The Donald and the Judge

Speaker Paul Ryan, reacting to dontopedalogist*-in-chief Donald Trump’s assertion that Mexican-American Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s judicial stance in the Trump University matter derives from anti-Trump bias born out of a general Mexican displeasure with the specter of a Southern border wall that would complicate the evasion of immigration check points for those that prefer to cross the U.S.-Mexican border on the q.t., declared that “claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

* Dontopedalogy—the art and practice of putting one’s foot in one’s mouth

As we speak, pundits and politicians are practically falling over one another decrying Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel as “racist.”

But how is it necessarily “racist” to call into question a person’s impartiality because of their national descent, prejudiced and baseless as doing so may be?

Last time I checked, Mexico was a country, not a race. Just as Austria is a country, not a race. It seems a bit of a stretch, for instance, to condemn, on grounds that most Austrians are white, as “anti-white” the questioning of a white Austrian-American judge’s ability to rule fairly in a case whose defendant had proposed, say, a ban on immigration from Austria.

So to assume that Trump’s criticism of the judge was directed at his race rather than his national roots is to assume that if Trump were threatening to build another huge wall at the Canadian border (“and Canada will pay for it”), and a U.S. judge of Canadian ancestry had ruled against him in an unrelated matter, Trump would not be referring to that judge as unfair on account of his Canadian roots—whence that assumption?

Could it be that people who are so quick to throw around the r-word are, in a way, afflicted with the very same dysfunction that gives rise to racism itself, namely a propensity for jumping to conclusions without considering alternative explanations?

Affirmative Acting #OscarsSoWhite

Racial minorities—blacks in particular—and women form the two major historically discriminated-against classes of people in the United States. (Hard to say which is worse, sexism or racism, but ideally you wouldn’t want to be accused of either.)

The bad news is that this year’s Academy Awards feature exactly zero non-white nominees in the acting categories.

The good news is that, as always, exactly 50% of acting nominees are female; and, as always, half of all acting Oscars will go to women.

Obviously, by way of segregating actors by sex, a gender-based quota system was effectively built into the very fabric of the Academy Awards; one that fairly accurately reflects the proportion of the sexes among the general population; whereas no such mandatory quota has been introduced for actors of color, thus leaving it to the discretion of the Academy to decide year-by-year how many non-whites to nominate (if any at all), a discretion preemptively taken out of the its hands when it comes to female actors, since half of the nominations and awards must go to women no matter what—even if, hypothetically speaking, in a given year no member of the Academy were to judge even one female performance to be Oscar-worthy, or as Oscar-worthy as some other performance by a male actor, half of the acting nominations and awards would still go to women, for a quota is a quota.

Absent this built-in segregation by sex, it is anybody’s guess whether the Academy Awards would be plagued by, and lambasted for, as conspicuous a perennial preponderance of male acting nominees—might there even be years without a single female one?—as is the case with respect to whites.

It is furthermore anybody’s guess why the Academy Awards rulebook names female actors—and not, say, female producers, directors, costume-designers, or composers; nor racial minorities, homosexuals, bisexuals, or transgenders in any capacity—as its sole protected class by affording them their own category and guaranteeing them a fixed and fair number of nominations and prizes.

While this system, on the one hand, seems eminently commendable, as it ensures gender non-discrimination in the field of acting at least, doesn’t it, on the flip side, send the somewhat condescending message that female actors couldn’t compete when pitted directly against male actors, just as most female world-class athletes would likely lose when matched against male world-class athletes on account of an inherent disparity in brawn?

Clearly, no such inherent gender disparity exists in acting, or in any other art form for that matter. Unlike in boxing, where the force per square inch of knuckle in a male sucker punch measurably exceeds that in the average female sucker punch, male thespians have absolutely nothing on female thespians, therefore rendering unnecessary segregation by gender on grounds of performance.

The only plausible reason for having instituted and maintaining this segregation is to preclude right out of the gate a recurring hullabaloo along the lines of #OscarsSoWhite on the gender front.

Or can you think of another?

Black Lives Matter and the Intra-Racial Crime Rate Fallacy

One of the criticisms leveled at the Black Lives Matter movement is that its slogan says black lives matter instead of all lives matter.

