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?