Reading this review reminds me of the recent Spanish magazine cover featuring a depiction of Michelle Obama as a topless, head-wrapped slave. I am also reminded of the ways in which Black women living in the so-called Western world have been and continue to be exploited, objectified, humiliated, and dehumanized in the name of “free speech,” “artistic license/freedom,” “being hip.”
I am also reminded of conversations I’ve had with some European men and women who proclaim the United States as less sophisticated than continental European countries with regard to race relations and acceptance of cultural differences. Given my own experiences traveling through parts of Western Europe, I propose that what some people label as “sophisticated” may be in fact just more spin on a very visible and ugly legacy of hatred/fear of the Other. Think of it as a reheating of a long brewing stew of racism with its base being the bones and marrow of European colonialism and enslavement of Africans and Asians. In other words, to borrow from bell hooks’ essay “Eating the Other,” our bodies and our cultures continue to be (mis)categorized, commodified and consumed by those motivated by hegemonic forces who wish and need to see a perpetuation of eurocentric, phallocentric ideologies that dehumanize, silence, and ultimately disappear so-called racial/ethnic others through racist and misogynist discourse.
Is it any wonder I don’t go to movies anymore? But we know that the movie industry is but a small part of a much larger problem when it comes to media, race, and gender. I am not surprised at the persistence of racism and sexism/misogyny in Europe or the United States. Simply put, I am tired of it. I am tired of being subjected to the lasting impact of isms on the quality of my life. I am tired of explaining to folk why having a Black president does not make the Western world free of its own racist poison, why having a Ph.D and a career as a professor does not give me immunity to the sexism and racism casually thrown at women of color—daily.
This is but one more example of how far the West has not traveled away from its legacy of slavery and colonialism, and in fact, seems unable to wrest itself from a dependency on othering and exclusion in order to define and distinguish itself. It is a shallow and useless relationship based on lies and delusion, one that has no basis on reality, but continues to seek ways of feeding the addiction through the perpetuation of racist myths and stereotypes. Meanwhile, the population of the planet continues to grow in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and the West continues to “brown” and “blacken.”
As such, the practice of using racist scripts and images in mass media and entertainment in the West is not only unsophisticated, but small-minded. We who are Black and Brown do have power, in that our wallets and our voices make a wonderful pair to reinforce how tired we feel about encountering racism and sexism in pop culture. It is time to start using our power.