Racism in Australian Fashion Week

“Modern Australians of global origins who are proud of where they came from and proud of who they are. Modern Australians. Yet, some of these designers are ignored by the Australian fashion industry, and what’s worse, some Indigenous Australian designers are not even acknowledged. It is disappointing that Australian Indigenous Fashion Week was a separate event from Australian Fashion Week.”

Quote and photo: http://buff.ly/2jkxNCc [Photo: Fijian-Australian model and author Dusk Devi Nand modelling in a magazine]

Sociology of Trophy Hunting

The despicable practice of trophy hunting has unique social practices that sanitise the language and images of animals killed for sport.

Ulrich Seidl, the director of “Safari,” a film that documents trophy hunting, says the language used by trophy hunters:

“‘create[s] this certain emotional distance between the act of hunting and the animals.’ ‘Piece’ becomes a byword for animal; ‘sweat’ for blood. Blood, Seidl says, is of particular significance: ‘They remove the blood from the photos so no one can see … It’s an indication for me that blood is very much a taboo in our society.'”

Source: CNN.

Barcodes for Tokyo’s Ageing Population

This is not the best way to deal with an ageing population. Barcodes and similar types of identification have been exploited throughout history.

“A company in Iruma, north of Tokyo, developed tiny nail stickers, each of which carries a unique identity number to help concerned families find missing loved ones, according to the city’s social welfare office.”

Source. My analysis of ageing population policies in Japan, Sweden and Australia, on Social Science Insights.

Plastic Surgery in Colombia

“The problem of unsafe plastic surgeries also has not been taken seriously because Colombian society divides victims into ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ It has a serious lack of empathy with the victims of unsafe cosmetic surgeries… The surgeries that society rejects are those that have to do with women’s sexualisation. And in Colombia, for women, there is only one thing worse than being a sexual object: not being one.”

Beauty ideals and their consequences are not immutable, natural or unavoidable. They are socially constructed. This means that what people take to be normal and fixed facts about the world are actually determined by social norms, culture and social interaction. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann have established this theory, showing how individuals’ knowledge and perception about social reality are shaped by their social position within a given society, otherwise known as their social status. While there are positive and negative social outcomes that flow on from beauty hierarchies, these are not the logical result of natural selection and biological drive. Renditions of beauty found in art and pop culture reflect the way in which broader narratives about beauty are socially constructed.

Read my work on the social construction of beauty and its link to discrimination.

bell hooks speaks into a microphone. She wears glasses, an orange top and beautiful matching orange scarf
We need to theorise the meaning of beauty in our lives so that we can educate for critical consciousness. – bell hooks

Quote source: Al Jazeera English

White Privilege

‘The term “white privilege” is misleading. A privilege is special treatment that goes beyond a right. It’s not so much that being White confers privilege but that not being White means being without rights in many cases. Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn’t a privilege. It’s a right. But I think that is what “white privilege” is meant to convey, that Whites don’t have many of the worries nonwhites, especially Blacks, do. I was talking to a white friend of mine earlier today. He has always lived in the New York City area. He couldn’t see how the Michael Brown case had anything to do with him. I guess that would be an example of white privilege.

‘Other examples of white privilege include all of the ways that whites are unlikely to end up in prison for some of the same things blacks do, not having to worry about skin-color bias, not having to worry about being pulled over by the police while driving or stopped and frisked while walking in predominantly white neighborhoods, having more family wealth because your parents and other forebears were not subject to Jim Crow and slavery. Probably all of the ways in which whites are better off than blacks in our society are forms of white privilege. In the normal course of events, in the fullness of time, these differences will even out. But the sudden killings of innocent, unarmed youth bring it all to a head.” – George Yancy and Naomi Zack on The New York Times.

Peggy McIntosh
“White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions…” – Peggy McIntosh

Educator Peggy McInotsh introduced the idea of white privilege, the special benefits, protections and access to power conferred onto White people, which allows them to advance in life without conscious awareness of racial discrimination. She came to this concept as she reflected on her feminist practices. She noticed that even when male colleagues were willing to support women’s efforts to increase gender equity, they were not willing to give up their own status and power. Having tried to include women of colour in her feminist activities with little successful engagement, she came to see how she, as a White woman, had also been reticent to give up her own benefits to make feminism truly inclusive of racial minorities. She notes that educated White people like herself are raised to notice the “bad” aspects of racism, but not the benefits that make her life easier.

She came to realise that Whiteness was like an invisible knapsack she carried around with her, which protects her from noticing the advantages of race. Noticing her racial privileges, she understood the myth of meritocracy, for in the bag of Whiteness, she finds the key to open many doors that women of colour cannot access.  Her skin colour was “an asset” that helped her secure a better education; it made it easy to take for granted that she belonged to the broader culture that facilitated her success, despite the gender inequalities she fought.

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious… Whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow “them” to be more like “us.”

