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View Full Version : Comparing PoC issues with hair color *rant warning*



Rachel Udin
06-20-2013, 12:43 AM
Also other minority power groups...

I have no idea what puts this in people's brains that PoC issues are the same as hair color and eye color.

(I've also seen this said about QUILTBAG too).

I've never actually run into this with the popular media, but I've run into this with discussions with other writers before (and readers defending), where they think it's the same.

And no, I'm not saying that these issues need to be foregrounded so it takes over the story, but somehow, the issues of say, having black hair versus, say, brown hair don't seem as important as say, the history of slavery against African Americans and the subsequent efforts of subjugation and dehumanization because of skin color and how that relates to real people right now reading your book in the real world.

Hair color does have stereotypes (though most of them are launched at women v. men... and disguise a lot of women's issues. Such as blonde jokes.)

But anyone have an idea exactly where this idea that hair color is the same as the issues of minority power groups comes from? Is there a historical pinpoint, or is it just immersed in the overall majority guilt and privilege thing that it just happens to pop up in reader and writer discussions? (I can't find a historical pinpoint... but I truly would like to know... helps me understand the landscape a bit better. Also makes it easier to defeat.)

Kim Fierce
06-20-2013, 01:13 AM
Um, that's just weird.

I think the human brain just wants to compare everything to everything, and you get some people putting two things together that don't really . . . make . . . sense?

For example, saying gay rights is the new civil rights, to me, shouldn't happen. BUT gay people could learn from the civil rights battle, gay people and other people who have been oppressed can be allies . . . but it's not the same exact situation. And all kinds of rights can be gained without lessening another group, like just because people want equal marriage doesn't mean there is no more racism or other bigotry to overcome or something.

Hair and race are not even on the same scale of Reasons People Treat Other People Horribly. But . . . people do treat people badly for all kinds of stupid reasons, in quite a wide range. I have seen recent comparisons of gay people and left-handed people which doesn't quite add up. The message is probably that neither one can help being gay or left-handed, but really the oppression doesn't match.

And, if someone does have some hair and eye color oppression going on, hair dye and contacts? haha ok I'm just being dumb now

Liralen
06-20-2013, 09:23 AM
There's a tenuous - although at one time it would have actually been real - connect with the Irish and having red hair. The Irish were treated abominably and regarded as lesser, if not sub, humans by the English for centuries. They were forbidden to know how to read, to own property; an English overlord could require that an Irish bride be brought to his bed before she could share her new husband's. Many Irish who emigrated to America met more of the same when their boats landed.

As far as Gay vs. Left Handers . . . back in the day left handed persons were regarded as aberrant, contrary to God's Law, and it was a handy way to tag someone as a witch. There was a huge stigma attached to being left handed. A bastard was said to be from the left hand. Up until a generation or so, even in our world, children who showed signs of favoring their left hand were often "encouraged" to learn to use the right instead. Sound familiar?

But yes, in general, most people would not be thinking in historical context and so the comparison is indeed trivializing - to put it mildly.

lolchemist
06-20-2013, 10:52 AM
I was literally treated like shit and told I was stupid in front of the whole class by my 1st - 3rd grade teacher in Turkey for being left-handed and she tried to force me to write with my right hand, which I refused. To this day my handwriting is terrible because of that early trauma. Finally in the 4th grade she got fired and we got a new teacher who was an angel and sat down with me and told me that a lot of left handed people are very smart and blah blah blah and it's totally okay to write left handed. "Miraculously" my grades and attitude greatly improved when she came along! (I just want to say, this wasn't a Turkish thing though, it was just a matter of that first teacher being a very rude and opinionated woman who should never have been in charge of small children. She would also hit us.)

Anyway, I've never seen anyone compare hair issues to race issues except to remark about how people with colored eyes and blonde or lighter hair are always depicted as more beautiful and superior to us boring masses with dark hair and eyes. And which race has the most people with blonde hair and colored eyes? Yup. Whites. If actual white people who happen to have brown eyes and hair feel frustrated by this nonsense too, I don't blame them. The lighter=better vs. darker=lesser is a real thing in other races, so I don't see why it wouldn't be amongst whites too. But yeah, don't compare it to race issues though. It's definitely not the same thing.

