George Lucas and the White Savior Complex

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a HUGE fan of Star Wars. Most people who know me (at this point) know (if they’re paying any kind of attention) that I’m getting more and more involved in anti-racist activist work.  So on the surface, I should be over the freaking MOON about George Lucas’ new movie, Red Tails, which is the true story of a group of African-American pilots (known as the Tuskegee Airmen) who fought in World War II. Incidentally, my mom recently told me about a book called Mudbound, which is about black pilots from WWII returning home to the Jim Crow South after the war. (Mudbound won a Bellwether Prize, which is a book award for socially engaged works of fiction; I’m hoping our book group will read it sometime this year!)

George Lucas has been getting a lot of press for his new movie, specifically around the hardships he faced in getting his movie made.  Hollywood producers told him, “No one wants to see a film with an all-black cast.”  Now, yes, that reaction from Hollywood executives (while unsurprising) is outrageous, offensive, and a really good example of institutional racism.  But you have to admit: there’s a certain irony to the man who created Jar Jar Binks complaining about institutional racism in Hollywood.

Brief history lesson: There was a fair amount of outrage regarding Jar Jar Binks when the general travesty that was Episode 1 was released.  Jar Jar is little more than a stereotype of the slave black person, speaking pigin english and walking loose and gangly: a cliché in 1950’s caricatures of black folks. He says things like “Meesa called Jar Jar Binks! Meesa become your humble servant!”  At the time, the argument was made that Lucas’ 6-year-old son came up with the idea of Jar Jar.  Though I find it hard to believe that a 6-year old kid asked the character to have such obvious affects borrowed from blackface, Lucas had the power to create the character’s speech and mannerisms any way he wanted. He chose to create a character that was extremely offensive to people of color (and, for that matter, anyone who cares about racial justice.) Even if his kid did ask for the character to have those attributes, Lucas, as an adult, had the responsibility of explaining how (and why) he was going to tweak the character so that it wouldn’t be alienating and offensive. But he didn’t.

Fast-forward to today: Lucas has produced Red Tails, and is getting all kinds of press and attention about the new movie, and doing a lot of talking about how Hollywood didn’t know how (or didn’t want) to promote a movie with an all-black cast and no white guy saving the day.  But here’s the thing: Hollywood is getting exactly what it wanted. George Lucas IS their great white savior, only it’s the movie ITSELF that he had to save.  He has become the hero in the story of the little movie that almost didn’t get made, struggling against all odds to tell the story of black folks.  Hollywood wanted the story of the white guy who saves the day, and they got it.  The real kicker is that Lucas had very little to do with Red Tails, outside of funding it and creating the initial story.  The director and screenwriters are black, but somehow they’re not even mentioned in Lucas’ interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

I don’t care if Lucas didn’t come up with the idea of Jar Jar Binks, because (as his recent actions show), he is still a far cry from truly being a white ally.  I am not willing to pat him on the back and pretend that all is forgiven when it comes to his past fuck-ups, when he’s never owned up to them, and he’s still making some of the same mistakes.  George Lucas has a long way to go before I’ll be willing to give him the “white ally” stamp of approval.  Step one is recognizing his past fuck-ups and problematic racist crap from Star Wars (and he has quite a lot to answer for.) Step two might be mentioning the names of the director (Anthony Hemingway) and writers (John Ridley and Aaron McGruder) for Red Tails.  Step three might be refusing to bend to the force of white paternalism in Hollywood by stepping out of the limelight when he financially supports the creative pursuits of black filmmakers.  So he made a movie that had no white hero in the story. That’s great, but now I want to watch him stop trying to BE the hero in the story of getting the movie made.  If he can’t do that, he’s really no different than the Hollywood studio execs who were too scared to publicize a movie with no white guy saving the world.

I don’t think Lucas is being intentionally racist with his actions.  I actually think he’s probably a pretty good dude, with pretty good intentions.  But unfortunately, that’s not enough for me anymore.  Good intentions only get you so far, and I believe that intent is irrelevant when it comes to whether or not someone is being racist (or sexist, or homophobic, or abelist, or otherwise crappy to an underprivileged group of people.) Sure, some people do racist/fucked-up shit on purpose, but I think far more often people do racist/fucked-up shit without realizing that’s what they’re doing. An argument can be made that they didn’t really MEAN to hurt anyone, but I think it’s like following the traffic laws: ignorance of the rules doesn’t exempt you from having to following them. If you don’t realize that you can’t run a red light, and you do it and you hit someone else with your car, that person is not any less dead because you didn’t know you were supposed to stop.  And you’re not any less guilty because you didn’t know the rules.  If you can’t be bothered to learn how things work before you get behind the wheel of a car, I don’t think you should be driving.  And if you can’t be bothered to examine your own unearned racial privilege, then you probably shouldn’t be making movies about people of color.

Lucas is not the only person in Hollywood who probably thinks they’re doing something good, but is actually just perpetuating damaging stereotypes about people of color, and the myth that they need whites to come along and make everything better.  Blind Side, Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, The Help, Avatar…in so many of these movies, the white lead “manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member (and usually gets some pretty good exoticized sex for his trouble too),” as pointed out by a number of smart, awesome bloggers.  These stereotypes and well-worn tropes are problematic, and endemic of an overall culture of white supremacy, which is tiresome and needs to be changed.

