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there is a reason why I am not a philosopher

I probably don’t need to publish this post on my blog. It is not appealing. It is not good writing. It will not make you laugh out loud. It is not even a proper rant. Besides, it is friggin’ long – I am amazed at how much I tapped out on my iPhod, and tedious. I am not even making any coherent argument, not to mention grammatical errors! Run-on sentences! totally exposing myself as a feeble-minded person. Even the title spells “MEH”.

That being said, I feel this pathological need to be on the record, I guess. Since I have been treating this blog as my diary, I want everything that comes out of my head to be on here. So, sorry about this… mental puke…

I brought the book, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett with me on my flight back home last December. I have had the whole flight between IAD and Narita to ponder on this book. I won’t even attempt at writing a review since I am really not qualified to do so. And at any rate, there are already more than 1,400 reviews on Amazon.com. Furthermore, all the book reviewers in the major news outlets have done so and waxed poetic on this book, with one of them comparing The Help to To Kill A Mocking Bird.* I will just make a list of things that I have been chewing on. By Tap Tap Tap on my iPhone (without a SIM) and therefore heavy editing involved thereafter.

Spoiler alert: If you are thinking of reading this book, you should skip this. I will also be 100% honest with myself, which means I will be contradictory, at times nonsensical, and possibly offending, especially if you love the book.

Confession first: I enjoyed reading this book tremendously. Cliché, yes. Truth is: it IS a page turner. For me. From the moment when I opened it in August when I first received it, I could not completely put Aibileen out of my head until the Christmas week, when I finally had time to sit down and read the book in long stretches.

The stories are riveting. The voices are, as much as I hate using this word because it is often confused with “stereotypical”, or at the very least “archetypal”, the voices sound to me “authentic”. That is, when I was reading it, when I was caught up in the drama of the story that was being expertly told, when I was kept in suspense as to the safety of the women, when I was hoping with clenched fists and a racing hear that they would triumph over evil and that justice would be done. Well, justice be done to a certain extent, in the strict confines of the story-telling.

Now I ask myself: How many Southerners do I know? None.

Do I know any African American domestic help? Nope.

What do I know about Southern dialects and accents? Not a thing.

So what do I know about whether the book is “authentic” or not? Hasn’t this always been the gripe I have against books like Memoirs of a Geisha? That a fiction novel, on account of its main characters being of a non-white race, is evaluated and praised for delivering an “authentic” portrayal. Do we even care whether Dan Brown’s characters are authentic or not?

Damn the identity politics theories I read, classes I took.

I cannot help, in the back of my mind, though I immensely enjoyed the stories of these women, that a white woman took possession of the black women’s stories twice, especially after I read Kathryn Stockett’s personal note at the end of the book: like Skeeter in the story, Stockett wrote the black women’s stories and gained wild success.

I understand the above statement reeks of identity politics, but I cannot help the gnawing feelings in the back of my head.

What bothers me even more is Skeeter’s cajoling, forcing almost, these women into telling her their stories because she was told that she needed to write something that nobody had ever written before in order to get into the publishing world. Throughout I was extremely uncomfortable with her motive: next to the all too real risk to the black women’s lives, her motif seems so trivial. Selfish even. What is the potential downside for her engagement in this feat? None too serious really. And indeed, there was a happy ending for Skeeter. But for Minnie and Aibileen the future remained uncertain.

Although I do wish something horrible would happen to the wrong-doers and was a bit let down when it didn’t, I do applaud the author for not cheapening the story by taking the easy way out. They are still in the mid 1960s in Mississippi and it is not like they are going to all of a sudden find true equality by the end of the book. I need to give the author props for not providing her White readers with an easy cathartic way to assuage the white guilt. “The villain that caused such misery is dead/appropriately punished, all is well in the universe. Now get on with your merry life.”

As I mentioned, the book received gleaming reviews. From White book reviewers. This could be racist on my part, and certainly identity politics at its worst as some might say, nevertheless, I feel I NEED TO know how an African American reader may feel about this book. NOT because a white woman from a privileged family in the South wrote this book, but because, again, despite my immense enjoyment of this book, and yes indeed I feel guilty for liking this book when I started wondering how my friends back in my graduate study classes would have said about this book, I cannot ignore the conflation of the tropes: 1. the White heroine being rescued, or finding self-realization, through Black folks around her that she does not socialize with, 2. Black people, unable to help or save themselves, being rescued by a White person.