Cyia
06-20-2013, 06:17 PM
I'm a redhead, and I've never experienced this myself, but considering there was a thread last year in the P&CE forum about some kids in the UK using Facebook to organize "Kick a Ginger Day," I'd guess there are places where people consider hair color an indicator of race differential - or at the very least, consider it an indication of "difference."

Rhoda Nightingale
06-20-2013, 06:20 PM
Huh. Can't say I've ever seen the hair/eye color thing before. I feel sheltered and dumb now. :(

However, I wonder if it came about as people trying to say, "Look, race is just a superficial thing! Like hair/eye color! We're really all the same underneath--that's what counts!" or some other such attempt at feel-goods. Except is overlooks the fact that race/ethnicity isn't really superficial. There's a whole culture and history going on there too.

That's just a guess though, having not been exposed to the idea before--and being very white, and blond, and hazel-that-mostly-looks-blue-eyed, having not been on the receiving end of racial prejudice down here in the Southern US.

ETA: Oh, and I was kinda-sorta thinking about redheads as well--that's the only hair color I could see as possibly having anything to do with discrimination.

Torgo
06-20-2013, 06:29 PM
But anyone have an idea exactly where this idea that hair color is the same as the issues of minority power groups comes from? Is there a historical pinpoint, or is it just immersed in the overall majority guilt and privilege thing that it just happens to pop up in reader and writer discussions? (I can't find a historical pinpoint... but I truly would like to know... helps me understand the landscape a bit better. Also makes it easier to defeat.)

There's a lesson I know some people get taught at school where the class is divided up along lines like hair colour or eye colour and then one group is arbitrarily discriminated against for a bit. The idea is to show people that racism is bad by getting them to experience something analogous. For example (http://mype.co.za/new/2013/04/pupils-divided-and-herded-into-groups-according-to-their-hair-colour-and-gender/). I guess depending on how the lesson is taught it's either simplistic and trite or simplistic and mildly edifying.

Rachel Udin
06-20-2013, 07:13 PM
Huh. Can't say I've ever seen the hair/eye color thing before. I feel sheltered and dumb now. :(

However, I wonder if it came about as people trying to say, "Look, race is just a superficial thing! Like hair/eye color! We're really all the same underneath--that's what counts!" or some other such attempt at feel-goods. Except is overlooks the fact that race/ethnicity isn't really superficial. There's a whole culture and history going on there too.

Pretty much, though it extends a little further and sometimes people are like, "Don't worry about it, just write them as if they are white." O.o;; Also reassuring that you don't need to do research. I've seen that as well.

Also the "It's just a trait like... (whatever)" and "It's only fiction so I can do whatever I want." as if it didn't inform their identity at all.




ETA: Oh, and I was kinda-sorta thinking about redheads as well--that's the only hair color I could see as possibly having anything to do with discrimination.

My anthropology teacher pointed out Blonde jokes are usually really about women. (Since the majority of blonde jokes are about how dumb they are... and in addition all blonde jokes are about blonde women. In another words, it's hiding another issue underneath. If you break them down, you'll see that's true.) =P I don't tell blonde jokes because I'm not anti-woman.

Ginger/red hair is usually about ethnicity discrimination from what I understand. Though complaints from that group haven't been as severe as the group from GB about race.

(The woman who did the famous bit about separating the class by blue eyes v. brown eyes.... someone actually said the reason the guy with dreadlocks wasn't well liked, was because he chose that hairstyle. My reaction was that there is racial discrimination against people in the UK after all. You say that crap in the US (Because you have dreadlocks/braids) and you'd be called for what you are.)

Jane Elliot: http://www.dailymotion.com/group/Race_Sciences_Last_Taboo/1#video=xb9q3h

The irony is that the person narrating who is of color seems to be trying to debunk it's in the UK. And she smacks it down that there is. Awesome.

Though, I somehow think it predates her, this notion that "Oh, it's just a trait..." Comforting move?

Paprika
06-20-2013, 07:39 PM
Pretty much, though it extends a little further and sometimes people are like, "Don't worry about it, just write them as if they are white." O.o;; Also reassuring that you don't need to do research. I've seen that as well.