All that said: I do really like Star Wars, and am a huge, nerdy fan of the movies. And I’m really looking forward to seeing Red Tails.  But even though I like a movie or book, I still try to view it through the lens of my social justice values.  As a white person, (who is also middle-class, able-bodied, cisgender, and overall pretty damn fortunate compared to a lot of other folks), it’s easy for me to still find enjoyment in something while I also find it problematic, because at the end of the day: those stories are not really about me or my daily life and struggles.  And that, friends, is the very definition of privilege.  My privilege is what gives me the ability to tune in and out and pick and choose when I want to fight the difficult battles, or read the difficult stories.  I can put the book down if it’s hard or sad.  The people living and experiencing those realities don’t have that choice.

As white activists and allies, we have to do better.  We have to recognize our privilege if we want to be good allies to people of color.  We have to hold ourselves, and each other, accountable.  We have to expect more of ourselves, and not let ourselves off the hook when things get “too hard,” because we have to remind ourselves that other people don’t have the option of tuning out when shit gets hard.  We have to read the challenging books.  Watch the hard movies.  Speak out.  Take risks.  We have to jump in when it’s time to take blame, and step back when it’s time to take credit.  We constantly ask people of color to take a back seat, compartmentalize aspects of their identity, and set aside their race in the name of the “greater good” of the other cause(s) we’re trying to impact. And that shit is NOT OKAY. As white allies, we have to TRY HARDER and pay more attention when we create imagery and publish materials that support our politics. It is our responsibility to not be lazy, to not let our racial privilege get in the way of the good work we’re trying to do in the world. It’s OUR responsibility, and we have to STEP IT THE FUCK UP.

I’m hoping that, at the very least, Red Tails is a great movie that tells a story that needed a voice.  And I’m hoping that one day, we’ll have a world where these stories get the same amount of attention and press even when no white guy champions the cause.

Santorum Comes From Behind

With the Republican primaries starting to get into full-swing, my propensity for migrains has started coming back. There have been evenings where I’ve found myself yelling at my computer screen, just from reading the nonsense coming out of the mouths of some of these idiots. None of the candidates seem like viable competitors for Obama (though he’s not on my list of favorite people these days, either), but the scariest contendor of them all has got to be Rick Santorum. Intially an unlikely contendor with practically no chance at the nomination, Rick Santorum came in a narrow second by only EIGHT VOTES in Iowa this week.

You may be wondering why I’m linking to such a disgusting website, one which is clearly NOT the candidate’s actual web presence. The reason is simple: As disgusting as the new definition of Rick Santorum‘s name may be, it’s not NEARLY as disguting as his positions on homosexuality, welface, race, birth control, women, and basic human rights. Rick Santorum is nothing more than what Dan Savage has made him out to be: a frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. Now THAT, I will link to Rick Santorum‘s actual website.

While this doesn’t really have anything to do with books, it does have to do with social justice. Make no mistake: Rick Santorum does not care about the rights and lives of people who are not heterosexual, white men (who are probably also Christian, cis-gendered, able-bodied, and otherwise supporting of heteropatriarchial values.) In case you’re not sure exactly how wretched this guy is, here’s some examples of the frothy mix of bullshit that comes out of his mouth:

“I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money.” (source)

“If the Supreme Court says that you have a right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.” (source)

“There are people who were gay and lived the gay lifestyle and aren’t anymore. I don’t know if that’s the similar situation or that’s the case for anyone that’s black. It’s a behavioral issue as opposed to a color of the skin issue, and that’s the diff for serving in the military.” (source)

“There are no Palestinians. All the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis. There are no Palestinians. This is Israeli land.” (source)

“I believe the earth gets warmer and I also believe the earth gets cooler. And I think history points out that it does that and that the idea that man, through the production of CO2 — which is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the man-made part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas — is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you consider all the other factors.” (source)

“Marriage is not about affirming somebody’s love for somebody else. It’s about uniting together to be open to children, to further civilization in our society.” (source) What a romantic! I’d sure love to be his date on Valentine’s Day.

“We have made the decision that the best way to raise a family is with a man and a woman.” (source)

“[The] right to privacy…doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution.” (source) Now, he’s got a point on this one. The Constitution doesn’t guarantee anyone’s right to privacy. Oh, right. Except where it does. But that’s okay, that’s just a little 4th Amendment, and we don’t talk about that in polite company. It’s interesting that he’s so okay with re-writing the Constitution in this context, given his next quote…

“To the Founders, these God-given truths — that ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights’ — are no more open to discuss or debate than the laws of gravity. They are simply there, part of the created order. And because they are divinely sanctioned, it followed that even if a wicked and depraved majority tried to subvert them in the name of ‘democracy,’ the moral minority would be obliged to resist the majority’s wishes in the name of moral truth.” (source)

“In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality.” (source)

Oh, Rick. You are a frothy mix of stupidity. Fortunately for the rest of us, Iowa Republicans don’t do a very good job picking the Republican nominee. Before long, you’ll be back in on the bottom where you belong.

