ousting humans from being subjects to their individuality quests. The F&L brand strips its market audience away from their dignity and individuality, if anything went wrong before you used F&L it was because you were darker and not attractive, but now after you use F&L, anything that goes right can be contributed to your lighter skin tone.
In her essay, “Bollywood, Beauty, and the Corporate Construction of ‘International Standards’ in Post-Liberalization Bombay,” Susan Runkle discusses Fair & Lovely and the effects skin bleaching have had on Bollywood and Indian women. Runkle writes that F&L accounts for “eighty percent of the fairness cream market in India,” and has an estimated “sixty million consumers throughout the subcontinent. (Runkle, p. 47-8).”

Margaret Hunter argues in her essay, “The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status and Inequality,” that “Colorism, or skin color stratification, is a process that privileges light-skinned people of color of dark in areas such as income, education, housing, and the marriage market (Hunter, p.1).” Hunter talks about all of the different ways people of color try to whiten, by straightening their hair, dying their hair blond, “correcting” big noses and lips with plastic surgery and now skin bleaching – all to achieve whiteness. Hunter’s research has found that this multibillion-dollar industry that is skin-bleaching products “usually contain one of three harmful ingredients: mercury, hydroquinone or corticosteroids (Runkle, p.13).” Hunter uses examples of women dying due to mercury poisoning, and even cites several incidents where children are either born with mercury poisoning due to the mother using it while pregnant (in utero absorption of mercury), or the child suffers mercury poisoning because the mother uses the Fair & Lovely products on her young child.

It almost seems as if many people within the community of color that whose skin bleaching products view the listening creams as a source of empowerment. As with the Fair & Lovely commercial, the woman takes her destiny into her hands, via a skin listening cream tube and then lands her dream job and then a dreamy date. Hunter argues that one of the reason why science is allowed to produce products like skin bleaching creams is because “images associated with white America are highly valued and emulated in the global marketplace (Hunter, p. 12).” Whiteness is the standard because it is seen everywhere and because of that, becomes a marketable product falsely marketed sold as attainable status and privilege to “third world countries” and communities of color.

Menke writes that notwithstanding that cosmetic skin bleaching is a world-wide phenomenon. “It is astonishing that chemical bleaching of the skin, which has become a world-wide phenomenon with negative social implications, is hardy recognized by social scientists to be a serious sociological and psychological problem (Menke, p. 11).” Science, in this particular case is not held accountable as an enabler of racism, instead the scientific community quietly meets the needs and demands of an ever-rising market; creating technology and products which further capitalize on whiteness and skin color.

Kuhn, Foucault, Runkle and Hunter all write about different aspects of power, subject, science and society respectively. Kuhn discusses the cause and effect syndrome that science essentially is – when there is a need, scientists will develop. Foucault writes about power and how the subject becomes objectified, (often as communities of color are), in the quest for knowledge, power and profit, the humans with power will oppress “the other.” Runkle analyzes the powerhouse media of India and Asia, Bollywood, and writes about the impact that the Bollywood has on Indians and Indian-Americans all over the world because of who they hire for which roles, and who gets rewarded because s/he is seen as more desirable or beautiful. Hunter discusses the power of skin color and how status is given to those who are lighter, even within communities of color, the dichotomy of black versus white becomes a light versus dark.

One cannot help but feel angry and blame colonists and those Europeans and white Americans who push their standards of beauty onto every other country, but there is a resentment within the community of color as well – how can people of color expect racism to be eradicated, when we are fighting amongst and between ourselves? Due to internalized oppression, communities of color police each other the way that the dominant identity has policed them, and because there is a culture and society which literally breeds divisiveness and competition due to white privilege, both institutional and systematic racism are so heavily prevalent in our world.

