(First, some personal context: My dissertation topic will be on the phenomenon of inmate wildfire fighting. To prepare for this, I have four comprehensive exam topics that I’ll write in September, for which I’m preparing by reading tons of stuff about each topic. Two are relevant to this essay, and are probably why I am writing it to begin with. One comprehensive exam topic is called ‘Masculinity.’ The other is called ‘The Categorization of Criminals and Heroes.’)
About six months ago, I was on tumblr and saw that someone reblogged something from Hot and Busted. I clicked on the link and discovered that the website is an aggregation of hot guys’ (subjective to the owner of the website, I guess) mug shots. My friend, a fellow anthropologist, and I both noticed that the website mostly featured images of white males – the few black men were mostly celebrities, like Tyler the Creator and a historic mug shot of MLK Jr. We ruminated on it a little, were mildly disturbed by the existence of it, but concluded that at least the website’s owner was objectifying white criminality, rather than walk the much trodden black-guy-with-neck-tattoos-is-hot-because-he’s-bad territory. I noted that a lot of the dudes on this website had charges of drug possession, a few with other non-violent charges. A lot of them look stoned as hell in their mug shots. What I saw was mostly, on the spectrum of acceptable immorality, the type of crimes we can forgive.
A few days ago the mug shot of Jeremy Meeks went viral. As most people with the internet and/or TV know, he got caught in a multi-agency sting to arrest active gang members on weapons charges. After the Stockton Police Department Facebook page posted his mug shot (I could, and maybe should write an article just about this very action) and it garnered a viral-level amount of views and comments, the whole world had something – mostly pretty concise things like “dayuuummmn” or “ew no way” – to say about it. I suppose I’ll now include myself in that group.......
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Hey there. My name is Lindsey, and I’m an anthropologist in Tucson.
At first I thought that it may not be worth it to write an email, because if a school administrator had already made the decision to ignore the voice of a student, he probably secretly feels guilty about doing so, and as a sort of compensation for this unchecked guilt, he would just delete the emails that come to him, so he wouldn’t have to deal with it. But then I thought, “you know what? I need to have more faith than that in our educational system.”
So really, my main point isn’t that a “cowboys vs. indians” day is overtly offensive, actually racist, and obviously uncomfortable to at least one student (probably more). That point will be made by others in your inbox, and should be your main takeaway from this unfortunate experience. What I am trying to express, as a fellow expander-of-minds, is that it makes me fear for your school’s integrity, and the integrity of our educational system writ large. In essence, it scares me a little bit.
You’ve received some emails, I imagine, which eloquently state the reasons why essentializing a whole vast assemblage of cultures/real people/histories/experiences into a binary of “cowboy” and “indian” is super ignorant and offensive. I agree with all of what has undoubtedly been said, and will not add to it. I can offer only a quote to support their claims here, which is, “Racism is not in your intent. Your intent is immaterial in how racist your actions are. This isn’t about you BEING a racist. It’s about you DOING A THING that is racist. Your intent doesn’t change it. Your ignorance of its meaning doesn’t change it. It’s got nothing to do with you as a person and everything to do with the meaning of your action in the context of sociocultural history.” Read that, think about it. It was written in regards to dressing up as an “indian” for halloween. It’s relevant, I think.
So why are you doing this? Is it that you honestly didn’t even realize the intent of the event, and are guilty of just “doing a thing”? If that’s the case, that freaks me out, big time. You are supposed to think deeper than this. You, and those around you who make decisions as educational leaders, should be thinking about intention AND practice. You should turn your critical lens, which you probably honed in some form of education beyond high school, towards the improvement and betterment of young minds, and through that daily process, yourselves. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect any level of education to be a site of self-awareness, meta-thinking, and knowledge production that makes everyone involved a little bit better citizens of humanity.
I don’t want to be wrong in this. I don’t want to hear that this is just high school, so these performances of structural violence and power can go unchecked. I refuse to believe that. So I ask that you, like, really thinkabout it. Who are “indians?” Who are “cowboys”? What does using “vs” accomplish other than a reiteration of an exclusionary and historically inaccurate oppositional system? What else could you do that would make your students think, rather than just participate in the structures of oppression that bind each of them, all of us?