Want to do your part to help make sure Rick Santorum gets his due? A click a day keeps the santorum away:

Be sure to click on the link on each of these pages! (You’ll have to scroll for some of them.)

If you’re feeling REALLY ambitious, you can also hover on links that say “frothy mix,” and if the tool-tip says it takes you to his real website, click on it! Google will start making the associations between the sites and phrases when you start clicking.

New library card!

New Library Card!

This evening, I popped by the library to pick up my brand new library card!  It was really exciting, though I feel like a huge dork saying that.  I think it would make my mom proud, though, to know that she raised a kid who values reading and books enough to get all dorkily excited about a library card…even if, until getting a Kindle last summer, that daughter hadn’t been a reader for years.

Despite having been on a bit of a reading hiatus, I never stopped loving books.  I stopped reading, honestly, because I have moved so much inside the Seattle area, and those boxes of books just started feeling overwhelming every time I thought about moving again.  It didn’t help that I really couldn’t even conceive of the idea that I might get rid of any of the books.  Get rid of books?  After you’ve read them?  That just seemed wrong, somehow.  After I read a book, I usually have an emotional attachment to it.  It marks a particular time and place in my life, and becomes a part of my history.  I have always been more of a book-buyer than a book-borrower because with my notoriously-bad memory, how else will I remember the books I’ve read if I can’t SEE them sitting on my shelf?  But, not wanting to take up more space with the books kept winning out, so eventually I just stopped buying and reading books altogether.

I decided to get a Kindle this past summer, which (more than anything else), is a testament to my mom’s persistence.  Not that she told me I should get a Kindle, but she never stopped recommending books for me to read.  Eventually it dawned on me that I could still read AND not take up more space on my shelves, because we have the technology to solve that problem, now.  I was slow to choose an eBook reader, because they all had different (dis)advantages.  I eventually chose the Kindle, even though it didn’t support library books at the time, for two reasons: I knew that eventually Amazon would have to make the Kindles library-book-friendly, and I like supporting my local booksellers.  (Hey, I live in Seattle.  Amazon IS my local bookseller, just like Starbucks is my local coffeshop. Except I don’t drink coffee.  But that’s not the point.)

My mom instilled a love for books and reading in me from a very early age.  She had a copy of The Read Aloud Handbook, which I remember eventually became very worn and clearly well-used.  So many of my favorite childhood memories are of my mom reading to me.  I lost my first tooth one night while she was reading to me (though I can’t remember if it was Ramona The Pest, or The Boxcar Children).  I remember discovering the crossed-out paragraphs and margin notes in Superfudge, reminding her not to read the parts about Santa not being real.  I remember that she had to try twice to get me to listen to The Secret Garden, because I was not having any of it and refused to sit still the first time around.  I remember sort of relating to the main character in Wild Violets, and that my mom related to her, too.  When I got older, she started recommending other books for me to read, including some of her favorites, many of which have become my favorites, as well.  Among them: The Color Purple, The Catcher in the RyeTraveling Mercies, Me Talk Pretty One Day, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke.  Ultimately, I bought the Kindle and started reading again because books are a common language that my mom and I have always shared, and I missed that.  I wanted to talk about books with her again, because she has always had such great taste in literature, and I didn’t want to miss out on any of her recommendations!

This summer, we’ve discussed a bunch of books, and issues that the books sparked.  We read and/or discussed: The Help, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, My Sister’s Keeper (which apparently has been banned in some places), and a few others.  It’s been really nice to be reading again, and to be having these conversations with my mom.

What about you?  What do you love about reading?  Does it remind you of something from your past, or does it make you hopeful for the future?

Kick-off Meeting was AWESOME!

Yesterday was the kick-off meeting of our brand spankin’ new Social Justice Book Group!  There were 6 people present, and we went over some ground rules, book ideas, and did some quick “getting to know you,” introductions.  I was happy to learn that I am NOT the only person who has never been in a book group before!

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’d never been to the Seattle Public Library.  Not to the Capitol Hill branch, not to any of them.  Well, okay: I suppose I went to the downtown branch about a week after I moved to Seattle (more than thirteen years ago), and I checked out a copy of The Dancing Wu Li Masters (which I never returned, oops), but that was really the last time I set foot in a library.  I’ve always been more of an online bookstore kind of girl.  I’m really pleased to be utilizing Seattle’s libraries now that we have started this group, because I think they’re a vital community resource that is going to go away if no one uses them. I was especially happy to see that there is ivy growing on the walls INSIDE this library location, because I’m kind of a sucker for living walls.  It’s a stunningly beautiful building, and I kinda didn’t want to leave…which is pretty amazing, seeing as it took me this long to actually go inside.  🙂

We settled on Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford, as our first book, which we will discuss at our November meeting.  Several of us were interested in The Hunger Games, but decided that the wait list at the library for this book was too long at this time since it’s coming out soon as a movie.  I have a feeling we’ll come back to this one for a later group!

If you weren’t able to make our first meeting but you would like to participate, we’d love to have you!  Please join our mailing list, and check out our upcoming list of books.