cut tongues

Last week there was one night when I was sittin’ up in my room for hours, reading online commentary (plus the comments) about:  race and racism and “hipster racism” (what a term! hella conflatin’!) and ironic racism and not-racism and race and racism and racial jokes and astoundingly blatant racism and epithets even now and race and young adult novels and racism.

Most of this was filtered through links in article(s) about perceived racism on that recently-debuted HBO show, Girls.  I haven’t seen it because I have TV, not HBO, and am ill-equipped to talk about the show’s content itself; the comment I just linked to serves well, I think.  About various racisms, we could have a lot of conversations, you and I.  But not as much about this show, though I have by now read a lot of chatter about it.

* * *

If you want to think about making room for races, think about words.  Noel Murray wrote an interesting “For Our Consideration” editorial about people using “White” as a pejorative.  (There’s some Girls inside.)  His piece is pretty clearly written, includes acknowledgment of varying opinions, and poses some good questions.  Worth a read and a reread to decide what you think about it all.

I have been back in America from Japan for a bit more than six months.  There are still times when I internally marvel at ranges of skin colors around me here.  Familiar feelings from re-entering North America from Asia during childhood.  There are still times when my brain says, quite simply, “White people.”  (The latter is most often after watching a movie trailer.)  But I try not to say it with negative feelings.  Negativity should warrant at least a full sentence, right?  I tell my brain that.

It is a little strange to hear many white people talk about “white people problems,” or rather, they don’t really talk about them, they just add that as a tagline to funnel everything into some pile of race/class/humor/guilt stuff.  Do you switch it to #firstworldproblems?  Are there #uppermiddleproblems?  #Colonialproblems?  Do wignecks get to talk about #whitepeopleproblems with the same perceived emotional afterword?  Do #whitepeopleproblems include rosacea?  (‘Cause I kinda got that, passed on by my 3/4 whitepeople, very ruddy father.)

* * *

Things:

  • Everyone creates a narrative of themselves and their lives in their heads.  It is extended and edited forever until death.
  • No one has absolute truth in their head, though many strive for it.  (Value of this pursuit not at issue.)
  • We sometimes gain access to narratives borne from other heads.
  • If we engage only in narratives about characters who looked/acted just like us, that is sad and boring for our own narratives.
  • If we engage in a narrative about characters who look/act nothing like us, it can be great, and adds pages to our own narrative.
  • If we engage only in narratives about characters who look/act nothing like us, heads get messed up.  Or heads will roll.  We need avenues into our own narrative.  We want to cast ourselves, as acting players, something more than an extra.  If you can’t exist in your own head… then, what?
  • Key = engaging in many narratives.  Allowing and encouraging others to share theirs, making sure there is room, making others scooch over.  There is room.

* * *

One side question I have is:  what if Lena Dunham’s show had been named something other than Girls?  Like, if it had not been named after a representation of a giant portion of living humans — not only female prepubescents, but folding in the female teenaged and the female legal-adults that, despite their lives/actions/experiences are still patted on the back (or worse) as though they were helpless prepubescents (or worse)?  Would the other titled-show have caused just as much commentary on how the content doesn’t speak to many Girls’ experiences?

The TV guide said there’s a new show called Don’t Trust The B—- In Apartment 23; every word/dash makes the title’s meaning more specific (and didactic!), and the title becomes less likely to get huge swaths of the population riled up, simply because it’s a long title.  Most of the population could lose their train of thought by the end, or they couldn’t be bothered to fit much commentary into their Tweet box.  But GIRLS.  GIRLS!  It’s punchy, short, viral, an instant mashup of strip joint window lights and all the females you knew before and know now and imagine to exist (if you imagine them at all).

I’m not saying that I wish the show, this show I haven’t seen, had been titled Don’t Take Completely To Heart The B——-s [Brunettes] In Certain Echelons of Brooklyn.  But that choice woulda been funny, right?  And it probably woulda been cancelled.  My only point on this side-question is:  titles and words and lack of words can spin your brain right around.

* * *

A…duh.  Anyone who reads this webpage (hey! *waves*), especially recent posts, can tell that I stumble under the power of word choice, and I am pretty dumbfounded by the power of language.

I do mean dumbfounded, as in I could barely speak to others for years in elementary school, terrified of what to say or what not to say, to the point that classmates assumed I didn’t understand English (I did).  Race had something to do with this, natch, but it was not the most ludicrous assumption, given the circumstances.  Often I dreamed of saying something back to them, proving my skills and worthiness of being addressed in the future, something snappy as hell, something a TV writing staff could easily fire off.  But since it was just me, then, what words would I use?  It felt pretty hopeless.

This is why I give Margaret Cho points forever, no matter how bad-ABC-sitcom All-American Girl was during its brief TV lifespan.  Look!  Another Girl.  To be honest, I’d rather not rewatch the show — just revisit it maybe through a Flickr photo:

1994

(Reactions:  there’s behind-the-scenes crotch action on top of those overalls!  I love it.  And before I swoon at B.D. Wong being an eternal cutie, I step back and hope this photo makes Geraldo Rivera add Asian men to his list of “people who shouldn’t wear hoodies because they’re intimidating” — wouldn’t that slightly shift ‘minority relations’ in American media?)

At the core, I still celebrate Cho for having told (continuing to tell) her narrative out loud, though ’90s TV writers and execs of the non-Asian persuasion seemed to mangle it so:

  • Cho states she was asked to lose a large amount of weight in order to play a character based on herself. Producers and network officials were concerned about the roundness of her face.
  • She was advised that she was not acting Asian enough; an Asian Consultant was hired to teach her to be more Asian. When this angle was not successful, the Asian members of the cast (except Cho herself and Amy Hill) were dropped and replaced with a group of white friends for the main character to interact with. Cho claims she was then told she was too Asian for this new format.

When I was nine, seeing her onscreen was enough to justify the show’s existence.  As a bonus, she had more than one line, and as an extra bonus, she was funny — surely she would have come up with a killer classmate-retort, without media exec intrusion.  The important thing then was being able to imagine myself existing in her narrative and her in mine.  And because it was on network TV (not HBO) there was a slight chance some of my classmates could access it too, and maybe they’d think I was funny and watchable by extension, though I lacked the cajones to broadcast those qualities on my own. There was hope, there was a little room.  I hope Americans — and this is including members of all racial check boxes — realize that the room is quite big, and there are a lot of people in it.

* * *

There is a room.  There is room.  Japanese (and Chinese, and other languages) do not use articles like “a” or “the” before nouns.  This used to cause some consternation when I tried to understand readings or listen to anecdotes:  okay, so you met with “friend,” but a friend?  A couple of friends?  Several friends?  BLARGH TELL ME.  I’d get all hung up on wording at the beginning even though a full story was about to unfold before me.  Eventually you get used to suspending your belief until you reach the end, when you can go back and reevaluate what words/details/counts were important. Then you take a break, then you search for the next story.  Assume that there is one or more somewhere you haven’t looked.

* * *

When asked about the cultural themes in her writing, Kingston responded, “I wonder if it just takes a lifetime or two to be an integrated person, so that you don’t have to think, at what point do I have to announce that I am a minority person or a woman or what? When I think back on when I was a young writer, I would wonder, OK now, when do I let everybody know that I’m Chinese American? Do I have to announce that?”

Copied from here.  I looked through my bookshelf in order to find a beautiful quote from The Woman Warrior — there’s one on every page — but just now realized I don’t own a copy.  Very hung up on this.  You should be too!  If you’re not, lend me your copy!

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