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I had a long layover in Minneapolis when I was flying out to Launch Pad at the start of the month, and ended up in a bit of a heated Twitter exchange, as one does. It started with this Tweet.

Naturally, this led to responses like, “Why make this automatically about racism? People can’t disagree just because they don’t think it’s true to character?” and “Assuming they’re racist w/o knowing anything else about them makes you guilty of same prejudice you accuse them of,” along with the ever-popular, “Is that actress best audition, or was production going just for ‘diversity’?”

Ron, Hermione, and Rose Granger-Weasley from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

What is it about the suggestion that someone or something might be racist that makes people lose their minds? It reminds me of a conversation I had years ago where in I was told, in all seriousness, that yeah, racism is bad, but being accused of racism is worse.

Some thoughts in the aftermath of that argument earlier this month:

1. Saying, “Hey, this thing/comment/whatever is racist” does not mean “You personally are a horrible person who should be shot and stabbed and otherwise killed to death for your horrible horribleness.”

We live in an imperfect world. It’s pretty much impossible to grow up in a context of racism and sexism and other forms of inequality and discrimination without having some of that garbage get into your head. We all stumble. We all make mistakes. We’ve all absorbed messed-up ideas and assumptions. That doesn’t mean we’re all horrible, awful people. It means we’re human.

Doubling down on racism and other ugliness, on the other hand? Defending and trying to justify it? Belittling and minimizing it? Assuming it’s so much more important to wave your “I’M NOT RACIST!” flag than it is to actually, you know, try to fight and reduce racism? Yeah, that crap steps you closer to the horrible person category.

2. Questioning whether a person of color was picked just for the sake of diversity? That’s pretty messed up. And yeah, racist. Let’s talk about why.

Take a look at this chart, from a PBS article about race in Hollywood.

Diversity in Film GraphIn 2010, non-Hispanic whites made up 63.7% of the U.S. population, but we consistently have about 75% of the roles in these films. We’re overrepresented. And yet how often does anyone ask if a white actor was cast not because they had the best audition, but as a result of their whiteness? To meet some unconscious white quota, or for the sake of making sure the film is white enough to be comfortable for “mainstream” audiences, whatever that means?

If you assume white actors (or authors, or speakers, or whatever) got the job because they were best qualified, but question whether people of color were chosen to meet some kind of diversity quota, guess what?

That's Racist

3. Reading comprehension is important.

Before you go off with knee-jerk defensiveness, make sure you understand what’s being said. Re: Hermione, one response I saw was that people had gotten used to Emma Watson as Hermione, and between that and illustrations in some editions of the books that portrayed her as white, it was totally understandable that people might stumble over seeing a black actress take over the role.

Personally, I’m having trouble adjusting to all of the new actors, having imprinted pretty strongly on the movie cast. But that’s not what I was tweeting about. I didn’t say anything about people who were having trouble resetting their mental Hermione. I was talking to people who are pissed off about it.

If the only casting change you’re struggling with is the role of Hermione, and if you’re actively pissed off about that one change? Please see the previous gif.

4. What’s up with the whole, “Talking about race/racism makes you racist!” fallacy?

It feels like elementary school-style arguing. “I know you are but what am I?”

Pointing out that white people are overrepresented in Hollywood doesn’t actually make me racist against white people, no matter how much you want to play the “I’m rubber, you’re glue,” card.

It’s almost like people don’t understand what racism is. Or they don’t want to understand. They don’t want to learn, or to try to change anything for the better. They just want to shut down the conversation.

Or maybe it’s the colorblindness fallacy. The idea that “I don’t see color” is a good thing, and falling short of that ideal makes you racist. The thing is, “not seeing color” means refusing to see or acknowledge the whole of who people are. It means ignoring systemic inequality and discrimination, because how can you see racism when you refuse to see race? It’s a luxury, a way or turning your back on very real problems. Basically, it’s a cop-out.

5. Some commentary from folks who aren’t me.

I Don’t See Color” – An excellent article by Michi Trota.

The Effect of Media Representation on Self-Esteem. “Television exposure predicted a decrease in self-esteem for white and black girls and black boys, and an increase in self-esteem among white boys.” Is anyone shocked by this?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
deborahblakehps
Jun. 20th, 2016 01:08 am (UTC)
Love J.K Rowling. Love you. Seriously do NOT understand what the fuss is about. Is the woman a good actress? It's okay with the author? Okay, then.
sinboy
Jun. 20th, 2016 02:22 pm (UTC)
All good, all well, and all true, but...

1) Nary a peep out or Rowling when Hermione was cast as white in the movies. Oh well.

2) It you're a white author, and don't put the race of a person in, readers are going to put in default whiteness. If you're not aware of this, you're not paying attention, and are failing at using advanced racebending tricks. Basically, you're being lazy then patting yourself on the back for being clever. It's not clever. It's failing to understand how institutional racism works

3) This is the same lazy post-facto self congratulations Rowling got into after she patted herself on the back for making Dumbledore gay. It was lazy and ignorant then, and it's lazy and ignorant now.

4) The play introduces a black character, which is great for representation, but what, other than the actor's skin color is non-white? Dumbledore introduced a gay character, but what other than the post-facto reveal by Rowling was not default heterosexuality. Again, this is part of institutional racism and heterosexism - people default to white het cis when a person has unspecific attributes but is written by a white het cis author.

Most people will deny it because they think doing otherwise makes them "racist". It does not. What it makes them is consumers in a society that's pre-programmed to give extra, underserved rewards to whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality and cisgenderedness.
wren08
Jun. 20th, 2016 03:01 pm (UTC)
You know, I never thought much about it because I always pictured Hermione as looking rather like my best friend (black kinky hair, very clever) but there are a lot more black people with kinky hair than there are white people with black kinky hair. So without a designation, we probably should have all defaulted to Hermione being black in the first place.
starcat_jewel
Jun. 20th, 2016 06:57 pm (UTC)
Tangentially related, something I ran into elseNet:
"Chekhov's Lesbian: if a character in fiction is portrayed as a member of a minority group, that character's minority status must become a relevant plot point before the end of the story. (Term used sarcastically.)"

This neatly explains something that's been bugging the shit out of me for years -- the people who complain about including diverse characters just as characters being "checking ticky-boxes". Which in turn is tangentially related to the way diverse characters in ensemble TV shows are typically written as "the black guy", "the gay guy", "the woman", etc. THAT really is just checking ticky-boxes, because the whole purpose of their being there is to be The X.

(For an example of a TV show doing this at least partially right, check out Warehouse 13. Their casting of minor characters and extras is a thing of beauty by comparison to most shows.)
lizziebelle
Jun. 20th, 2016 10:45 pm (UTC)
OMG the owls comment. Perfect.
firecat
Jun. 21st, 2016 04:20 am (UTC)
Great post.

What is it about the suggestion that someone or something might be racist that makes people lose their minds?

I strongly recommend this scholarly article:
http://www.academia.edu/7784054/White_Fragility
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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