I wrote my master’s thesis on the modern day work practices of cowboys and ranchers in southern Arizona. As such, I can think of a few different ideas that are way more thought-provoking than what you came up with. Maybe as an alternative to “cowboys vs indians,” you can have a Cowboys vs. the Urban Industrial Complex day, because that’s a) more relevant, b) more historically accurate (if you remember that cowboys are people too, you could talk with them about their long productive history with both native and hispanic ranchers), and c) more educational and less fucking racist, because you’re like, a school. Let me know if you need a guest speaker.
I hope your day was a productive one, filled with a realization, maybe, that as an institution of learning, this event is a good place to start.
B Rabbit, the fictional white rapper portrayed by the real-life white rapper Eminem in the movie 8 Mile, implored the crowd at the dingy, dimly lit club to put its hands in the air, a non-verbal sign of encouragement, belief. The crowd swayed and chanted to the pulse of the beat, seemingly entranced by the freestyle rap battle taking place on stage. B Rabbit, who had just withstood 45 seconds of racially degrading lyrics in spitting range from a black rapper named The Lotto, had taken the microphone and begun to rap. In the last seconds of his turn in the battle, he faced the engrossed audience and boastfully delivered the final lines:
You see how far them white jokes get you,
Boy’s like, “How’s Vanilla Ice gonna diss you?”
My motto? Fuck Lotto.
I’ll get them digits from your mother for a dollar tomorrow!
The crowd that had, beside the occasional release of smoke, held their collective breath as B Rabbit vied to win the rap battle, erupted. For the audience watching this final scene in 8 Mile, the message seemed clear: against all odds, the lower-class white male who had been discriminated against was able to persevere and succeed in, or even assimilate into, an arena of non-whiteness. In this club in south Detroit, it seems like colorblindness, or at least the defiance of racial categorization, had been achieved.
As this movie’s trajectory closely follows Eminem’s own, one might be satisfied with viewing his life history within the rubric described above. Eminem, who has been crowned the most talented rapper of his generation by a myriad of sources, seems to have achieved an untouchable level of success in a genre dominated by non-white performers and consumers. However, focusing on his monetary success gained from selling over eighty million albums since his debut in 1999 (CNN, Online) provides us with an incomplete image of a white body in a non-white zone. Eminem’s habitual contact with non-white practices and bodies, conveyed in the movie 8 Mile and in his live performances and lyrics, makes him both a success and an exemplar of “failed whiteness,” or a white body that has transgressed enough times to be ridiculed, shunned, and hated by many. Through the analysis of Eminem’s non-white practices, this paper aims to debunk the wide-held notion that he has risen above racial categorization to achieve success, instead arguing that Eminem demonstrates that white bodies who transgress can succeed, but only if they are made to be an example of what whiteness should not be.
ok. this is hard to process. first of all, whoever was the creative director behind this photo shoot needs to understand that not all prisoners have scabies, nor are they locked in a rat infested cell in a boat’s dungeon in the 18th century. secondly, drunk driving is a terrible thing, but i agree with previous comments about racist, prisonist (my new made up word), fear-driven, disgustingly insensitive ‘awareness’ campaigns like this one.
3 populations come to mind when i try to say what i need to say about this image, all populations of which i have had some contact with at their most vulnerable, and who i assume would be hurt by this advertisement: 1) sexual assault survivors, whose trauma should never be marginalized into a billboard, 2) former prisoners, who, i repeat, DO NOT LOOK LIKE THIS (nor usually act like the ad suggests), and perhaps most importantly, 3) the aware, conscious public who has been mentally degraded by assuming it would buy into this not-even-stereotypical fear mongering campaign and this terrible, terrible attempt at public health.
i am now researching the makers of this advertisement and writing a letter. it will have big words, this letter, but not so big of words as to guarantee that the reader understands how mistaken they were in thinking they could get away with this, this great assault on all sorts of human dignity.