The struggle for justice remains with many people of color and allies working together to eradicate social injustice, but, ultimately, how can we, (people of color or even women of color) fight for justice against those who oppress (us and others) if we ourselves are not united?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Buying Beauty: The lighter, the better...(pt. 2)

In contrast to the skin-bleaching phenomenon, Angelina Jolie, in her movie, A Mighty Heart, played the Afro-Cuban/Dutch wife of journalist Daniel Pearl, critics bashed Jolie on practically going blackface in order to “pass” as a woman of color. While the entire idea of blackface still being done every so subtly from time-to-time is problematic, what is even more troublesome is that thousands of people each day are trying to whiten or lighten their skin because they are told through various mediums that their dark skin is not desirable.

What is it about skin color that denotes power? The dichotomy of white and black is further racialized within the context of worth, especially when power and privilege of a majority is added. How is one “race” is able to tie in status and wealth with tanning, while the other is poor or a manual laborer if they are darker?

Just as how race is a socially constructed identity, beauty is relative and is therefore, another social construction that is heavily enforced and policed by society between racial communities and among different communities of color. The impact of eugenics in the creation of a universal standard of beauty is at times, sometimes not directly referenced, but ever-present. In his research paper, “Skin Bleaching in Multi-ethnic and Multicolored Societies: The Case of Suriname,” Jack Menke makes the argument that “the darker one is the lower one’s position in social hierarchy…’color’ is not something that can be altered in the individuals life, but it is something that can be put right in the next generation (Menke, p. 10).”

Menke’s point making something right in the next generation is especially poignant because after India was colonized by the British, the impacts of racial purification and legalized racism due to one’s caste (and usually color of one’s skin) is still present. White women were seen as more beautiful in the 17 and 18th century India because British women were seen as the most feminine, had class, status and some power (at least over those who worked for her). After India gained its independence in 1947 from Britain, the effects of racism and eugenics had not disappeared. Bollywood still carries out the task of showing lighter skin, whiter-looking celebrities in the favorite and most coveted roles, while darker actors and actresses are rarely if ever seen.

Human beings are the subject in Michel Foucault’s study of power. Foucault argues in his because of three modes of objectification: inquiry, dividing practices and sexuality. He writes that humans are transformed into subjects because they objectify themselves with the work that they do in the name of progress - socially, scientifically, economically and biologically (inquiry). Additionally, humans are subjects because they also constrain themselves to dichotomies (dividing practices). Foucault says humans are subjects because of the lifestyles they have chosen for themselves (sexuality), which inevitably transforms them into a subject. The F&L brand transforms people of color into objects of profitability – by making entire communities of color base their worth on the shade of their skin, is not only an impact of oppression, but of racism and self-hatred as well.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Buying Beauty: Bollywood, Women and Skin

This is part one of an essay I wrote for a Fall 2008 GWSS class.

“Bethany, I used to have skin just like yours, but now look at how fair I am. Really, you could be so much more beautiful…I mean, you are…but just try this cream.”

That was what my aunt said to me as she handed me a tube of Fair & Lovely Fairness Cream. I was 16 years old, and my face felt like it was burning as I thought to myself how much lotion it would take in order make every single part of my skin lighter (and more beautiful). How is such a product still being made and marketed around the world? And how is it possible that an Indian actress is seen as more beautiful just because she has lighter skin? How can scientists develop a safe product, which must contain some sort of bleaching component to aid with lightening the skin?

In his essay, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” Thomas Kuhn argues that science is ever evolving and made from circumstances, which raise a need, and the possibilities of scientific tests, which produce a product. With Europeans and white Americans being in the forefront of the media and being active colonists of the “developing world” or “third world,” the idea of Whiteness being a mark of beauty impacted communities of color so much that scientists came up with a skin bleaching cream in order to make a profit and meet a need. The effects of skin lightening on women of color throughout generations have been devastating, social and cultural stigma of being darker colored reaches from the workplace to marriage. The idea that this cream has become a fundamental part of an Indian, Indian-American, Arab, Arab-American’s daily beauty routine and is found in the drawers of a woman of every brownish skin shade is unfortunate and destructive to the mental and body health of the women who uses it or encourages other women to use it.

