Via podcasts, I heard pertinent reminders about how our lives are subtly and not-so-subtlely shaped by bias. The speakers work within the entertainment industry, but seem to operate as formidable intellects and commentators on their own.
Field Negro Guide to Arts & Culture
Hosted by W. Kamau Bell and Vernon Reid, with producer Alex Thornton
Segment on Jeremy Lin/Linsanity and Asian American race and representation.
Episode 32, “Too Many Turnovers,” 2/20/12, 1:00:13-1:17:47
It should be obvious that the casual, semi-oblivious racism surrounding Linsanity, such as ESPN’s “Chink in the Armor” headline, is unacceptable. But Linsanity might be remembered more for people going temporarily insane—not for a point guard—but with race itself. In the recent hubbub, I encountered classic examples of blaming the victim, in which Asian Americans who objected to racist speech were called “sensitive” “pansies.” Bell and Reid help set the record straight.
W. Kamau Bell: It’s a referendum on how racist is our society, because there’s been all these stories of racism around Jeremy Lin, even people supporting him… The Knicks threw up some thing in Madison Square Garden the other night, where it was Lin’s head coming out of a fortune cookie.
Vernon Reid: Oh, no, they didn’t! … Why would— Who would— That’s just— That’s, like, the worst shit ever. What!?
VR [Commenting on a Black sports commentator’s racist tweet]: Anytime you have a group who dominates in a particular thing, if that dominance is threatened, the ugly comes out…. We [Black people] dominate in the NFL… and the NBA. But … now, a Jeremy Lin shows up, and all of the really, really unfortunate, baiting, racist, outsider stuff starts to come out…
WKB: …It’s people who don’t know. That’s how screwed up we are in America. People who are trying to celebrate him end up being racist.
WKB: …the headline was “Chink in the Armor.”
VR: You’re fucking kidding me!
WKB: …The thing is, they don’t think they’re being— …It’s like they just don’t even see it.
VR: …That’s just— That’s just— …for real? … It’s just appalling. Appalling, appalling, appalling.
Considering Reid’s typically judicious and erudite commentary on all matters political and social, his disbelief says it all for me.
This is a great interview, with many poignant moments. Streep is such a composed, accomplished actor, it was shocking to hear her reveal that she made herself more appealing to dates as a teen by withholding opinions. She also described finding her personality by attending a women’s college in the 1970s (I think we are all better for it). Echoing Bell’s comments above, there’s a litmus quality to Streep’s reflections—that it reveals something about progress—and the unreached potentials that remain.
Terry Gross quoted Streep’s commencement speech at Barnard in 2010:
The hardest thing in the world is to persuade a straight male audience to identify with a woman character. It’s easier for women, because we were brought up identifying with male characters in literature. It’s hard for straight boys to identify with Juliet or Wendy in Peter Pan. Whereas girls identify with Romeo or Peter Pan.
Meryl Streep: It became obvious to me that men don’t live through female characters.
Terry Gross: Do you think that women have that double consciousness?
MS: I think it has to do with very deep things. It might be that imagining yourself as a girl is a diminishment.
Heartbreaking. Streep goes on and says that she made movies for 30 years before ever hearing a man say, “I know how you felt.” More often, men’s favorite characters of Streep’s ouvre were of
a particular kind of very feminine, recessive kind of personality…. So they fell in love with her, but they didn’t feel the story through her body. It took, until The Devil Wears Prada, to play someone tough, who had to make hard decisions, who was running an organization,… for a certain kind of man to— empathize. That’s the word. Empathize.
This made me lament first, for my female actor friends, and second, for the diminished stories available to us all.