I imagine this book already optioned by a movie studio. Or soon will be. Anyway you look at it, it IS going to be a great vehicle for some of the outstanding African American actresses, and god only knows how hard it is for a good script with a strong minority character lead to make it all the way to some head honcho’s desk. I do hope that the script and the actor that portrays Leroy would breathe some more life into him rather than the one-dimensional wife-beater. When in doubt, we reach for the things we share as women: abusive husbands, cheating boyfriends, sexist Chauvinistic patriarchs. In that process, our men are further demonized. Joy Luck Club immediately comes to mind. I can’t watch that movie without cringing. Not a single man in that movie is worthy of loving. Is it why it was accepted by the white mainstream audience? “Poor Asian women. They are so much better off over here. Away from their men.”

When The Blind Side came out, and the Internet was all abuzz about what a feel good movie it was, it immediately raised the mental red flag for me. “Feel good” means, to me, “Not for you. You are probably not the target audience/reader. Stay home. Otherwise you won’t feel good.”

I asked an African American columnist whether she planned to see the movie,

“No. We don’t consider that movie an attractive idea.” She said coyly.

* The surest way to incite heated debate against the worth of any book is to compare it to the beloved To Kill a Mocking Bird… So if you hate someone, yeah, go ahead and compare them to Harper Lee.

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UPDATE (12-17-2009):

I realized that my attempt at satire actually makes it even more confusing. My apology. I will lay it out straight: The “I’m a Racist” ad is ridiculous also because it predicted on the faulty assumption #1 HCR is mostly about the African Americans #2 Ergo I have been accused of being a racist because I am against HCR. OR, if you criticize my criticism of HCR, you are accusing me of being a racist. In my mind, #1 is incorrect, and therefore #2 is incorrect. (This is the argument I was trying to make by invoking the fact that there are also a lot of POOR WHITES who are trapped in the poverty cycle AND the arguments, on both sides, seem to have overlooked their plights).

The new ad “I Guss I’m A Lazy Ass” I am proposing here is for the Pro-HCR camp as a comeback. And it is satirical. Hard to convey “satirical” tone with words since you can’t see my Quote Fingers or Jazz Hands… It plays upon #1. The assumption by many in the anti-HCR camp (anti-Public-option) that people without health care are lazy asses who cannot hold a job, etc. Why should we help those people out? #2. This proposed ad would confront that assumption. #3. The prominent representation of white people (a la the prominent representation by the final Black guy in the “I’m a racist” ad), as sarcastically proposed, refers to the common assumption that Poor White People are Poor NOT because they are lazy but because they are unfortunate…

Anyway, it serves me right to be smug enough to think that I can tackle such a controversial and complex issue. This is such a charged subject and as you can see I am confused myself. There is probably no need for this update either since you either got me (for which I am very grateful and would you please come to my house and explain me to my husband?) or you have moved on to more important things (I would have done this if I were you too so no hard feelings), but I feel that I need to clarify things because I am anal retentive. The bottom line is:

I would like to see the government TRYING to help the truly unfortunate out, esp. the millions of children that are not ensured, and if that means I have to pay more taxes, I am fine with it. Will they make some bumbling mistakes along the way? You bet ya. But the expectation of imperfection should not be the excuse for not doing it at all. Have all the countries claiming to be a democracy really adhere to the democratic principles all the time? Are there not corruptions, nepotisms, all sorts of Jackassery going on? You bet ya. Does that mean democracy failed and we should just write it off? I am sure the answer is no.

This I believe:

“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and nobody should go broke because they get sick.”

The Original Post (as published on 12-16-2009):

Many of you have this feature called Wordless Wednesday every, eh, Wednesday. But me? Not talking? When I have my own soap box right here? Ha. Therefore I decided to start my own tradition called WTF Wednesday.

And conveniently, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, together: what do we have here?!

My token male reader called me out on an evasive post last week, half-assedly commenting on the “I guess I’m a Racist” anti-healthcare reform ad.

Yeah yeah I know I just also wrote this big giant navel-gazing post about how I am going to ignore all of you and just do whatever I want. So I am going to ignore you right now for mocking me…

You are a dick, dick!

Although I have blogged about how I feel about HCR, his comment struck a cord. I was caught red-handed for not following through with my oh-so-big announcement of how I am going to just go ahead and be myself. YOU GOT ME DICK! (No, he really is a dick. I mean, that’s what his blog is called. Eh, never mind…)

So here it is, a week later, assuming (hoping, actually) that I am preaching to the choir, FWIW:

The video is asinine to say the least.  As Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell succinctly puts it, “THIS sucks the rhetoric air out of the room.”

