My last post was on why women’s blame means less than men’s in conditions of epistemic injustice. By ‘means less’ I mean is less intelligible, speakable, and amenable to uptake, compared to men’s blame. The reason is that epistemic injustice toward women, or ‘epistemic gender bias,’ silences and suppresses women’s speech, and, since blame is a speech act, epistemic gender bias silences and suppresses women’s blame. I examined three speech contexts in which, and through which, women’s blame is silenced: (1) western erotica, (2) western literary fiction, and (3) western humour. Women are epistemically marginalized, and correspondingly underrepresented, in those contexts.
In this post, I add an intersectional dimension to this analysis by examining how race and gender are co-constructed by the dominant frame of reference of white masculinity. The social construction of racialized sexualities and gender identities positions racialized masculinities and femininities as ‘other’ relative to white masculinity, and this negating representation results in social marginalizations, particularly lack of visibility in historically white-masculine spaces. That is, because POC are eroticized as ‘other,’ they are marginalized in mainstream culture. Analogous to my last post, I examine three contexts in which, and through which, racialized minorities are marginalized: (1) western erotica, (2) western literary fiction, and (3) western humour. I find that all three contexts represent People of Color (POC) as racialized in problematic ways, and all three contexts therefore promote epistemic injustice against POC – namely, ‘racial epistemic bias.’
In the remainder of this post, I analyze (1) the racialization of gender through the erotic lens of white masculinity, and the lingering socioeconomic effects of that lens, (2) the marginalization of racialized minorities in literary fiction, where Authors of Color and non-white narratives are underrepresented, and (3) the marginalization of racialized minorities in western comedy, which tends to erase POC, or exploit racial stereotypes for comedic effect. I argue that white masculinity is still the dominant frame of reference, but is quickly losing ground to anti-racist perspectives, narratives, and comedic norms. Insofar as white masculinity is still the dominant point of view, POC’s blame is marginalized in these contexts, but there is evidence that the normative landscape is shifting.
2. Western erotica
In my last post, I argued that women are sexually objectified by ‘the male gaze’ (i.e., the heteronormative, masculine perspective promoted by mainstream pornography), and this erotic paradigm discredits women as speakers and knowers, including as people who speak reputably and know things about blame, its nature, and its norms. The eroticization of women as emblematic objects of male sexual desire – and thus paradigmatically infantile, submissive, and irrational – undermines women’s epistemic standing, particularly in stereotypically male contexts, including the literary canon and comedy. Since women’s blame is expressed, or expressible, in their literary and comedic products, women’s blame is epistemically marginalized along these dimension.
Here, I will argue that similar considerations apply to POC, who are not eroticized in a uniform way, but are eroticized in a series of problematic ways by the white-male gaze. Specifically, racialized gender identities tend to be stereotyped as either hyper-feminine and childish, or aggressive and unruly, or both. This binary logic creates epistemic double-binds and contradictions that cast POC as not-credible in one way or another, precluding the possibility of epistemic authority. I’ll look at four categories – Asian femininity, Asian masculinity, Black femininity, and Black femininity – and argue that all fall under a racialized erotic lens that undermines the epistemic standing of the target group.
Asian women, as I mentioned in my last post, are the most ‘sexually desired’ by all men (except Asians) according to surveys (NPR Staff 2013), but they are, by the same token, the most eroticized by Western popular culture, which ‘fetishizes’ them as “dually exotic and subservient creatures able to please men in special ways” (Chang 2006). This racial stereotype emerged during the Vietnam, Korean, and World wars of the 20th Century, during which American soldiers routinely has sex with, and raped, Asian sex workers and sex slaves.* After WWII, Congress passed the War Bride Act, which allowed American servicemen to bring Asian wives home – women who “symbolized the winning of the war; they were war prizes” (Chang 2006). At the same time, American culture was “saturated with impressions of Japanese women as excellent homemakers with ‘wifely virtues and male-pleasing attributes’—not so different from the geisha as they both represent the same image of an ‘Oriental Woman who exists to please men'” (Uchida, 1998, p. 166; cited in Chang 2006). American servicemen thus exported a misogynistic ideal of the geisha, and infused it with a racial logic that further dehumanized Asian women.