Given the disproportionate plight of African-Americans versus whites in terms of general upward mobility and the potential for finding themselves at the receiving end of a deadly weapon, I personally don’t mind the movement’s exclusive focus on the value of black lives. My problem with it, as I’ve stated in several previous posts on the subject, lies in the highly selective application of its stated motto as if some black lives mattered more than others—a lot more.

My little white mind has difficulty wrapping itself around the concept that a movement that calls itself “Black Lives Matter” appears to aim its attention almost entirely at white-on-black and cop-on-black incidents while seeming utterly disinclined to address black-on-black violence at all, even though the latter claims the lion share of black homicide victims, whose lives, one would think, should matter no less than a black man’s choked to death by a white policeman. The value of a life ought not to be measured in terms of who it was that took it.

Of course, I understand that the anger of the black community—if I may generalize—is directed primarily at the so-called white establishment, not so much against blacks that cause carnage within their own ranks. These blacks, after all, may be viewed as victims of institutional white racism themselves, who merely abreact their despondency in unfortunate ways. Fifteen black people getting shot by black gang bangers over the course of a weekend simply don’t hit the collective black nerve the same way one black person getting shot by a white civilian or a uniformed enforcer of “white law” does.

But then again, if one were to regard black crime as largely fueled by desperation resulting from white oppression, it follows that, indirectly at least, black-on-black victims are de-facto white-on-black victims, which should rouse the Black Lives Matter folks from the woodworks, which it strangely does not.

But how can one blame inner city conditions on white neglect and oppression and then treat the goings-on within these communities as if the white man had no hand in them? Yet if the white man is indeed responsible for these conditions, where’s Black Lives Matter whenever, as a likely consequence of these conditions, a black kid is gunned down by another black kid?

And so—in my humble, white, and hence woefully ignorant opinion—it makes no sense for signs that say “Black Lives Matter” to remain hidden in the closet whenever black kills black, to be wielded only in the wake of those much rarer occasions when white or cop kills black. (It only makes sense if Black Lives Matter activists are worried, as I’ve theorized before, that by highlighting incidents of black-on-black violence with anywhere near as much fervor as they highlight white/cop-on-black ones, they’d inadvertently reinforce the stereotype of the black criminal, as it would prove rather difficult to hold nationwide rallies and candlelight vigils for a black-on-black victim without reminding the public that a black perpetrator was involved.)

At this point in the discussion—a lot sooner, probably—Black Lives Matter sympathizers tend to wax irritable to apoplectic, harping upon the, in their view, blatant irrelevance of black-on-black crime in this context, the reason being that most crime is intra-racial, among all racial groups, even among whites.

So what on earth, they ask, does the fact that the majority of blacks that are killed are killed by other blacks have to do with the concept that black lives matter? If a white person insists that the Black Lives Matter movement include black-on-black violence, then how come he or she doesn’t start a White Lives Matter movement to address white-on-white violence?

The idea that black-on-black violence and white-on-white violence are problems of roughly equal proportions derives from a stubbornly persistent misreading of intra-racial crime stats, an error eloquently illustrated in the following commentary by one Kesha on Facebook:

[P]eople tend to commit crimes within their own communities. The media does not portray these crimes equally because the media tends to perpetuate the stereotype that there is more black crime than white crime. That’s their agenda and has been so forever. There is only a 7% difference in numbers statistically speaking on average when comparing black crime and white crime in America (I’m a Google addict!). That’s not that big of a difference.”

Obviously, Kesha the Google addict has come across the standard figures, namely that black-on-black crime is 92% (i.e., that of all black victims of violence, 92% are harmed or killed by other blacks), and that white-on-white crime is 85% (i.e., that of all white victims of violence, 85% are harmed or killed by other whites), whereupon she merrily extrapolated from these numbers that black-on-black violent crime is only 7% worse than white-on-white violent crime.

The trouble with her conclusion, of course, is that the 92% and 85% figures fail to tell us the size of the victims pool in each group—they don’t tell us 92% or 85% of how many.

Let’s assume, as a hypothetical example, that ten members of Group X are murdered, nine of them by other members of Group X. This works out to an X-on-X murder rate of 90%.

Let us further assume that during that same time period, 100 members of Group Y are murdered, 91 of them by other members of Group Y, which works out to a Y-on-Y murder rate of 91%.

So you have 90% versus 91%, a mere one percent difference, which proves that the X-on-X and the Y-on-Y murder rates are pretty much the same, right?

