The Trouble with Tribbles: Brown People Everywhere!

First off, I am rather irritated with WordPress–I logged in and realized that about the last three or four entries that I’ve written have all been saved as DRAFTS and never published. So, uh, all that time last week when I thought I was writing blog posts? Yeeeaaah.

Oh well. So it goes. One or two of them might get bumped and published, or I’ll just let them die a dusty death in the WordPress drafts folder. Who knows.

So I’m back. I was out of town in North Carolina for the weekend, and that was quite an experience. I’ve always been aware of small, subtle racism, but let me just say: holy shit dudes. That is some heavy, intense stuff. Oh, the broiling anger.

Speaking of brown folk, why aren’t there any in The Last Airbender? I am really excited about this movie coming out, because I recently watched through–and loved–the animated series that the movie is based on. The series is cute, funny, and just plain cool, plus it features a lot of incredibly strong female characters, including Katara, who practically spouts feminism left and right. For the record, all of the characters are awesome, but it’s just so refreshing to have a female protagonist who not only kicks ass, but constantly challenges assumptions about her gender (at one point she is told she cannot learn a certain skillset because she’s a girl and she immediately proves everyone wrong).

Anyways, let’s review:

Katara, animated

Katara, on film

*sings* One of these things is not like the other…

I am so totally going to see this movie and I will probably love the hell out of it. However, I gotta say–whyyyy? I really just can’t believe that there aren’t any talented, melanin-infused actresses out there (or actors to play her brother, Sokka, who got equally bleached). I’m sure she’s a great actress and will play the role wonderfully. I’m just disappointed. It seems like in order for anyone non-white to get a leading part, the film has to be ABOUT the character’s non-white-ness. This was such a great opportunity for that NOT to be the case. Goddammit.

Anyways, check out some trailers for The Last Airbender and get excited for some rockin’ martial arts. Just hope that not every character has been treated to the same skin-lightening.

No matter how righteously angry I get about little brown fictional girls turning peach, I still reap all the comfy benefits and privileges of being correspondingly peachy-colored. I try to keep myself cognizant of that, but it doesn’t always work. For example, I was deeply humbled when I read this excellent post by Alicia Canady about the recent surge of murders in some of the “less savory” neighborhoods of Boston. When I read news about another teenager getting murdered in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, etc, I pause for a moment to feel sad, but then I continue about my day. There is a part of me that thinks, “those can be potentially risky areas to live in.” That’s acceptance. But Ms. Canady makes an incredibly powerful point: why do we accept that?

I mean, one answer is that it just takes so damn much to change things. There’s so many forces at work. There’s crappy educational systems in low-income neighborhoods. There’s generally shitty public transportation access (for those who actually live in Boston, you know what I mean–the light rail will take you all over in Cambridge and Brookline, which aren’t even part of the city of Boston, yet accessing Southie or Dorchester or Roslindale is a bit more tricksy) and without transit, unless you own a car, getting to a better job is next to impossible, and cars are freaking expensive. There’s less availability of all kinds of services, and even arguably less access to quality food (go ahead. Google where you’ve got Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. I’m not saying that yuppie food is the only way, but I’ve sure as hell noticed the difference in the quality of produce and meat between those stores and, say, Market Basket). In general the infrastructure is less–you can’t count on the police, fire department, or other emergency services like you can elsewhere. The lack of police enforcement is really significant here, in that it facilitates drugs and crime.

Wrap into this perfect storm all the cultural expectations (or lack thereof) and BAM! we have incubation for murder.

That was a really short synopsis. But what I’m saying is that we need to NOT normalize and accept the idea that low-income neighborhoods are inherently dangerous, that murder is “just part of living in [Dorchester/Mattapan/Eastie/etc]” because it doesn’t have to be. Ms. Canady states it all so much more eloquently than I ever could, but she is speaking directly to her peers. We who are not part of these communities should not go plowing in and going “we’re going to fix this!” because that is patronizing and stupid and, well, wrong. We can’t fix it. What we CAN do is stop thinking that it is unfixable, that brown children dying is a fact of life, and that we should just ignore it. We can change how we see things. We can react with the same outrage when a child is shot in Mattapan as we would if a child were shot in Newton. This shouldn’t be an “us vs. them” concept–socioeconomic status, skin color, address… none of these things make any of us less of a human being. That’s what we all are. Human beings. So we need to stop subscribing to our identity politics and ignoring what goes on outside our own little bubble.

"It's the brown people, sir, they're everywhere!" "Well, just stick 'em in poverty and they'll kill themselves off."

Dammit, Jim, I’m a blogger, not a social engineer! I wish I knew how to make all these things happen. But for now, I’m going to circulate Ms. Canady’s article to everyone I can–it’s a really important article. I ask that you do the same, and take a moment to consider why we think the things we do. Every little bit counts.


06/02/2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. On The Value of Education « Bitches Get Stuff Done replied:

    […] that outsiders write off (which references back to my post about how the rest of Boston seems to write off violence in Dorchester/Roxbury/Mattapan/etc). I think schools are a place where that feeling of potential and community identity can begin. Not […]

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