Thursday, December 4, 2008

In the chapter titled Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination, written by Bell Hooks in her book, Black Looks, Race and Representation, Hooks addresses how black individuals have created an image of whiteness throughout history and how this image has affected African American society.

Hooks writes that this image or, “special knowledge of whiteness” shared by black individuals was developed from close analysis of white individuals throughout history. Hooks writes that this knowledge’s purpose was to “help black folks cope and survive in a white supremacist society”. Hooks writes, “For years, black domestic servants, working in white homes, acting as informants, brought knowledge back to segregated communities – details, facts, observations, and psychoanalytic readings of the white Other”. (165).

Hooks writes that many white individuals become angry when they realize that black individuals have developed this ‘image’ of whiteness. Bell Hooks writes on page 167 in regards to this reaction of white individuals, “Their amazement that black people watch white people with a critical “ethnographic” gaze, is itself an expression of racism”. Hooks writes that this frustration turns into rage because white individuals believe that these ‘looks’ which emphasize the difference between white people and black people threaten “the liberal belief in a universal subjectivity (we are all just people) that they think will make racism disappear” (167). Hooks continues to write that many white individuals have an “emotional investment in the myth of ‘sameness’”, but that the dominance of whiteness is reinforced through their actions and serves as a sign of who they really are and what they really think. (167).

Bell Hooks continues to give some examples of how this representation and knowledge of whiteness has developed in her own life as an African American. She writes about how she had to walk through a white neighborhood to get to her grandmother’s house. She writes, “I remember the fear, being scared to walk to Baba’s, our grandmother’s house, because we would have to pass that terrifying whiteness – those white faces on the porches staring us down with hate. Even when empty or vacant those porches seemed to say danger, you do not belong here, you are not safe” (175). Hooks writes on page 169 that this representation of whiteness “…is not formed in reaction to stereotypes but emerges as a response to the traumatic pain and anguish that remains a consequence of white racist domination, a psychic state that informs and shapes the way black folks “see” whiteness”.

I found this article written by Hooks difficult to summarize and also a little difficult to take in. Although it is troubling that a knowledge and image of whiteness has developed into fear and anguish in the minds and hearts of African Americans, it is also troubling that this knowledge and these images are still prevalent and developing in society today. Hooks’ article is rather harsh, but at the same time I feel as if the reality of her article is what turns my stomach so much. What is even more frustrating is that I cannot find a stable or realistic solution in her article. Although it seems that her solution is to deconstruct the “association of whiteness as terror in the black imagination…” and to “…decolonize our minds and our imaginations,” I do not feel as if the solution could possibly be that simple (178).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Con-Fusing" Exotica

In this article titled, “Con-Fusing” Exotica, Producing India in U.S. Advertising, written by Sanjukta Ghosh, the author addresses the lack of positive representation of individuals from India in advertisements that are shown in the United States. I found this article extremely interesting, however, at times I felt as if the author went a bit overboard in his criticism of U.S. ads and their lack of accurate representations of India and the people in India.

Ghosh is rather harsh in his criticisms of U.S. advertising. Yet, many of Ghosh’s points seem to open my eyes at least to the fact that U.S. advertisements are taking advantage only of what India can do for the U.S. The advertisements are not representing India’s rich culture or diverse individuals. On page 275 of the book in which Ghosh’s article is printed titled Gender, Race, and Class in Media, A Text Reader, written by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez, Ghosh writes that “…monetarist policies of the U.S. capitalist economy…has needed South Asian labor but has never been able to come to terms with the presence of this community in the U.S. landscape. This has led to a situation where Indians in America, even if they have been naturalized citizens for generations are treated as sojourners rather than as immigrants, people needed, as Vijay Prashad (2000) has said, for their labor, not their lives”.

The quote above basically states the rest of Ghosh’s article. Ghosh writes and gives examples of how advertisements in the U.S. depict pieces of Indian culture, usually having to do with a style of clothing or the advertisement itself, but never actually depict the richness of Indian culture, or even individuals from India. In clothing ads in which the designer has based their collection off of styles from India usually do not use models from India. Instead, white models are used. Ghosh writes about an advertisement specifically from Vogue magazine which depicted a man from India engaging in some Indian stereotypes such as worship, being a taxi driver, etc. Ghosh stresses that these ads do not depict the culture of India in any way. Rather, the advertisements demean individuals from India and the diverse culture of India.

Because of the lack of representation of individuals from India, the imperial ambitions of the West are revealed. On page 276, Ghosh describes three results of this lack of representation. “First, absence helps reinforce a group’s already-held location in the power structure…the absence of South Asian Americans reinforces their absence in the power structure…Second…absence makes it possible for media empires to achieve a racially cleansed visual environment that reinforces the notion of who is “us” and who is “them,” who is “in” and who is “out””…Third, absence also allows those in power to recode the cultural identities of minority groups such as Indians in a way so that they can be used in a war against other minority groups…at times Indian Americans are constructed as the “usurping hordes” and at other times as a “model minority” (276).

At the end of his article, Ghosh explains his concern for the representation of Indians in media and suggests some various solutions. Ghosh writes that the media need to emphasize the vast differences of Indians in America in terms of gender, class, age, etc. The media also needs to appreciate and stress the importance of the fact that the identities of American Indians are always changing as “the political and economic climate changes”. The media “…need to move away from pictures of a Hindu India to a more complex, complicated vision of what India truly is – a poly-religious, polyglot amalgamation of principalities that only in recent years came to be known as a unified state” (280).

Spanish/Indian Coke Commercial

This commercial is a Spanish advertisement for Coca Cola. In this advertisement, the servant who is a male from India is having what seems to be a stressful day. However, when he grabs and guzzles a coke, his day turns into a Bollywood themed day with dancing and singing and sparkles. The comments underneath this youtube video suggest that the entire commercial is in Spanish with an “Indian” theme. Other than a man who looks like he may be from India who sings and dances to Indian sounding music, there really are no other true representations of India. All of the actors other than the Indian servant are white and there really is nothing shown in the ad that depicts Indian culture. Perhaps this advertisement shows that Spain also represents India in stereotypical ways and is also at fault for the absence of India in advertisements. However, I feel as if many cultures are not always positively or fully represented in advertisements. It is not only individuals from India whose rich cultures are not represented in advertisements.