McIntosh began to recognise that “privilege confers dominance.” She came to see that her feminism was oppressive, even though she wasn’t conscious of the benefits of her race; but this is the point: by not being aware of race, she was contributing to inequity. She had failed to notice how the benefits she enjoys are part of a system that disadvantages people of colour. Just as patriarchy positions men as the universal norm, requiring women to adjust their behaviour and expectations to the needs and interests of men, McIntosh recognises how Whiteness pushes her to view the world through a racial lens. She’s encouraged to leave undisturbed the norm that Others should be more like White people, instead of challenging the system.

Read more on White privilege and related concepts on my resource, Sociology of Race.

Hypersexualistion of Black and other Indigenous Women

Karlesha Thurman [left] and Jacci Sharkey [right]

In 2014, Karlesha Thurman, a young Black mother in California, faced vicious trolling after she shared a photo of herself breastfeeding to a Black mother’s group on Facebook. Conversely, Jacci Sharkey, a young White Australian mother, was commended after posting a photo of herself breastfeeding to the University of the Sunshine Coast Facebook page. Both are of similar age, both are students and similarly smiling with pride in their graduation cap and gown, while carrying out a natural act of feeding their child. Neither mother deserves to be exposed to abuse. But racism ensures that the same act of motherly care led to the hypersexualisation of a Black mother.

And so the hypersexualistion of the Black woman was born.

‘Colonial Australia was no better. Because Indigenous sexual relations differed to that of Whites, Indigenous women were all considered prostitutes and fair game for White men with a fetish for “black velvet.” In a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy, many Aboriginal women were forced into prostitution to survive. Even those in “respectable” employment such as domestic servants were expected to sexually satisfy their bosses and co-workers as part of the job requirements…

‘But the fact remains, when two photos were stacked side by side, only one of the women was able transcend the sexualisation of the act of breastfeeding. Only one woman was called “adorable” by the media and portrayed with girlish innocence, and it wasn’t the Black one. It never is.” – Ruby Hamad on Daily Life.

The sexualisation of Black women’s bodies is enshrined in law, with the Australian government making Aboriginal women and children ‘wards of the state.‘ Insitutions aim to disempower Black/ Indigenous women in a multitude of ways. This includes how Hollywood perpetuates images and narratives of Indigneous women and other racial minorities.

In Hollywood films, the Indigenous or minority ‘manic pixie dream girl,’ is either a disposable sex object or a colonialist conquest. In fact, women of colour who play opposite a white man are almost uniformly constructed as exotically sexual, usually because they are feisty, head-strong “free spirits” who won’t be tamed by any man… except by our white hero. The magical pixie provides sex and a beguiling love of nature, but she needs to be taught English first and foremost and then she needs to be imbued with civilisation. The epitome of this trope is found in Westerns. Such Hollywood films usually portray Mexican or Native American women as independent souls who haven’t wanted to partner with a man from their own communities. Yet after some sexy, passionate resistance, they succumb to the rogue charm of the white protagonist who waltzes into town.

You can also see “Asian” variations, of a beautiful, mostly silent but strong-willed Lotus Flower Woman who eventually takes care of the wounded American man and submits to him. 

Becoming aware of and deconstructing such discourses in film and popular culture is a useful step in overcoming our collective tacit acceptance of romanticised colonial fantasies. 

Read more on my post, Noble Savages and Magical Pixie Conquests: Colonial Fantasies in Film.

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar Facing Ethnic Cleansing

A United Nations Official says the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are facing ethnic cleansing. Following years of violence that increasingly escalates, 30,000 Rohingya are now displaced.

“The Rohingya are viewed as illegal immigrants by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar who call them ‘Bengali,’ even though many have lived there for generations. Most live in the impoverished western Rakhine state, but are denied citizenship and smothered by restrictions on movement and work.”

Source: Al Jazeera.

 

STEM Girls Know

Gender stereotypes are perpetuated through the stories we tell children as soon as they’re born. For example, little kids have few preconceived ideas about what a scientist looks like until they start going to pre-school. In Prep and Grade 1 they still draw scientists in gender-neutral ways, but by Grade 2 onwards, they start drawing White men in lab coats. By Grade 5 the stereotype that only White men are scientists has taken hold. The stereotype is both gendered and racial, as research shows that even minorities tend to draw White men, thus affecting diversity in science on multiple levels.This stereotype is used in other ways by teachers, parents, the media and other figures of authority to force girls to consider that maybe they’re not fit to do science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It turns into a phenomenon known as stereotype threat which affects women’s memory recall, decision-making and resilience.

The stereotype is repeated in high school, in the way women scientists and people of colour are missing from the science curriculum, to university, where women role models are largely absent from the syllabus. At every step of girls’ progression from education through to their careers, gender stereotypes are used to discourage women both in tacit and overt ways. This is known as the leaky pipeline, with studies showing how girls and women leave STEM at various stages due to the cultural pressures and institutional obstacles they face.

Read more from me, Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and Prof Rajini Rao on how to transcend gender stereotypes and structural barriers in science.