Sure, unless you turn your attention to the minor detail that you have ten times more dead bodies piling up in one group than in the other, a disparity that becomes the more significant and troubling the smaller the total population of Group Y relative to Group X.

While the murder rates within my hypothetical groups X and Y do not accurately reflect white vs black intra-racial murder rates—I used simple numbers for demonstration purposes—the very statistics that Kesha the Google addict has cited also show that, in absolute numbers, more blacks are killed by other blacks than whites are killed by other whites—and that’s no mean feat, given that blacks make up 13% of the total U.S. population, whereas whites make up more than half.

In other words, black-on-black violence is through the roof relative to white-on-white, and it is a fallacy to advertise the disparity as a mere seven percent, just as it would be a fallacy to advertise the difference between my hypothetical X-on-X and Y-on-Y crime rates as a mere one percent without stacking up the actual number of victims in each group against the total size of each group.

So if “the media tends to perpetuate the stereotype that there’s more black crime than white crime,” it’s because, well, yeah, unfortunately there is, provided you actually bother to count victims instead of comparing meaningless percentages.

Thus, it strikes me as a gross omission by Black Lives Matter to refuse to address black-on-black crime on grounds that “people tend to commit crimes within their own communities,” wherefore intra-racial crime might as well be put down as a sad fact of life that affects all communities equally.

It doesn’t, and to pretend that it does helps no one, least of all those most at risk to wind up dead tomorrow.

Some Black Lives Matter, Most Don’t

By now, we all know the names, faces, and biographies of the nine black individuals shot to death by that 21-year-old white racist whackjob terrorist hate criminal in South Carolina.

But who can name any of the dozens of American blacks murdered in the weeks leading up to the Charleston massacre? How much wall-to-wall media coverage, how many international headlines, and how many “marches for black lives” did these deaths occasion?

Sadly, unless a black murder victim has the “privilege” of having being terminated by a white person or a law enforcement officer, his or her likeness is unlikely to wind up on the evening news, and no large-scale demonstrations will be held in his or her memory.

A somber Jon Stewart delivered a Daily Show without jokes in honor of the Charleston church victims. Until now, his humor has not been known to desert him no matter how many blacks had been murdered the previous day. During a performance in Delaware, Paul McCartney dedicated a song to the nine. A beautiful gesture, no doubt, but how often does he dedicate songs to black victims of senseless crimes?

One black lady, speaking on CNN, declared that she and the black community at large felt “terrorized” by whites, citing the Charleston shooting and several recent incidents of white-on-black police violence. But how come she failed to add that her community also—and to a proportionately greater degree—felt terrorized by that segment of society that habitually perpetrates 90-plus percent of violence against blacks, namely young black men?

Why feel terrorized primarily, or even exclusively, by those who commit a comparatively small amount of carnage within one’s ranks?

At this point, you may interject that most crime is intra-racial, and accuse me “mixing statistics” and confusing the issues. The scourge of white supremacy, you may say, which has resulted in the Charleston church tragedy, has nothing to do with blacks killing other blacks. Apples and alligators. Totally separate topics.

But are they?

Because either a) blacks are inherently, or culturally, more violent such that black-on-black killings naturally outstrip white-on-white killings by a jawdropping margin, or b) it is indeed the lingering shroud of white supremacy and institutional white racism that produce the conditions for widespread poverty and desperation in so many black precincts, which, in turn, lead to the level of bloodshed in America’s inner cities we witness on an all-too-regular basis.

Assuming b) proves correct, then then a sizable percentage of blacks murdered by other blacks are very much victims of white racism—obliquely perhaps, but no less so than are the nine Bible study group members that perished at the hands of a flaming white supremacist directly.

If this is so, then the aforementioned lady on CNN is perfectly justified in feeling terrorized by white people more than by young black men, as it is the former, by way of either apathy or the harboring of overtly racist attitudes, that drive the latter into the kind of despondency that makes them kill other blacks.

And yet those other blacks—like the ones felled on an average weekend in Chicago—receive scant airtime and spark few national protests or national debates. Their names and faces rarely, if ever, rise to anywhere near the posthumous national, even international, recognition of a Freddie Gray or the nine Charleston church victims.

So either, the people that routinely take to the streets wielding “Black Lives Matter” signs in the wake of a black-on-white killing do not themselves subscribe to the thesis that black-on-black violence may be caused or facilitated by white racism to any degree whatsoever, or they prefer to sit it out whenever black kills black in light of the manifest difficulty of drawing individual attention to a victim of black-on-black violence without also drawing attention to the fact that the perpetrator is black as well, which might reinforce in the eyes of the public the stereotype of the black criminal; wherefore, in tacit collusion with the media, a strategy is adopted to play up and dwell upon instances of white-on-black violence and, at the same time, downplay all instances where the immediate offender is black, regardless of the color of his victim(s).

Understandable as this strategy may be, the unfortunate impression it creates is that some black lives matter and most don’t.

Ebony and Ivony

When I first auditioned her she was so awesome she blew me away. She had so much soul — the only thing white about her was her skin.” (Motown founder Berry Gordy reacts to the untimely death of singer Teena Marie in 2010)

On 7 June 1892, Homer Plessy, a man legally classified as black, boarded a “whites only” railroad car with the express intent of getting arrested for this transgression. The purpose of the exercise was to set a test case that would furnish the opportunity to challenge on appeal the underlying segregation law and have it invalidated by a Supreme Court.

Everything went according to plan, except that, alas, both the Supreme Court of Louisiana as well as the U.S. Supreme Court (Plessy v. Ferguson) proceeded to affirm rather than repeal the doctrine of “separate but equal” (a doctrine to be overturned, at long last, some 60 years later in Brown v. Board of Education).

As a curious side note, when Mr Plessy initially settled into the whites-only car, no one complained. Only after he had self-identified himself to the conductor as a black man did events unfold such that they resulted in his (desired) arrest.

That’s because Homer Pessy, an “octoroon”—a person one-eighth black, i.e., having one biracial grandparent—looked white. Thus, when mingling with whites, his physical appearance failed to distinguish him from his surroundings.

Arithmetically speaking, the notion that a minority-blood content of 50% or less—all the way down to one-eighth or as little as a single “drop,” as expressed in the even more obnoxious “one-drop rule” for assigning minority status—rendered an individual a full-fledged member of that minority, makes no sense whatsoever.

For, by that logic, why wouldn’t a like percentage of whiteness suffice to make a person a full-fledged Caucasian? How come it only works the other way around?

Why, instead of as the first black president, don’t we regard Barack Obama as the 44th white president (or 43rd, if we count Grover Cleveland as only one president for having been only one person), or, at the very least, alternate in referring to Mr Obama as either black or white, given his 50-50 lineage?

Even better, why not call him the first blite or whack president?

It would seem logical, to the degree to which an individual’s racial lineage is ascertainable, to pronounce that individual a primary member of whatever race he or she boasts by a factor of 51% or more, and in cases of an even 50-50 split, view them as both rather than one more than the other, let alone one to the de-facto exclusion of the other.

The reasons for our lopsided methodology in assigning race are, of course, rooted in history. A few centuries ago in, say, colonial Georgia, Barack Obama would have been slaving away on a cotton plantation along with the 100% blacks and the 10% blacks. Not half-time, in proportion to his black blood content, but full-time.

(I’m using “blood” as a metaphor for DNA markers indicative of how far back in time a person’s last African ancestor’s departure from Africa must have occurred—for the question is not whether all of us are of African descent but how long ago our various forebears departed the black continent, and based on that information we can then calculate the percentage of our physical blackness.)

So along comes this cap-à-pie Caucasian lady by name of Rachel Dolezal (pictured above), acquires a John-Boehner-style tan, frizzes up her tresses, introduces herself to everyone as a black woman (and perhaps sincerely identifies as such), claims to have been racially discriminated against on multiple occasions on account of being black (after suing Howard University for admission discrimination on account of being white), assumes the presidency of a local NAACP chapter—and apparently no one, including the more obviously black members of that organization, notices, let alone bats an eyelash, until her all-white parents blow the whistle on lil’ Rachel’s black snow job.

Given that physical appearance seems to be this poor an indicator of race, what exactly does it mean to say “I’m white” or “I’m black” or “I’m Asian”?

Is our color primarily—or entirely—a function of personal identification with a certain culture, of having a “black soul” or a “white soul,” such that one may legitimately transition from one to another by assuming a few hallmark physical characteristics of one’s “true” race (as has become so eminently laudable in the gender arena), as opposed to an inherent set-in-DNA trait that can be measured objectively?

Imagine a person’s parents were unknown, her physical features inconclusive, and she asked you whether she was black or white—how would you answer that?

Would you tell her she was whatever she felt she was? Would you send her to the lab? Or would you hand her a guitar and instruct her to play you the blues? (On this latter test, Eric Clapton would surely score blacker than black.)

In general, race is associated with biology, and ethnicity with culture. So if you’re biologically one color but culturally another, then what color are you? Does race trump ethnicity, or does ethnicity trump race?

According to an article in the Washington Post by one Osamudia James, the essence of being black derives from “exposure to a racially hostile world, or the mental work of cultivating dignity, fortitude and hope in the face of that hostility.”

As per this definition, any congenitally non-black person prolongedly mistaken, for whatever reason, for a black person by his white-privileged environs will sooner or later turn black as a result of suffering such hostility.

Max Frisch’s play Andorra comes to mind, in which a non-Jewish boy named Andri identifies as being Jewish because he’s never told he’s not Jewish. (Eventually, he is murdered for being Jewish.)

Yet, the notion that life experience, a sense of personal identity, and the internalization of a given culture are necessary ingredients for determining whether someone is white or black raises the hypothetical conundrum as to whether a person that grew up alone on a deserted island can be said to have a color at all. How could Tarzan have been “white,” given that he was raised by apes in the African jungle? Would Morgan Freeman be “black” if he had spent his entire life on a distant habitable planet all by his lonesome?

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

Psychological factors aside, one peculiarity about human blackness that sets it apart from being white, Asian, Inuit, or Middle Eastern, is that the human race originated in East Africa. Therefore, if we set low enough the arbitrary minimum black DNA content that renders a person officially black by birth—as opposed to the kind of ethnic rather than racial blackness that results from discrimination trauma in conjunction with the adoption of black culture—everybody is black in a way that not everybody is white or Asian.

In other words, how can a person not be genetically black at all, not even a teeny-weeny bit? It seems impossible. You can have zero Asian DNA, or zero Native American, or zero Caucasian, but unless you’re the only person that has ever lived whose lineage fails to trace back to Africa, you cannot have zero African (=black) DNA in your system.

In fact, since human DNA emerged in Africa, and scientists tell us that to this day all humans share 99-and-then-some-% of that original DNA in common, the argument can be made that all people are 99-plus-% black, whether they like it or not, and that certainly includes Rachel Dolezal.

Returning to planet Earth and the more conventional criteria for racial taxonomy—although, in light of the fact that a white woman can this easily pass for black and the blacks that hang with her fail to detect anything unblack about her, I’m still a bit hazy as to what those might be exactly—in a piece titled LOL-Who’d Sign Up To Be Black?, talk-show host and commentator Tavis Smiley poses this question:

When God was passing out colors, who raised their hand for a life a social disenfranchisement, political marginalization, economic exploitation and cultural larceny?

Writes Fredrik Deboer in an L.A. Times op-ed in seeming response to Mr Smiley:

Human behaviors are the product of incentives. We repeat behaviors that are rewarded. And clearly, Dolezal believed she would find rewards in representing herself as a black woman.

Whatever their motivation, some people feel more comfortable living their lives as members of an ethnicity they weren’t, strictly speaking, born into in terms of their race. A white person may want to belong to a specific minority, for instance, because a more pronounced sense of community and group cohesion tends to obtain within groups with a history of discrimination. (In fact, the one aspect about the end of segregation that Sammy Davis Jr openly lamented was the palpable erosion of black community spirit that resulted from increased social intercourse with whites.)

The main criticism leveled at Ms Dolezal appears to be that she lied about her race. She did, alright—but what if she hadn’t?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that she, or some other unhappy-with-her-biological-race individual, had been perfectly upfront from the getgo about the disparity between her apparent race/ethnicity, i.e., the one determined by her personal pedigree, and her true race/ethnicity, i.e., the one she “knew” she was in her heart of hearts.

Surely, if nature can make a mistake and create a man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa), it stands to reason that, likewise, nature can inadvertently create a black person trapped in a white body (or vice versa). Why should only the former error, but not the latter, be liable to cause body dysmorphia and a veritable identity crisis in sensitive individuals?

Yet any such suggestion is immediately met with a flurry of indignant explanations of how race/ethnicity is a phenomenon entirely unlike sex/gender, wherefore one cannot transition from white to black in the same or similar way that one can transition from male to female.

Which strikes me as odd, for when it comes to gay marriage, the case of Loving v. Virginia is routinely run up the flagpole in order to make the point that being born black (or white) is, in essence, exactly the same as being born gay (or straight)—by that reasoning, why should having been born black or white be something fundamentally different from having been born male or female?

If anything, the biological differences between the sexes seem eminently more profound than those between the races, expanding beyond mere cosmetics into the realm physical functionality.

So why might race and sexual orientation be immutable in a way that sex is not?

They say you can’t simply adopt the “cool” parts of being black without signing up to its drawbacks as well, such as a “life of social disenfranchisement” and “economic exploitation.”

Fair enough, but then you also can’t simply adopt the perks of being female without signing up to making those storied 77 cents on the dollar from there on out.

Winnetou Dies Again

Winnetou

For the third time in a little over a century, the German-speaking part of the world mourns the passing of Winnetou, chief of the Apaches and anthropomorphic condensation symbol of all things good and noble mankind has to offer at its best.

First, in the late 1800s, his creator, German novelist Karl May, killed him off on the page. Just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had learned the hard way only a few years earlier, audiences ill appreciate having their favorite protagonists put to the sword (or the ravine or the bullet), and so Mr May, too, quickly opted to resurrect his fallen hero rather than face eternal obloquy by his readers.

Then, in 1965, Winnetou was fatally shot on film. Barely two shakes of his horse’s tail later, in order to stave off riots and boycotts by the German public, the Apache chief was back galloping across the silver screen as if his heart-rending quietus had never happened.

Finally, yesterday, less than 72 hours after I had glancingly mentioned Pierre Brice (say: BREECE) in my previous post, not having intended to discuss Apaches and colorblind casting in this forum again anytime soon, we woke up to the news that the charismatic thespian, whose name had long become as synonymous with one fictional character as Johnny Weissmuller will forever be Tarzan, had succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 86.

Many obituaries that followed Mr Brice’s passing are simply headlined “Winnetou ist tot” (Winnetou is dead).

Besides the personal sense of numinous unease we experience anytime we, perhaps irrationally so, feel as if part of our own youth has perished along with a childhood hero we had deemed physically immortal on account of what they represented to us in the most impressionable years of our lives, there is an aspect to this story that might be of interest even to Americans (the born-and-raised variety), to most of whom the name Winnetou means as much as Matt Lauer means to the average Moldavian, an aspect poignantly encapsulated in this tweet:

Winnetou

Indeed, people from German-speaking nations tend to have a pronounced soft spot for America’s indigenous population and their historical plight. As a New York Times article put it in 2007, “[t]o Germans Winnetou is like Paul Bunyan, Abe Lincoln and Elvis rolled into one … the quintessential German national hero, a paragon of virtue, a nature freak, a romantic, a pacifist at heart, but in a world at war he is the best warrior, alert, strong, sure.”

Even decades before Pierre Brice gave the honorable Apache chief his forever face, the Nazis, in their demented zeal to eradicate anything that might have been perceived to portray non-Arians in a less than unsavory light, wisely stopped short of banning Karl May in spite of his novels’ nettlesome near-deification of a swarthy savage. Hitler and his minions were savvy enough to know that messing with people’s heroes constituted bad politics, even if those heroes sported otherwise intolerable qualities like being ethnicity-challenged.

Perhaps if Jews and gypsies had had their own respective Winnetous, 20th-century German history would have taken a slightly less gruesome turn.

In any case, in the early 1960s Pierre Brice came along and gave Winnetou a face for the ages. An authentic Native-American face? Not exactly.

Although the producer of the Winnetou movie franchise had originally been presented with a Mexican actor that actually “looked like an [American] Indian,” he considered that actor’s mien “unsympathetic,” so he continued his search until, at a Berlin movie festival, he spotted a young French actor, who fit his vision of Winnetou to a T.

Two weeks later, the cameras began rolling, and the blue/green-eyed Caucasian Frenchman, now rocking a long black wig and full (albeit somewhat inauthentic in keeping with the rest of his inauthentic features, imposing as they were) Apache regalia, rode across the Croatian prairie to superstardom in Germany and surrounding nations, instilling into millions of youngsters the notion that the content of one’s character trumps the color of one’s skin.

Nowadays, of course, casting a white person to play a non-white part is, at best, frowned upon and, at worst, regarded as an act of outright racism, especially in the U.S. (Poor Cameron Crowe just got an earful for hiring Emma Stone to portray an Asian woman.)

But in 20th-century Europe, no one seemed confused, let alone disturbed, by a French guy ragged out as an Apache and dubbed in flawless German epitomizing Native Americans and their culture. Pierre Brice, the actor, was even appointed an honorary Native American by some tribe in Nebraska for his ambassadorship in helping draw attention to Native American causes.

In addition, his celebrity status in Germany helped patch up German-French relations after World War II.

So Winnetou was played by a white man. What of it?

To us, he was a redskin.

A redskin we all looked up to.

Why I Can’t Stand Black Opera Singers

Many regard Jessye Norman as one of the preëminent dramatic sopranos of our time.

Primarily, though, Ms Norman is a thief.

And a racist one at that, no matter how unwittingly so.

See, classical music originated in Europe and surely ranks among the whitest of all art forms. Then along comes some black lady and, by belting out Wagner, attempts to wrest it away from us white folk, its rightful proprietors—are we not human beings that deserve to be treated as such?

Or take this guy Lang Lang, the ivory-tickling whiz kid from China. What licenses him to play Mozart concertos on a Steinway? Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, et al., were white composers of white music, and the piano hails from Italy, not the sinosphere. If Lang Lang wants to be a musician, he should confine himself to plucking guoyue tunes on a guzheng.

Noodles were invented in China. So if Lang Lang has pasta for lunch, no problem.

Now you probably think I’ve completely left the ranch.

Actually, I’m merely expanding upon a curious thesis advanced in a piece by one Randa Jarrar and published in Salon.com’s “feminists of color” series, titled Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers.

Its author puts forth that

[w]hether they know it or not, white women who practice belly dance are engaging in appropriation.”

Specifically, Ms Jarrar objects to Caucasian females practicing—i.e., stealing—an originally Arabian art form because

[t]hese women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.”

There you have it.

It follows that if belly-dancing while white makes you racist, then so does Wagner-singing while black, or Mozart-playing while Asian.

And, of course, the most appropriate time and place for racist Eric Clapton to play the blacks’ blues would be at a KKK rally.

Ms Jarrar concludes:

Arab women are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not bangles or eyeliner or tiny bells on hips. We are human beings. This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze. […] Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?”

Good point. And us whites are human beings, too, not vessels for non-whites to pour themselves into. We are not keys on a piano or notes in an aria. Keep that in mind, Jessye and Lang Lang, next time you’re out there garnering plaudits on our backs!

Although she doesn’t explicitly state so in her article, I suspect Mr Jarrar looks equally askance at whites appropriating Arabic numerals, for any white person that writes 2015 instead of MMXV is clearly being racist in purloining Middle-Eastern intellectual property.

Some people seem so distressed over the specter of white supremacy that they resort to advocating segregation as a means to combat racism.

One-way segregation at least.

Because, perhaps, Jessye Norman pretending to be Sieglinde is somehow different in kind from some bangled-up Swedish sylph flashing her midriff and pretending to be Morgiana from One Thousand and One Nights; just as a Native American sporting denims and cowboy boots raises far fewer eyebrows than would, say, a blue-eyed French guy dressed up as an Apache chief—imagine that!

So could it be that it is not the deed itself but the ethnicity of the perpetrator that renders the identical behavior an instance of reckless cultural appropriation as opposed to a laudable example of colorblind casting?

A tricky line to draw, to say the least.

(For the record, I am perfectly fine with black opera singers. Not too crazy about opera in general, though. I much prefer the blues. Ever since reading that Salon.com piece, however, I’m afraid to play, i.e., to appropriate it. Because blacks are human beings, not vessels for pouring my musical preferences into—do I have this right, Ms Jarrar? Native white Austrian that I am, I should just stick to crooning Schubert in the shower. That way, no wrongful appropriation takes place, nor will I ever torture an audience with my pitiful butchering of Die Winterreise. Everybody wins.)