  1. First of all, the ads (and many comments circulating on the Interweb) unquestionably assume that RACISM operates on the individual level, rather than on the institutional level. Regarding institutionalized racism: You either agree with this, or you don’t. This is my pessimistic conclusion.
  2. Furthermore, the ads (and the subsequent celebratory comments around the Interweb) wrongfully, yet effectively, turned the entire HCR debate around and recast the issue in an ultra emotional light, since most people do not deliberately practice racist beliefs and activities, and most people take it very personally, understandably, when they feel they are being accused of being a racist.
  3. The real issue of HCR, in my opinion, is one about class: the Have’s vs. The Have-Not’s. And we need to recognize that in the U.S., the class issues are inextricably linked to race issues, due to our unique histories. Although many in the African American academia have challenged the “code words” used in the HCR debate, e.g. “Welfare Queens”, “under class”, etc., it does not mean that they are trying to “hijack” the HCR issue with race issues. The poor Whites will also benefit from an improved health care system. And do you know approximately 2/3 of all welfare benefits administered by the government went to poor Whites? Why is that in a discussion on HCR that could benefit all the people who currently do not have any form of health insurance across the board, we don’t hear about these non-non-White folks’ plights?
  4. Somebody should make a video with all sorts of people speaking to the camera, “I guess I am a lazy ass,” to move the dial all the way to the other end: “You cannot afford health insurance, it must be your own damn fault!” Preferably featuring WHITE PEOPLE since as the thinking goes (as exemplified in the “I Guess I’m a Racist” vid) :

    BLACKS <> NOT RACISTS : WHITES <> NOT LAZY ASS
    Ergo, all these people that you saw just now? NOT Lazy Ass.

  5. And definitely remember to show a mother with an innocent child who looks at her mother and asks, “Am I a lazy ass, mom?” That’s going to be some powerful shit.

  6. I would have suggested Asian Americans in the vid to make the strongest point because of the whole “Model Minority” stereotype — You know: We work hard. We pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We are good workers. We hunker down and keep our goddamn mouths shut. We never complain. Yada yada yada — were it not for the other stereotype of Asian Americans being immigrants and foreigners. THAT would have served the enemy’s purpose: LOOK. The HCR IS going to provide insurance to foreigners. OMG!
  7. Some random lady “engaged” me on a debate on Twitter. Imagine debating someone on such a complex issue 140 characters at a time?!… Her argument comes down to: I have done my part. Why should I give more? The government should get out of the business of trying to tell ME how I should spend my (husband’s) hard-earned money. AND, this sort of sums up her position: “I pay tax because I HAVE TO. I give money to charity, through my church, already.” At that point, I said, “Do you seriously want to engage in a political debate with someone who was just talking about tits on Twitter?”
  8. That was the moment when I became deeply convinced that there is NO way we are going to change each other’s mind. None.
  9. That was the moment when I fell in love all over again with Jon Stewart.

p.s. Comedy Central’s blog post on this vid is calledI Guess I’m a Racist, Sexist, Puppy-Killing Psychopath Who Never Calls My Mom“…  The title IS the comment.

p.p.s. The funniest, most scathing, most intelligently sarcastic, and in my mind, the most effective comeback was found on The AWL:

“I’m of the opinion that it’s always great to see an oppressed group of people attempt to reclaim a word that has been used in the past to cause hurt and shame. I’m thrilled for Republicans that they’re trying to take the ‘racist’ label back.”

GOLD.

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So now I am completely obsessed with Anna May Wong. I wanted to find and read everything about her… then I found this:

Shanghai Express

This is fucking Marlene Dietrich we are talking about here…  Marlene Dietrich looks like this:

(Ignore the cigarettes. They didn’t know better back then…)

Annex - Dietrich, Marlene (Angel)_01

Annex - Dietrich, Marlene (Shanghai Express)_03

Annex - Dietrich, Marlene_17

Yeah.  I get the irony about me posting photographic evidence of objectification of these two gorgeous women after I posted We will not become what we mean to you.   I have the luxury of a revisionist perspective, looking back at these women and what they have done in portraying strong, powerful women, albeit always thwarted by the end of the film.

On the other hand, now this conviction, and personal, secret mantra, “We will not become what we mean to you”, just became even more powerful for me.  The paradox of the subjectification of the unavoidable objectification perchance will remove us from this endless loop, a discourse that goes nowhere.

I am spewing nonsense now.  This shit is complicated.  No wonder people avoid the discussion of gender and racial politics like the plague.

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