These racial sexual icons eventually entered into American mainstream pornography, in which, as of 2017, ‘Hentai’ and ‘Japanese’ are the 2nd and 8th most searched-for terms on pornhub.com (PH 2017). Hentai, which is Japanese animated pornography, is described by feminist blogger David Occhart as extremely sexist, full of rape scenes, and, “even when the sex is consensual…, [involving] a constant a sense of shame and embarrassment… the girls are frequently seen frowning—often with tears collecting at the corners of their eyes” (2015). Because the characters are animated, there are fewer constraints on sexual violence, and more opportunities for enacting misogynistic rape fantasies, including child rape (Rpiley & Whiteman 2014). Commenting on popular culture, Chang says that Asian women are still stereotyped as “exotic and submissive or treacherous and lustful,” and “it is ‘as if the century of life experiences of Asian women in the United States has had little impact'” (citing Uchida, 1998, p. 167; 2015). The submissive-treacherous dichotomy creates an epistemic double-bind for Asian women, since being submissive and being treacherous are both incompatible with being a credible speaker.
Notably, Audrea Lim (2018) speculates that the extreme sexual objectification of Asian women may explain why members of the “alt-right” often accept, and even date, Asian women: if Asian women are framed as objects of men’s racialized sexual desires, they can ‘belong’ to a white supremacy group, but not as people – as sexual play-things for white men. That is, white supremacist don’t see Asian women as peers – on the contrary, they objectify them to the extent that they no longer see them as persons. Audrea Lim says that the ‘alt-right”s acceptance of Asian women rests on a combination of two mutually-reinforcing stereotypes: the ‘model-minority’ and the ‘submissive hyper-sexual,’ the first of which “deludes white men into seeing a retrograde feminine virtue in Asian women, which at the same time cajoles Asian women into living up to that stereotype as though it were flattery” (Alive 2018). The ‘model minority’ stereotype, then, depicts Asian women as too submissive to resist the subjugating gaze of white masculinity, and this positions them as non-threatening from the standpoint of White Supremacy.
By a similar racist logic, Asian men are rated as the ‘least sexually preferred’ by women in surveys. This is the flip-side of the hyper-sexualization of Asian women, which precipitated the de-sexualizing of Asian men, who were perceived as white servicemen’s competition for sexual access to, and possession of, Asian women. In the post-war era, popular culture continued to associate white men with prototypical masculinity and Asian men with prototypical femininity, and these associations were codified in American law. As Michael Park notes, 20th-Century “immigration practices and laws… barred citizenship to Asian men, and in effect designated[ed] them as ‘other’ and emblematically ‘non-male'” (2013: 6). This included barring Asian immigrants from marrying, effectively preventing them from having families or procreating under the law, and barring Asian Americans from pursuing stereotypically male jobs, forcing them into ‘feminized’ contract occupations, such as “cook, waiter, tailor, and laundryman” (Park 2013: 11). To diffuse what policy-makers regarded as “threats to white racial purity” (Park 2013: 10), Asian American men were ’emasculated’ by social policy and classified along with women as second-class citizens – a species of ‘second sex.’
These stereotypical associations persist to this day, as evidenced in the results of machine-learning algorithms showing that the adjectives most associated with Asians in the 1910s were “barbaric,” “monstrous,” and “cruel,” but the current top adjectives are “inhibited,” “passive” and “sensitive” – an improvement, but evidence of the lingering cultural associations between Asian Americans and prototypical femininity (Shashkevich 2018).
These adjectival associations reflect the now-dominant paradigm of the ‘model minority’ – a stereotype that is, on reflection, simply a re-fashioning of the classic motif of passive, femininized ‘Orientalism’, albeit presented under the false guise of a compliment. (For example, the stereotype of Asians being “good at math” is a racist slur, disguised as a gesture of respect). The ‘model-minority’ stereotype relies on the cultural paradigm of Asians as passive, compliant, and apolitical – indeed, as “the symbolic antithesis of militant Civil Rights activists and feminist groups,” who are depicted as, in a sense, grotesquely masculine (Kim & Chung 2005) Asian Americans are still racialized, but they are seen as a less threatening racial minority than Hispanic and Black Americans, who are effectively criminalized in the collective consciousness. This contrast between ‘model minorities’ and ‘criminal minorities’ fuels the military-industrial complex and protects the hegemony of white masculinity – the only erotic identity that is neither racialized nor femininized. As Gina Marchetti observes, popular culture “uses” Asian Americans “as signifiers of racial otherness to avoid the far more immediate racial tensions between blacks and whites or the ambivalent mixture of guilt and enduring hatred toward Native American and Hispanics”; the ‘model minority’ paradigm provides a contrast to the “images of violent and vociferous African Americans and feminists” (1993: 6). These associations serve to protect the cultural and epistemic hegemony of white masculinity.
African American women are the ‘least sexually preferred’ by men according to surveys. Like Asian sex-trafficking victims, enslaved African American women (and men) were systemically raped by white men, producing a ‘white sexual gaze’ that construed Black women as both financial resources and objects of colonialist rape fantasies. Black women were not hyper-feminized in the way that Asian women were because, as Naomi Zack notes (1999), the genealogy of Black femininity is sui genesis. Zack argues that colonialists were driven primarily by monetary incentives to rape and ‘breed’ Black women for profit, while African American men were seen as equivalent to male workhorses, with an ‘inconvenient,’ ‘unruly,’ and non-monetizable sexuality (1999). These frameworks linger in the current popular eroticization of Black women as “Jezebels,” “lascivious by nature,” “innately promiscuous, even predatory” (Pilgrim 2012) – a cultural script that exonerates the colonialist raping of Black women, and preserves the constructed innocence of ‘boyish’ white masculinity. Black women are also objectified under the cultural schemas of the “Angry Black Woman” and the “Welfare Mother” (ibid). (Green 2017) – negative scripts that, again, sanitize America’s legacy of racial segregation, slavery, and institutionalized rape. These racist sexual constructs grew out of America’s colonialist history, but they persist as mechanisms for sanitizing white masculinity and justifying white men’s sexual conceit. If Black women are hyper-sexual but morally worthless, then they are supremely fuckable, as they can be used as a convenient sexual resource without regard to their moral standing. The fact that Black women are seen as ‘not sexually desirable’ does not entail that they are ‘not fuckable’: ‘sexual desirability’ entails more than regarding someone as a sex toy. In America, African American women experience sexual violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females, and 2.5 times the rate of other races, and have less access to social resources (WCN 2006) – statistics that reveal the lack of regard for Black women’s moral agency.
African American men are less ‘sexually preferred’ than white men in surveys, again, because of the entanglement of racism and sexism in the cultural erotic imagination. Like Black women, enslaved Black men were systematically raped by white colonialists, although this is less widely recognized (Curry 2018). Tom Curry examines the construction of African American masculinity in America, which he identifies as a paradoxical mix of childish innocence and violent barbarism. Specifically, Black men are stereotyped, on the one hand, as “childish and immature” (2018: 9) – a cultural schema reinforced by the systemic rape and enslavement of African American men – and on the other hand, as sexually aggressive, lascivious, and susceptible to “abominable lust” (2018: 9) – a cultural schema created under colonialism to protect white men’s sexual access to, and possession of, white women. This stereotype of Black masculinity is famously portrayed in the American classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in which a Black man is falsely accused of raping a white woman – a lie that everyone believes because the American mythologization of the Black male rapist has been so deeply ingrained. The irony is that white men blamed Black men for an offense that they themselves not only committed more than anyone else, but legalized as an exclusive right under colonialism (which allowed them to legally rape their white wives and POC). To preserve this position of sexual dominance, ethnologists, anthropologists, and biologists constructed an impossible “bogeyman” of Black masculinity, envisioned as infantile-and-predatory, feminine-and-aggressive, innocent-and-criminal – a chimera that erased the very possibility of an intelligible cultural identity for Black men (Curry 2018). This binary construct persists to this day, and explains the dual feminization and criminalization of Black men – reflected, e.g., in the fact that they earn less than white women (Patten 2017), but are incarcerated for 19% longer than white men for the same crimes (Pryor et al. 2017).
These intersections of racism and eroticism in the popular imagination results in a complex ‘othering’ of POC, engendering specific social and epistemic marginalizations. In my last post, I drew on Rebecca Solnit’s work in feminist sociology to show how women as a group are silenced by pornographic representations of women as sexual objects as opposed to agents in their own right. The present analysis allows us to make finer-grained discriminations amongst differently-racialized femininities and masculinities. According to this analysis, Asian women are hyper-sexualized in the cultural consciousness, represented as emblematically infantile, passive, compliant, and easily assailable into the logic of white masculinity and white supremacy. Asian men are depicted as stereotypically feminine, but also male, positioning them as non-threatening but also non-gendered, or perhaps gender-nonconforming, according to the dominant racial lens. Black women are eroticized under dehumanizing schemas that justify colonialism, racial segregation, and sexual violence against them. Black men, finally, are placed in the paradoxical category of the ‘child-rapist,’ a category that precludes the very possibility of a coherent cultural identity. All of these stereotypes, which enmesh race and sexuality in complex web of negative, eroticized gender prototypes, effectively erase the subjectivities of members of these racialized groups. Rather than seeing these group-members as individuals, popular culture imagines them as static tropes, constructed as absences (not-white-men) through the dominant lens of white masculinity – that is, the irreducible subject whose hegemonic frame of reference racializes all other gender categories.
Because racialized minorities are eroticized in these problematic ways, they are less likely to be represented as individuals with epistemic authority – as authors, narrators, main characters, etc. – in popular culture. And indeed, POC are underrepresented in across many dimensions of popular culture, with one salient example being the entertainment industry. I will briefly outline epistemic marginalizations in that industry here.
To begin, women, African Americans, and Asian Americans are underrepresented in Hollywood films. In a sample of 414 stories, “half the films and TV shows… had no Asian speaking characters, and more than one-fifth… had no black characters with dialogue,” while “just one-third of characters with speaking roles were women” (Deggan 2016; Smith et al 2016). Researchers concluded that “the film industry still functions as a straight, White, boy’s club” (ibid.). Films with POC in the roles of director, writer and producer are more diverse (ibid.), but these positions are overwhelming occupied by white men. POC are underrepresented amongst film directors, film writers, show creators, studio executives, studio managers, and studio unit heads, and the situation is hardly improving: “the numbers of women and minorities represented in entertainment productions haven’t budged in 10 years” (Austin 2016; Smith et al. 2017).
The television and film industries are, of course, major producers of dominant cultural narratives. These industries produce stories that are consumed by millions of people, and these stories express blame and praise. When POC are underrepresented amongst all ranks in the entertainment industry, their speech is epistemically marginalized in these contexts, which entails that their blame, as a speech act, is epistemically marginalized.
In modern TV and cinema, there are salient examples of counter-cultural blaming narratives, including such productions as Black Panther, which critiques American colonialism through an Afro-futuristic lens; Dear White People, which ridicules perennial racist practices, like going to a party in Black Face; and Key and Peele, which similarly critiques cultural racism (more on which later). These screen productions invert the racist logic of the ‘golden age of Hollywood,’ which glamorized slavery (e.g., Gone with the Wind), depicted POC as racial stereotypes (e.g., I. Y. Yonoshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s), or, more often than not, erased POC and normalized racism. More recent screen products perpetrate historical racisms, by, for example, appropriating African American narratives (e.g., Friends is allegedly a sad re-make of Living Single (Blay 2017), casting white people as POC (e.g., Ghost in the Shell, The Outsider, The Prince of Persia), and segregating white people from POC as if they inhabited different worlds, or as if racial segregation were natural and inevitable (e.g., A Different World alongside Beverly Hills 90210, Full House alongside Family Matters). These filmic conventions suppress, silence, or white-wash the normative insights and blaming expressions of POC. It is only in recent years that anti-racist screen productions have begun to gain cultural momentum and epistemic capital, but these products are still liminal compared to the white-male frame of reference, which depicts POC as tokens, tropes, and supporting characters.
When POC are depicted in film and TV as racial stereotype, or as supporting characters at the periphery of the white-male experience, they are subjected to epistemic injustice, because their perspectives are suppressed and silenced. Epistemic injustice involves not only the discrediting of a person’s testimony (i.e., testimonial injustice’), but also the unfair distribution of opportunities to speak, which Fricker calls ‘pre-emptive testimonial injustice’ – a type of injustice that fails to provide opportunities to speak (viz., Hazlett 2017). POC are subject to both types of epistemic injustice in the entertainment industry, as they are represented as negative archetypes that are inherently discrediting (‘laundryman,’ ‘Jezebel,’ ‘rapist’), and, partly because of this, their speech is pre-empted. Because their speech is epistemically marginalized in these ways, their blame is, too.
2. The Western Literary Canon
The racial-sexual erotic stereotypes that epistemically marginalize POC have implications not only for film and TV, but also for the western literary canon, which is predominantly white and male. Since literature is a vehicle for people’s speech, it is a vehicle for people’s blame, which is therefore marginalized in literary fiction.
While demographic numbers are changing, most of us grew up with an overwhelmingly white, male literary canon. Today, literary fiction still isn’t keeping up with demographic trends: “of children’s books published in 2013, only 10.5 percent featured a person of color,” whereas half of all school-aged children are non-white (Black 2018); “in 2016, this number doubled to 22 percent, but white is still the ‘default identity'”; in New York City’s public school system, only 14.9% of students are white, but almost half the books in the district’s curriculum feature white characters (ibid.)
In addition, the top-5 ranked titles at college English departments in America are all by white authors and feature white characters (Osborn 2016). In 2012, 88% of authors reviewed by the New York Times were white males (Hess 2012), and in 2013, only two out of 23 authors featured in the Paris Review’s interviews of top authors of the decade were Authors of Color (Berry 2013). Because literary criticism signals respect for the author under review, and also increases book sales, the underrepresentation of Authors of Color in critical reviews reflects a lack of respect for their authorial credibility, and results in a lack of financial investment in their literary projects (a ‘secondary harm’ of epistemic injustice).
These epistemic marginalizations could also have effects on our moral attitudes. In my last post, I discussed Rebecca Solnit’s claim that the underrepresentation of women in literary fiction primes us to empathize more with men than women, producing a gender empathy gap. I pointed out that this theory is consistent with research on intergroup empathy bias, which finds that, in conditions of competition, empathy enhances hostility toward perceived out-group members, including women. It would be an overgeneralization to say that women are completely starved of empathy, but we seem to lack empathy for women precisely when the authority of white masculinity is at stake – for example, when women are raped by men, which is the theme of Lolita – a tragic rape story warped into a ‘compelling romance’ by critics, marketers, and audiences.
The empathy-gap hypothesis is also consistent with evidence that we respond differently to pain in men and women: for example, women are less likely to get CPR from a bystander and more likely to die of cardiac arrest (Brauser 2017); women are less likely to be referred for specialist care for certain conditions, and are subjected to longer wait times for certain conditions (Jaakkimainen et al. 2014); and, globally, women have higher mortality rates than men for infectious and non-communicable diseases (WEF 2017). This empathy bias is consistent with Solnit’s theory that the overrepresentation of men’s perspectives in literature affects our empathic sensitivity to men and women – though perhaps, in light of the competition aspect of inter-group empathy bias, this bias is more salient in contexts where white masculinity competes with women’s pain (rape stories), or where men’s and women’s pain compete for costly resources (healthcare).
A similar analysis can be applied to POC, who are also ‘othered’ in the western literary canon. The ‘othering’ of POC is on display, for instance, in the Guardian‘s list of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time (2015), in which the top five – Don Quixote, Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, and Tom Jones – are all written by white men, all center white masculinity as the dominant frame of reference, and, in many cases, include racist caricatures of POC. Don Quixote‘s author Cervantes regularly “mocks [POC] as liars and thieves, portraying them as useless cheapskates who deserve their exile from Spain because they threaten the king’s rule” (SparkNotes; cf. George Mariscal 1999); Pilgrim’s Progress almost completely excludes POC, except for a racist passage in which “Fool” and “Want-wit” wash an Etheopian man “with [the] intention of making him white, but the more they washed him the blacker he was” (1909: S8.357); Robinson Crusoe presents Crusoe’s island-mate Friday in the racist guise of The Noble Savage, a stock character who embodies an exoticized, African ‘other,’ supposedly uncorrupted by ‘modern civilization’; Tom Jones doesn’t include any POC or references to race, but treats slavery as a natural institution; and Gulliver’s Travels, though generally interpreted as a symbolic critique of the slave trade, still uses racist language, and only criticizes slavery (if at all) in a symbolic form, not explicitly (Robinson 2006). This isn’t to write off all of these books as garbage, but it is epistemically significant that they all marginalize POC, and, when they do center on POC, exoticise them and describe them in racist terms. Once you get to the end of this reading list, it might be a good idea to cleanse your palette with some anti-racist narratives, to say the least. Solnit goes farther and suggests that we should eschew some canonized literature completely, as it might be bad for your moral character.
Notably, the empathy gap in our perception of pain also extends to POC, revealing a ‘racial empathy bias.’ For example, nurses assume that Black people feel less pain than white people (Fogiarini et al. 2011); physicians underestimate Black patients’ pain more than white patients’ pain (Staton et al. 2007); and physicians withhold opioids from Hispanic, Black, and Asian patients more than white patients (Forgiarini et al. 2011). This is consistent with the theory that the hegemony of white masculinity in the literary canon – and other cultural spaces – creates an empathy bias in favour of gender-conforming white men.
That said, the western literary canon is being increasingly diversified. I am currently contributing to an edited volume on Octavia Butler (1993, 1998), an under-appreciated Black women author whose dystopian fiction was more prescient than her peers,’ because it foregrounds race and gender in her post-apocalyptic universes, bringing into relief how democratic collapse and tyranny disproportionally harm historically disenfranchised groups (and often confer advantages on the privileged, contrary to the anxieties of many white authors). Rather than centering white masculinity, Butler foregrounds the narrative perspective of a Black woman, and focuses on how capitalism, sex slavery, and colonialism intersect with racial empathy bias. Butler does not have the same cultural status as authors like Margaret Atwood, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell, precisely because she is a Black woman and she explicitly addresses the inconvenient truth of racial injustice, but I am optimistic that her work will be re-appraised and popularized in the near future (especially after the success of Black Panther).
3. Western Humour
The stereotypes that silence POC have implications not only for film, TV, and the western literary canon, but also for western humour, which is also predominantly white and male. Much of Western Humour is rooted in the use of racial stereotypes as a form of humour, with prominent examples including Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from The Simpsons, Han from Two Broke Girls, and Buckwheat from The Little Rascals. Other comedies simply erase POC, in spite of being set in some of the most diverse metropolises in the world, prime examples including Friends, Seinfeld, and Sex in the City. Although 3 out of 10 of Netflix’s ten highest-paid comedians of 2017 were Black men, there were no other racial groups and no intersectional identities in the top-ten list (Fritz 2017). While POC have produced some groundbreaking comedies in recent years, many of these productions have been denied funding from major movie studios, including Dear White People, produced by Justin Simien, and The Top 5, produced by Chris Rock (King et al. 2104; Bernstein 2014) (which were financed by crowdfunding). In the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the 30 Most Powerful Film Producers, there were only 2 Asian men, 1 Black man, and zero women (THR Staff 2015). The underrepresentation of POC amongst producers is a factor in the underrepresentation of POC at every other rank in Hollywood.
Recent trends in comedy, however, challenge the racist logic of mainstream comedy – a logic that either trades on racist stereotypes, erases POC entirely, or whitewashes Black narratives. Just as rape jokes (about rape survivors) are being replaced by rapist jokes (about rapists) told by feminist comedians like Amy Schumer, Amy Pohler, and Tina Fey, racist jokes are being replaced by anti-racist jokes (about racists), told by Comedians of Color like Keegan Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Amber Ruffin, Ronny Chieng, and Jessica Williams.
To bring this into relief, I’ll start with Key and Peele’s recent sketch on civil war reenactments. A group of white Civil-War reenactors are playing Confederate soldiers, and Key and Peele’s characters show up uninvited to play Jim Crow racial stereotypes. The person playing the Confederate General defends the group, arguing that the re-enactors aren’t “pro-slavery,” – they’re just trying to “preserve the pure and beautiful slice of southern history” – to which another participants adds the emphasis, “yeah, pure and beautiful slice.” At the end of the clip, the ‘General’ almost says the n-word, accidentally exposing his explicit racism, and the interlopers take this as license to rob him, which is, in my view (and presumably in Key and Peele’s) a piece of delicious retribution, confirming what I argued in an earlier post, viz., that crimes that ‘punch up’ (e.g., disenfranchise racists, effectuate a fairer distribution of wealth) can have prima facie redemptive moral value. (Whether theses crimes are all-things-considered justified depends on the particularities of the case). By showing up as racial stereotypes at the reenactment, Key and Peele’s characters ridicule the facile logic on which Civil-War re-enactments are about appreciating Southern history as opposed to celebrating racism.
Another example is Ronny Chieng’s response to a video featuring Jesse Watters as he interviews residents of China Town, produced for The O’Reilly Factor (before Bill O’Reilly was ousted from Fox in light of evidence that the company had paid multiple sexual harassment settlements on his behalf). Although Chieng’s video contains some problematic content, it features a biting criticism of Watters’ white ignorance, conspicuous in his use of racist iconography, such as clips of Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid and excerpts of the song ‘Kung Fu Fighting,’ to reduce his interviewees to the one-dimensional racial stereotype of the Kung Fu Hero. Notably, ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ features a melody known as the ‘Oriental Riff,’ which is an American invention dating back to the 19th Century, historically used to depict Asian Americans as Perpetual Foreigners, as seen in this racist Betty Boop episode ‘Making Stars’ (Chow 2014). Chieng ridicules Watters for failing to ask his interviewees if they speak English and depicting them as ignorant. He responds with a counter-video in which he interviews China-Town residents in Chinese, eliciting intelligent responses about American politics. This response-video turns the tables on Watters, revealing the clown to be, not Asian Americans, but Watters himself, who is a buffoonish embodiment of White Ignorance.
A third example can be found in Amber Ruffin’s send-up of the TV series Roseanne, a 1990s sit-com recently revived as a racist show about a Trump apologist (as Roseanne Barre is in real life). Ruffin begins with a bit of funny-because-true humour, informing the audience that “Roseanne is back and she’s better than ever… at being racist.” She goes on to explain how Roseanne illustrates a pervasive kind of American racism, on which white Americans accept POC if they’re useful to them, but otherwise don’t hesitate to call the police on them and report them for fake crimes. Ruffin proceeds to give real-life examples of this phenomenon, including a woman who calls the police on two Native Americans who she claims “don’t belong there,” to which Ruffin replies, “They’re Native Americans – they’re the only people who do belong there.” These rebuttals are funny because they bring into focus the buffoonishness of White Exceptionalism, the belief that white Americans have special moral status and everyone else has to prove their moral worth.
These comedic portrayals of white privilege are fairly recent in popular culture, which historically relied on the opposite comedic norms – racist caricatures as a source of humour. Because anti-racist humour is being popularized and and recognized as funny by a wider audience, POC’s blame, as expressed in their comedic speech, is receiving more uptake. POC’s comedic blame includes ridiculing, and thus censuring, white privilege. Whereas doing this was previously difficult because white masculinity was held up as a bastion of rationality, dignity, and authority, the popularity of anti-racist humour is chipping away at this false icon and revealing white ignorance as the absurd spectacle that it is. Covert and banal forms of racism are being exposed as ridiculous spectacles of white ignorance, and the absurdity of these racisms are increasingly obvious.
4. Concluding remarks
In my last post, I argued that women’s blame is silenced by epistemic gender bias perpetrated by, and within, mainstream erotica, western literary fiction, and western humour. In this post, I have given this analysis an intersectional dimension by analyzing how gender and race are intertwined in the construction of racialized gender identities (Asian femininity, Black masculinity, etc.), enacted through the dominant erotic standpoint of white masculinity. This standpoint produces epistemic racial bias, which works to marginalize POC in white-dominant spaces, including literary fiction and comedy. Recent trends, however, show that POC are inverting the racist-sexist logic of white masculinity, by producing, marketing, and popularizing their own brands of anti-racist literature and comedy. These speech products contain blame, and therefore provide a vehicle for POC’s blame to be voiced, heard, and integrated into the social imaginary.
*I hesitate to use the colonialist term ‘slave,’ though this is the most recognized term for women forced into sex trafficking. By ‘sex slave’ I mean, more precisely, victims of sex trafficking.