Posts Tagged ‘racism’

h1

The Writer’s “Privilege”

25 November, 2011

My current bathtub book, so-called because I read it while soaking and it was cheap enough I will not feel bad if it gets wet, is Vigil by Robert Masello. The story centers on two major plots. The A plot is the discovery of a demon-like fossil in a submerged cave in Italy. The B plot is a Hebraic scholar translating a very old, very sacred text. Through the course of events both fossil and scholar end up in New York. The former is being analyzed by a pair of professors (one American and one Italian) the latter is doing his analyzing in the spare bedroom of his wealthy, influential father’s penthouse to the annoyance of the step-mother young enough to be his sister. I have enjoyed the story so far; the tale is well written. The problem I have, however, is the author’s view of the world.

The author’s tone is quite clear and he is, unfortunately, a bit of a bigot. To begin we have our Hebraic scholar. He is the neurotic son of the “wealthy Jewish merchant.” His neuroses are crippling without the medicine prescribed by his psychiatrist and he comes across as an educated, unfunny Woody Allen type. Next we have the women in the book. each one, of course is stunning, with the anticipated exception of the “next door neighbor” type wife who is friends with the American professor’s wife. This character is average and is also in constant spats with her husband. Another stereotype. As for the gorgeous women, the first is beautiful and panicky and needs to be rescued. The second (the American’s wife) is stunning and knowledgeable of Renaissance artwork, but her clients are more interested in her body than the artwork. The third is a bright and beautiful young graduate student who is feisty and aggressive in her questions. And the fourth, is the young, sexy, conniving, gold-digging step-mother. If I did not know better, I would swear the misogynistic author was channeling Ian Fleming.

The story is well written and has enough suspense that I keep reading, in spite of the author’s clearly  privileged, WASP-male perspective of the world. I would have to be an asshole to say Masello cannot write and even then it would be a lie. The action and pacing had caught me up and propelled me through the first third of the book, until I came to this paragraph on page 141:

He came around the side of the massive old building–yellow brick that had long since turned brown–and the mobs immediately thinned out. There were revelers, but they were bent on making their way back to the action. By the time he turned the corner and was crossing behind the loading area, there were just a few stragglers–and the ever-preset transvestite, a tall black man in a red suede coat, leaning into the rear window of an idling limousine. Working even on Halloween night, Russo thought; there was something laudable in that [emphasis mine].

The passage turned my stomach.

To begin, there is no reason for the inclusion of the transvestite prostitute. We had not encountered the character before and I doubt we will again. Notice that the author makes it a point to say the character is male when simply saying transvestite would have been sufficient as, according to the mental health community, only men can suffer transvestism; women who wear men’s clothes are expressing a natural though ineffective desire to better themselves. (Clearly, writers are not the only ones who can be sexist.) The only reason to include the statement the character is male is to heighten the falsity and deviance of the character’s existence and to enable “his” use as a prop to create a seedy, ominous, surrealistic feel. Next on my list of complaints, Masello made the transvestite a prostitute, aside from being incredibly offensive in its stereotyping, it is also a gigantic white-male writer cliché. “Oh, I need something creepy and clearly divergent and wrong, I know I’ll include a trans sex worker.” Adding further insult is the fact this is the novel’s only black character. A black, transvestite, sex worker in a dark alley catering the whims of a wealthy, sex-fiend in a limo. “Yep,” says the writer, “that should creep people out.” Finally, the only good quality the character has is a solid work ethic because it is Halloween night. Hence the description of the transvestite as “ever-present,” as in this is not a costume but how this person is everyday. Never mind the struggles, racism, cissexism, and general discrimination this character would clearly face as a marginalized member of society. The bravery to be oneself in spite of those odds is nothing, but to be working on Halloween, well that is “laudable.”

And what really pisses me off is the rest of the book is well written enough that I am going to finish reading it because I need to know what happens next.

God damn.

h1

“Guardians” of the Public Morality

31 October, 2011

Let me be the first to say that I am anti-racism, anti-bullying, and anti-hate. I am transgendered. I know, first hand what discrimination is. I have been beaten. I have had my property vandalized. I was once shot at. I know discrimination. I know hate. I know what it is to be labeled a second class citizen.

Now, let me say something else. I am also against the “guardians” of public morality. You know the kind I am talking about. Those, who often but not always, have the power and privilege in society and feel guilty about it. Typically, the “guardians” feel their power and privilege places them in a unique position to comment on things and, because they are inured in their power and privilege, they just assume that their point of view is accurate and are quick to condemn those who do not “fall in line” with it. These “guardians” do more damage than the bigots. Bigots are typically easy to spot and one does not take their attitudes to heart. The “guardians” are harder to spot. They claim to be your ally but in their mad-dash to defend you (and often to assuage their own guilt) they promote a stereotypical view of who you are.

The world would be better off without these so-called-allies stepping in and turning minorities into cases and projects. The “poor and underprivileged are so powerless they cannot help themselves” attitude of social justice is a denial of the other. It denies them the right to stand up for themselves. It denies them the right to pick their own allies. It denies them the power and privilege of self-determination and becomes another way of keeping them down, maintaining the status quo, while looking like the “guardian” is offering a helping hand. “Let’s change things; without actually changing anything.”

This applies to a number of ad-campaigns as well. The idea that just an image is going to stop racism, genderism, ageism, and bigotry in general is a faulty one. Not even the cruelest of visual campaigns against a group of people can succeed in and of itself. There is a pre-existing mentality that fuels the campaign and gives it the strength it has to shape opinion. A number of the “anti” campaigns are the stuff of Halloween candy, a treat for the eye but no substance. The authors of such campaigns, however well-intentioned, forget that you cannot change an attitude just by appealing to the eye. If it is the pre-existing mentality that fuels bigoted visuals, the reverse must also rely on a pre-existing mentality. They need to appeal to those who are already of like mind in a simple way that is easily recognized as true and rely on them to get the message into society. Individuals change individuals. The NO H8 Campaign is a perfect example of an effectively run, long-term campaign. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the “I Am Not a Costume” campaign. It is offensive to me (and I am speaking only for myself and not representing the opinions of others) because it is flashy and gimmicky. The “coolness” of the campaign kills the message. People pay more attention to the slick images and graphic styling; they love the art, but they lose the message. This campaign is short-lived. It will be around during Halloween and will cease to garner any public notice afterward. It does not promote lasting change because it has no staying power and does not recruit like-minded people as advocates.

As a member of the minority, the second class, the discriminated against I have every right to choose who I make my allies. If you have a different opinion, that’s fine. But don’t try to make yourself my ally. I am strong enough to defend myself.