Fair & Lovely (F&L) is quite an established line of beauty products, which all use “fairness” in some way to describe what the cream, soap or serum does for the user. F&L, a Hindustani Unilever Limited brand that was patented in 1971, is made in India and then sent to the United Arab Emirates, which stocks the products and then redistributes internationally. F&L used to market solely to women, but with their new Fair and Handsome Menz Active line, the next generation of users are recruited. The women’s line of F&L is sold in almost all pink packing, while the new men’s line is packed in white, black or red. According to Synovate, a market research company, Four in 10 Asian women use a “lightening” cream (Synovate, 2004).

A popular F&L commercial showing a young woman who wants to get a job as a TV reporter begins with her very na├»ve when she was several shades darker. “Four is my lucky number. I graduated after four years, but just before my fourth interview I realized that the obstacle to obtaining my dream job was my skin.” The scene cuts to her interviewing for a news anchor job, with the interviewers dismissing her with a wave, seemingly because she was too dark. “Fair & Lovely, for total fairness in four weeks.” Now she is lighter, has the job and is reporting to you from Egypt. “Great job, what are you doing at four? Asks the handsome young producer who has been watching her, she glances back at the camera, “I told you that four was my lucky number!”

Commercials like this one are made in Arabic, Hindi, Tamil, English, Chinese, Japanese and so much more, and are played repeatedly all over the Middle East, India and Asia. Bollywood, India’s Hollywood, is a firm believer in the lighter you are, the more beautiful you are thought and action process. Major celebrities are always lighter, or wear lots of body makeup and shoot under intense lightening so that they look whiter. Darker actors and actresses are always the villains, poor people or prostitutes. In another F&L commercial, Shah Rukh Khan, India’s Brad Pitt, helps a darker young man out when he sees that the poor guy is having no luck with women. Khan gives him a bottle of the new F&L Menz Active fairness cream and then after he uses it, the girl’s flock to him. Khan was widely criticized for his role in this commercial, but there are still hundreds of men and women who buy F&L and continue to pass it on to their children in hopes of having lighter, more beautiful family members.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Ethnic drugs"

In his essay, “How a Drug Becomes ‘Ethnic’: Law, Commerce, and the Production of Racial Categories in Medicine,” Jonathan Kahn argues that the claims that BiDil is a drug made especially for African Americans is “built around assertions…[that] hypothesized underlying genetic differences between blacks and whites (p. 3).”

I was surprised to read that such a recent drug was touted by the press as a breakthrough as the first ethnic drug. Here I was thinking that race and ethnicity were social constructions. How is it possible that a drug made originally for general heart disease is repatented with almost nothing changed, other than some studies being done which proved that African Americans have more heart disease than others, and is widely accepted? Shocking. Kahn writes that the studies concluded: "Observed racial disparities in mortality….in black heart failure patients may be due in part to ethnic differences in the underlying pathophysiology of heart failure (p.2)." Really? Or is it just that mostly poorer African American folks have to eat unhealthy greasy food because it’s cheap and readily accessible? Or because they are stressed out because of racism?

Kahn theorizes that BiDil was reinvented as an ethnic drug for legal and commercial reasons rather than biomedical. Legally, every 10 years or so a drug’s patent runs out, so in order for the pharmaceutical companies to keep making a profit off their investment they must remarket the same drug a different way, after slightly modifying the drug in some way that probably doesn’t even change the drug’s effect or intent in the slightest. Commercially, heart disease is a big problem within communities of color, African American men and women are an important demographic that pharmaceutical companies have chosen to market this drug to.

The risk of using race as a scapegoat to explain differences between populations is dangerous. Not until recently has there been a movement to discredit old ideas that people of color were genetically inferior – these laws influenced laws, policies and built structure that are still in place which accept race as a biological instead of social identity. Kahn argues, "Ethnicity may be leading the federal government improperly to endorse the use of race as a biological category in classifying its citizenry (p.4)," and this is just what happened all over again, for the millionth time.

It’s so disappointing to see that scientists are so stuck in their field that instead of looking at an issue as a social inequality, they just see flawed DNA or bad genetics. This is even represented my class sometimes, the IT students make me feel like us GWSS majors and minors are reaching for explanations, because obviously, they study this field and know what really happens – this feminist theory shit and is not backed up by science at all…how convenient.