Image: quote overlaid over photograph of night sky: ‘Young girls know that stars, dinosaurs, bugs and volcanoes are magic. The problem is that day-to-day life in a patriarchal culture makes it hard for women to study them. – Shannon Palus’ on Quartz.

Googlers: We Need Racial Justice Now

Google+’s strong message of support for #BlackLivesMatter is significant given that many other big companies have not addressed the topic.

Along with the message below, Google tweeted:

“#AltonSterling and #PhilandoCastile’s lives mattered. Black lives matter. We need racial justice now.”

This statement is in contrast to Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post that also addressed the death of Philando Castile – which was supportive, but did not mention his race, racism or the Black Lives Matter movement.

“My heart goes out to the Castile family and all the other families who have experienced this kind of tragedy. My thoughts are also with all members of the Facebook community who are deeply troubled by these events. The images we’ve seen this week are graphic and heartbreaking, and they shine a light on the fear that millions of members of our community live with every day. While I hope we never have to see another video like Diamond’s, it reminds us why coming together to build a more open and connected world is so important — and how far we still have to go.

It is good to have leaders like Zuckerberg addressing Castile’s death, but White people, and companies dominated by White people, need to be more explicit in talking about, and addressing, structural racism.

Leaders with social privileges have an elevated status and they should use their power and influence constructively. For the rest of us who are ordinary folk, we need to speak up against racism all the same and look after our Black colleagues who are suffering. Continue reading Googlers: We Need Racial Justice Now

How Whiteness Works: White People Don’t ‘See’ Racism

The latest Pew Survey (2016) shows that White people do not see structural racism and instead see racial inequalities are due to Black people’s personal decisions and lifestyle.

“The survey shows that Black people overwhelmingly blame lower-quality schools and discrimination for why “some Blacks have a harder time getting ahead than Whites.”

A majority of White people, meanwhile, said that “family instability” and “lack of good role models” were chiefly responsible for the problems facing Black communities. Only 36% blamed discrimination, and just 45% said that a “lack of jobs” was holding Black people back.”

Drawing of a white woman with a speech bubble saying, 'I don't see race. I'm a god person.' Beneath is the text: TRANSLATION: I'm going to use my place of privilege to refute and deny the sufferings of those who do not have white privilege while at the same time erasing their personal and cultural history
‘I don’t see race’ is a form of White privilege

The concept of Whiteness explores the social construction of what it means to be White, specifically, how societies establish White culture as the “norm” for social reality. Whiteness studies teaches us to think critically about how social life is organised around White experiences. How does Whiteness establish legitimacy? Whiteness is hegemonic; that is, it is an ideology that has been established over time, first through violent political dominance, and later through cultural institutions that created the fiction that White culture is the natural order.  Social institutions funnel White culture so that it is pervasive: it’s the key lens of history and art; it’s the way in which we learn about science; it’s the representations we grow up with in the media; it’s White people filling most positions of authority. Whiteness is everywhere, and while it is the centre of colonial nations, Whiteness also goes unexamined in day-to-day life.

White people in Australia are not asked, “Where are you from?” They are not required to constantly verify that they are Australian. White people don’t have to think too deeply about why there are no Indigenous people in their schoolbooks. White people don’t experience first hand what it’s like to be made to feel uncomfortable at work because of their race. White people don’t fear being mistreated by authority figures simply because of the colour of their skin.

Whiteness is both privilege and power; it means being on top of the social hierarchy but taking the hierarchy for granted. So much so that even White male politicians will take offence at being called White, in the middle of Senate debates when they were trying to get rid of protections from the Racial Discrimination Act.

Whiteness is maintained through various discourses. Discourses buffer White people from having to think critically about race, such as through the idea of “colour blindness.” White people have come to understand that “overt” forms of racism are not permissible. They do not want to be associated with the label “racist,” and so they avoid ever thinking about race, much less applying race to their own lives. So they say things like “I don’t see race, I just see people,” or they will say, “We are all part of the human race; why can’t we all just get along?” This discourse is a ploy: White people can afford to tune in and out of race discussions. To say that they don’t recognise race is to say: “I don’t want to acknowledge how my life chances have been enhanced by my Whiteness.” To say that they “just see people,” is to also deny the impact that race has on the lives of people of colour, who receive daily reminders of how race negatively impacts their safety, acceptance and progress.

The flip side of “I don’t see race” is that fact that White people place people of colour into broad categories and deny them their individuality. We see this at the social level, when minorities are put into the position of explaining crime and “deviance” of minorities from their communities. At the interpersonal level, White people will “confuse” people of colour because they have limited contact, and interest, in people who are not White. And infamous example involved Black American actor Samuel L. Jackson, who rightly refused to smoothe over the racist “mistake.” These examples illustrate how Whiteness pushes individuals into broad categories, even though White people see themselves as individuals who aren’t influenced by race.

Read more on whiteness and related concepts on my resource, the Sociology of Race.