Also the "It's just a trait like... (whatever)" and "It's only fiction so I can do whatever I want." as if it didn't inform their identity at all.
The problem I have with that is (and this is coming from a white person, so take it with a grain of salt) that it's pretty difficult to decide what's cultural and what's personal. There are people who think the human version of twilight from MLP shouldn't be black because she's refined and intelligent (racist). There are people who think a black man shouldn't play spiderman because he's smart and interested in science and photography (racist).
Is it the social norms? The little rituals we perform at home? If I was raised in a fairly homogenous (for better or for worse) culture like Germany... maybe I wouldn't learn those social norms of my ancestors. I don't know. My cousin has a black father and a white mother, but since she's 10 or so she lives with her mother. What part of her reflects her ethnic heritage? Obviously the racism she receives from most people in Germany, which more or less forces her to think about her ethnicity, unlike most white people who are assumed to be the default.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, whenever I see that advice, "just write them as if they are white" I try to oversee the ignorance of that statement and mentally translate it in my mind as "write them as people first, their heritage, identity and so is important(!) but all of that is a PART of what they are".
It's the same with gender (I'm not comparing racism with sexism). Whenever a person asks how to write a cross-gendered character, they usually get the advice: "characters first, gender second". I won't go into the gender/sex discussion. What are the expectations that society has on the character's gender/sex? What is the character doing about it? Accept, rebell, extort?

I generally don't think that you can write a character by just listing some traits in one of those checklists. It seems like those are really one-dimensional. "Traits" intertwine, connect, relate, conflict, self-reference... No trait is complete without another...

I don't know if I'm making myself clear so I'll stop here.
I agree with the points the others brought up.

Rachel Udin
06-21-2013, 11:32 PM
Mostly it's the "Don't Worry" part that worries me. It's not the "write them as human part. It's the stop worrying and just write them white part.

I understand the not everyone plays into the cultural standards. But in order to *play* with those cultural standards, you need to *know* what they are. And also you need to know how much of it is you absorbing the dominant cultural force drilling you in. And how much of it really is the interaction of one individual with their culture.

That means that it's OK to worry. Yes, do worry. Get it checked over, do your research. Find out that balance between feeling in and out. (or if you're getting into sociology deviant v. not deviant). Find out what makes us all human versus what we consider human. How does that play into the character and larger society? Find people that have a large range.

It doesn't mean you need Cultural Anthro or pointing out the other or all the sameness. It means put in the effort into thinking about the issue of the interaction that YOU aren't familiar with. Pick out characters that react to that differently. Maybe one is more sensitive to say, racism, and another doesn't care.

The only way to do that is to think, worry, process, and question. Not to tell people not to question themselves at all. Yes, tell them to write the story, not to grind to a halt, but I would think you'd want to thank them for worrying in the first place. Good move. Instead of saying "Oh, it's another trait--like eye color--don't worry about it. Just write it and move on."

When people approach culture, (from the anthropology standpoint), they often think of what's different from them, and then point it out like it was at a zoo. But the other extreme is also harmful. Where you say there are no differences at all and you don't need to understand them in order to understand how humanity is beautiful for its very diversity. (This runs the risk of thinking that what the other person did wasn't human, even if it was part of their cultural frame.) And that culture is a way to process and deal with that humanity and human problems. So basically, it should deserve *some* attention so you can show *some* range in the group. And you really don't need to do that sort of thing with eye color...

I hope that makes it clearer what I was driving at. (Which isn't really an attack on your previous post. It's more an explanation of my own.)

Rhoda Nightingale
06-22-2013, 03:17 AM
Mostly it's the "Don't Worry" part that worries me. It's not the "write them as human part. It's the stop worrying and just write them white part.


Ew. Yeah, that's pretty dismissive. What's hard for some people to get is they're erroneously translating "white" as "normal." So, if people who aren't white are people too, then obviously they must be "normal." Right? And since "white" equals "normal," if you have non-white normal people, you can totally write them as if they're white.

I think.

I may have broken my brain a little bit on that last sentence.

Rachel Udin
06-24-2013, 06:38 PM
Ew. Yeah, that's pretty dismissive. What's hard for some people to get is they're erroneously translating "white" as "normal." So, if people who aren't white are people too, then obviously they must be "normal." Right? And since "white" equals "normal," if you have non-white normal people, you can totally write them as if they're white.

I think.

I may have broken my brain a little bit on that last sentence.
I get you. Yeah. That too.