Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Supplemental Post #7: We Don't See Color?

I was watching a boxing match with a friend earlier and his comment about the fight is stuck in my mind. We have been watching for a while at that point and I noticed that most matches pair a white fighter against a black fighter. So just out of curiosity, I said: "Why do they always have a white guy fight a black guy?" My friend replied: "Hey, we don't see skin color here, we just see two fighters." I was taken back by his comment, utterly confused. A part of me doubted whether I was too conscious about race in a boxing match; a part of me was irritated by the comment. I was irritated mostly because the comment really doesn't make any sense: how can you choose not to 'see' people's skin color? I understand that in our politically correct culture, we see all races as equals and we don't want to take into account people's races when we judge them. However, taking away a person's racial and ethnic context is an especially harmful concept. I wonder if we're inclined to look at stars and celebrity that way.

To elaborate, I made that observation because I thought it might reflect a certain problem in the infrastructures of professional sports, leading to problematic media representation of professional athletes. I wondered if the pattern I noticed was no coincidence, that the fight arrangements are actually influenced by the athletes' races. I may be ridiculously wrong, but I'm interested in exploring more. After all, a person's skin color is one of the first things you notice about a person. Sure, we all want to look past that and say that we are all equals. But ignoring a person's racial context is choosing not to explore an essential part of one's identity.

This ignorance is what caused a brief twitter feud between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj last year about the VMA awards snub. Upset about the lack of a nomination of her "Anaconda" video for video of the year, Nicki tweeted "If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year." Taking this as a personal attack (because Taylor is a woman with a very slim body), Taylor tweeted to Nicki: "I've done nothing but love & support you. It's unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.." Taylor's comment comes from a feminist perspective, focused on whatever seems offensive or harmful to feminism, which is an important point of view. However, what she fails to see is the racial subtext that Nicki's comment contains. Although she is talking about 'women with very slim bodies,' Nicki is really commenting on a specifically 'white' beauty standard. In other words, she is criticizing the white-dominant beauty ideal in American culture, as a black celebrity who does neither embodies that ideal nor seeks it. Award shows like the VMAs tend to celebrate whatever 'white' pop culture celebrates, and that is what Nicki finds problematic. In her feminist-focused mindset, Taylor decided to look past Nicki's racial subtext and consider her as just a woman, but not a 'black woman,' which resulted in her less than charming comment.

Race and gender are two very relevant and hot-topic issues right now, and they are difficult to talk about. We are often tempted to go with a seemingly 'safe' point of view, looking past people's race, leading to a lack of sensibility about important racial concerns. It is important to separate awareness about discourses surrounding race and judgments surrounding race. We should never resort to uninformed judgment, but we also need to be brave enough to actively seek awareness.

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