As a European-Native American mix—or as I’m usually called, a “white girl”—it generally feels out of place to have any opinion on the race issue other than the popular opinion of the non-white community—even when those opinions lack concordance. And when I lived in my comfortable, progressive, and accepting community of San Francisco, CA, that was enough.
However, being non-racist is not enough. In the real world, dispassionate positions don’t cut it in the face of racism, sexism, ageism, or any other “–ism”.
As of late, it seems as though there has been a revival of one of the most protruding ism’s out there: racism by white elitism. And I’m not talking about just white verses black; I’m talking white verses the world. Sounds pretty disgusting, right?
But what is the reason behind this resurgence of the supremacist tendency to use a person’s color as a means to perpetuate social constructs—social constraints? Or perhaps the better question is, when did modern day society—I’m looking at you, Hollywood—become so comfortable with shamelessly sustaining it?
Think about Chris Rock’s disturbingly accurate opening at the appallingly pale Oscars, which he began by exclaiming, “Man, I counted at least 15 black people on that monitor. I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards.”
One must wonder how close that number was to the truth.
Well, probably pretty spot on seeing that an alleged and pathetic 10% of Oscar nominees since 2000 have been of black backgrounds. Meanwhile, African Americans make up 12.6% of the American population. Honestly, the ratio is not that bad. However, in that same time frame, 3% of nominees were Latinos (who make up 16% of the population), and 1% were people of Asian origins (who are about 6% of the population).
As the world has become more globalized, so has racism (aka white, Western elitism). The truth is, the question of American racism is no longer exclusive to black and whites, but inclusive of the subordination of much larger color spectrum. So what’s the effect? The marginalization of people by similarly sidelined people?
Such marginalization by other marginalized people can be seen Zoe Saldana’s revival of black face—yes, blackface. As a Latina actress—who has likely has had less job opportunities in Hollywood, according to the above stats—Saldana took a role that she confesses, “I didn’t think I was right for [Nina].”
And what was her response to the backlash of her wearing blackface? Saldana slyly called on her own heritages’ marginalization: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me — Not fear… I mean really, no fear.” However, what Saldana seems to miss is that she has taken her social “freedom” at the cost of that of another. Though she may not have fear, she may be instilling fear in African Americans as she harkens back to the depraved era of blackface and utter subjugation. Saldana has taken famously ardent civil rights activist and jazz singer, Nina Simmone, and in some sick way, colored her wrong. Saldana, allowed a white director and largely white production team to cast her in role for Nina Simmone. A person who she does not physically look like; a person who she white washed. Thus, Saldana’s unrighteous actions towards an already subordinated race—as a marginalized persona herself—serve to perpetuate white elitism. So what will be the repercussions of the revival of blackface?
So, we’ve seen white people painting themselves black to “westernize” the look. But what happens when black people then starting lighting themselves to reflect the whitewashed versions of themselves that they see on TV?
On April 24th, Lil Kim posted a video and pictures of herself on Facebook appearing as if she were wholly—but not naturally—white. And though it may be easier to write off Lil Kim’s decision to go “white” as a part of her ever-evolving, bazar look, there is clearly a larger issue at hand. Somewhere along the way, the gold standard of beauty became the white standard.
Today, many people advocate wearing what one wants and doing what one needs to in order to feel happy about him or herself—including risky plastic surgery processes. However, as someone who believes that people ought to have the right to alter themselves in any non-harmful way that they must in order wake up every day and feel okay, one must also ask, what are people really striving to look like? What is beauty, where does it come from, and is it consistent across cultures?
Sadly, there does seem to be a consistent definition of beauty across cultures: a White-Western ideal. And it’s not just certain black people who may feel pressured trade in their beauty for another—it is almost every non-white beauty. An article by attn reveals all the ways in which people of different ethnicities have tried to align themselves with this western ideal of attractiveness.
Furthermore, as if mass numbers of people’s submission to the “white” standard were not enough to perpetuate the western-white ideal as dominant, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons has made it its duty to make ethnic specific surgery—more accurately thought as the extirpation of the physical symptoms of ethnicity—one of its main marketing points.
Asian? The American Society of Plastic Surgeons recommends blepharoplasty, otherwise known as eyelid surgery, for you. How about people who are of Middle Eastern origins, Mediterranean background, or people who just don’t have a nose the size of a toothpick? Never fear, the surgeons say rhinoplasty can help you. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons promises to give you a nose that creates a “harmonious balance with other facial features”. And what if you are unsure what “ethnic surgery” you need? The Society has a page that can direct you towards your proper procedure according to what successors of your ethnicity chose.
And let’s not forget bleaching, as brought into the conversation by Lil Kim. According to Dr. Margaret Hunter, the head of the Sociology Department at Mills College, the human bleaching business is now a disturbing, “multi-billion-dollar business and all the biggest cosmetic companies sell products that are supposed to lighten your skin.”
The statistics surrounding peoples’ submission to the white standard of beauty across the world are—to say the least—distressing. And Hollywood’s perpetuation of this cultural sanitation is staggering.
In order to disarm the western standard as the gold standard across cultures, racism and white elitism must stop being perpetuated on such a mass scale. If not, young girls and boys are going to grow up feeling like they cannot fight the fact; feeling like they must bend to the fact—bend to the white ideal.
Thus, due to the deep rooted nature of the race issue, being non-racist is not enough. When we need no race but the human race, we need Anti-racist.
Photo Courtesy of Dani Alvarez.