Bamboozled in the politics of race

Via Pickled Politics:

A particularly typical example of liberal guilt “we-feel-sorry-for-you” racism. You see they would have liked to to put a black model on the front but she just would not have sold as many copies. So they used a druggie.

It’s about the latest issue of The Independent (in issue intended to raise money for the anti-aids campaign) featuring Kate Moss on the cover:


Yes, she is black there. Besides the somewhat mean comments (sniffing some white stuff and becoming black) more people have raised there eyebrows because of this. Blackening up is not really new. There were the black minstrels, Darkie Day and not to forget a true Dutch tradition: Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet.


Blackening a face can be used to affect the countenance of an stereotypical, racist, – that of the darky or coon. The debate about this reminds me of the Spike Lee movie Bamboozled. Although such a representation might be done with good intentions, if it is not clearly understood taht way or appreciated, the act itself becomes humiliating and the picture becomes irritating. The performers in Lee’s movie are black actors, pretending to be white actors who pretend to be black. In some way or the other they are caught, or feel caught, in a sort of silent expectation that being white is the norm. That they get trapped in a kind of politics of all kinds of people, eager to define what is the correct skin color. Even if this Kate Moss picture doesn’t have to do with racism and politics of race, it got trapped in these kind of politics. These politics of race depend upon place and time of course. The Dutch Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet tradition is an old one and still very strong. There is some debate about it if it is racist or not, but that is very minor. Perhaps because many black people like the tradition and they consider that resistance is futile anyway. It is also strong because it is very much tied to ‘Dutch’ identity and ‘Dutch’ culture and since many people already think that their identity and culture is under threat, they don’t want to lose this. And of course, people don’t consider themselves racists, not per se because they like black people so much, but because they know what the consequences can be. This Dutch tradition might be compared, I guess, with the Iranian New Year festival (nowrooz, No Ruz, norooz)


The context is there is different and I don’t know if this would be trapped into the politics of race. Brittain and the US of course have a clearly different history also compared to the Netherlands with regard to race although I think the issue of the Independent might have raised some questions here as well. Anyway, it is clear, and it does not really matter if it is correct or not, race still matters.

I came across an interesting entry at Savage Minds, one of my favorite blogs,  called Identification Overload. In that first entry not the question of race is tackled, but the identification of celebs with the HIV cause:

People now identify with the virus, people who may or may not have it. Clearly the goal of these campaigns is to combat the stigma associated with HIV so that people might more readily get tested and seek treatment. These days, as one friend reported to me, people without HIV are even wearing “HIV+” t-shirts at international conferences. Is HIV fashionable? And what configuration of fashion/celebrity/global concern has yielded this image? What has made HIV safe for this sort of identification? What does it mean? A few more questions here: to what extent does this imagery hail a public that already has HIV in it? Is the infected public imagined to be elsewhere or is it imagined to be ‘here’? How are people with HIV addressed? To my mind these are important questions for thinking about HIV prevention because campaigns and images like this one exist in a field of messages that also includes calls to get tested and to use condoms, among other things.

Indeed, important questions to think about. In the second entry Identification Overload, part II (update) the focus is on the role of Kate Moss:

Kate makes a good meme for tracking because she keeps reappearing in moral debates: about models being too skinny for example, about their off-runway behavior and the example it sets, and now, about the appropriateness of certain forms of identification for calling attention to a global crisis.

Separately, and in respect of HIV in particular, I’m trying to generate some ideas about the form in which moral concern is expressed in the contemporary world of fashion, self-marketing, self-branding, MySpace, and the democratization of mass mediation (viz., the web, as for example SM itself)

This reminded me at an earlier entry of mine on Madonna and the crucifixion issue. About the relationship between mass media, religion (and yes, moral issues) on the one hand and the increasing visualization:

This ‘Madonna-affair’ but also the Cartoon-crisis plays within that context and refers to an important cultural change: the growing visualization of culture. Now this visualization of religion is an interesting thing that probably will be more important in the future. Our culture is getting more and more visualized by mass media also the internet: with the increasing use of fast internet it is easier to make and distribute movies (see youtube for example). Secular and religious people will use this visualization for their own ends. This means not only religious symbols in the public sphere but also a competition over the meaning, importance and interpretation of those symbols and of course who has the right to use and interpret them. Interesting times ahead!

So we keep busy…

2 thoughts on “Bamboozled in the politics of race

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *