How Racism Sensitive of a Nation Are We?

By Kim-Vi Sweetman

Elm Staff Writer

Until we all become “color blind,” we’re going to hear about race, ethnicity, and how racist some group is – and anyone can be racist. Just how racist are some of the people we hear about though? You can bring up race in a conversation, but that doesn’t mean you’re being a racist. You can also bring up stereotypes without offending the stereotyped group. Unless, of course, they can comment anonymously on the Internet. Then everyone’s offended all the time.

The problem arises when the context and the comment are way out of line with each other. We see it in politics all the time: [X] group is being mean to [Y] group because they’re racist/sexist/homophobic/superstitious/whatever.

Speaking of politics, let’s start there. Pete Hoekstra is a Mich. Republican running for Senator whom I had never heard about – until he ran an ad that a lot of people called “racist.” The ad opens in a clearly Asian setting: rice paddies, the buildings in the background, and the people in the ad all set the stage for the Asian-American actress. She does not speak the same way you or I would, but for the context the ad is set in – rural China – her English is really good. There are complete, although simple, sentences and hardly any accent.

Would you call that racist? Personally, I am more than a little conflicted and have flip-flopped back and forth. However, for the most part I don’t see this ad as something worth throwing a hissy fit over.

What is worth throwing a hissy fit over is a recent headline that ESPN had to remove: Chink In The Armor. Now, just by itself the headline doesn’t sound so bad. There’s weakness somewhere, right? Well, the headline was for an article about basketball phenomenon Jeremy Lin. Still thinking the same way? While the writer was describing a recent loss for Lin’s team, “chink” is a slur that should never be used to describe anyone of Asian descent. Regardless of the fact that the phrase as a whole is used to describe a weak point, in this context it sounds racist and is inappropriate.

Alright, we’ve covered Asia a little. Let’s move westward to Africa. We’ve all heard about blackface make up (if you haven’t, I’d like to know where you’ve been living) and the controversy behind it. It demoralizes an entire continent and then some people, implying that anyone who is of African-descent can be lumped into one skin tone.

Recently; Beyonce caught some heat for participating in a photo shoot where the company darkened her face. Keep in mind, it was only her face and lines of other colors were painted on top. Overall the theme was “tribal Africa” complete with Beyonce wearing animal-print clothing. The company in charge defended themselves from critics by saying that they were following rituals that already take place in Africa, where people will paint their faces. Whether or not they paint them darker was not explicitly stated.

Again, I will leave it up to you, my dear reader, to decide whether or not this could be considered racist. Certainly it crosses boundaries to have white models darken their skin (yes, that used to be the fad), or to lighten/darken someone’s skin when it is already a different color than white.

To leave you with a few more thoughts to consider, here are some statistics. Inter-racial marriage is at an all-time high in America, with a reported one out of 12 marriages being between two people of different racial backgrounds. As an aside, please remember that “race” and “ethnicity” have two separate meanings. Race is becoming less of a hot topic as we move forward with our ways of thinking.

Also, there are blue-skinned people in the world. Yes, they exist. They have a condition called “methemoglobinemia.” Think about it.

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