[Update: In a recent Huffington Post article headlined It’s A Slap In The Face When White Women Wear Black Hairstyles, the author opines that there exists no such thing as reverse—i.e., black-of-white—appropriation, because black women that rock white hairstyles are not appropriating but are simply “assimilating” due to “a real necessity to conform and survive.”]

Do Black Lives Really Matter?

Black Lives Matter

When Rudy Giuliani took the reins in New York City, the murder rate there plummeted to unprecedented lows.

Since blacks killed by other blacks form the lion share of murder victims, this reduction in black-on-black violence meant that black lives were saved at an unprecedented level.

Giuliani, of course, is being roundly assailed, including by the Big Apple’s present hizzoner, as an insensitive Continue reading “Do Black Lives Really Matter?”

The White Take on Ferguson

Ferguson

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Scanning the headlines on the latest developments in the wake of the grand jury’s failure to indict officer Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, I came across one that asked why it was so difficult for white people to understand Ferguson.

I didn’t read the article, so I haven’t prepped myself as to what those reasons are according to that piece, but Continue reading “The White Take on Ferguson”

The Fearsome Amphibrach

Ebola

Describing the inadvertent albeit colonialization-facilitating import of infectious diseases to the Americas by the European invaders in the wake of the New World’s official discovery by Christopher Columbus, a 2002 article in The Atlantic, titled 1491, provides this somewhat disquieting observation in light of the current Ebola situation:

Brought to Mexico apparently by a single sick Spaniard, [smallpox] swept south and eliminated more than half the population of the Incan empire.”

So is karma being a bitch by having brought Continue reading “The Fearsome Amphibrach”

The Value of Black Life in America

Ferguson, MO

What is the value of one black human life in America?

Judging from the reactions by the African-American community to the untimely and violent termination of such a life, one might get the impression that its value hinges primarily on the identity—that is, on the race—of its terminator.

When an unarmed black teenager gets fatally shot by a white police officer, as was recently the case in Ferguson, MO—or by a “white-Hispanic” civilian, as was the case in Trayvon Martin situation—the outrage and the public protestations of grief by African-Americans over such tragic Continue reading “The Value of Black Life in America”

Let’s Talk About Race

Silence

Ask people that knew me during my formative years for one word that described me best, and nine out of ten times you’ll hear the word “quiet.”

Indeed, I was an exceptionally quiet child.

To this day, although I do speak, should you ever meet me for a one-on-one, make sure to bring a book just in case, as I am far from a natural in the art of keeping a conversation going. After all, I didn’t practice much during my childhood and adolescence, and I generally cannot keep this gaping practice deficit concealed for very long.

Anecdotal evidence suggests I may have been of a somewhat more talkative turn in my very early years, yet I fell ever more reticent with time. Once I entered grammar school, I had adopted silence—or mono-syllabicity in situations where total silence proved impractical, such as when asked whether I wanted vanilla or Continue reading “Let’s Talk About Race”

Why I Don’t Sleep With Black Girls

Black Woman

The Huffington Post recently ran a piece by a lady named Eternity E Martis titled Why I Don’t Sleep With White Guys.

In it, Ms Martis, a “mixed-race girl” generally classified as black but residing in a “predominantly white city,” laments that “nothing comes without a race.”

Specifically, when meeting white men (i.e., the most plentiful variety available at her geographic location), she found that her ethnic otherness, as it were, invariably tended to be “at the forefront” of these encounters—not in the sense of racial animosity being directed against her, but, quite on the contrary, in the sense that white men either seemed disproportionately intrigued by her exotic features at the expense of all other qualities she would bring to the table (or the bed, for that matter), or they would resort to Continue reading “Why I Don’t Sleep With Black Girls”

The Oreo Hypothesis

If you desire to hold on to your belief that God created the cosmos on 23 October 4004 BC, as reportedly sleuthed out from Biblical data by the venerable James Ussher in the 17th century AD, then how do you respond when confronted with truckloads of non-trivial astronomical and archeological data that put the age of our planet at roughly four billion and the age of the universe at 13 billion years and change?

Piece of cake. You simply introduce an auxiliary hypothesis which says that God created the cosmos 6,000 years ago but made it look as if it were billions of years old. After all, a God powerful enough to design and create an entire cosmos is certainly powerful enough to give it a retro look that’ll dupe a bunch of nosy folks digging about for trilobites or poring over Continue reading “The Oreo Hypothesis”