There a video that has made it’s way through the internet in the last day or so. A friend sent it to me remarking at how horrible the content is. As I watched, disgusted but not actually surprised. You probably know which video I am talking about. A (presumably) Chinese woman is dropping clothing items into a washing machine. A Black man appears at the doorway, his skin splattered with paint, and he whistles at the woman who is receptive to his advance. He approaches her, and when he is nose to nose with her, she pops some detergent into his mouth and stuffs him into the washer. After the cycle, he exits the wash clean…and as a (presumably) Chinese man.
The audacity is palpable with this one. Let me start with the colorism. This, if nothing else, is pure reinforcement of colorism. The ad squarely puts itself in the camp of “light skin = more desirable.” And frankly, that is putting it mildly as this sentiment scales from not just physical beauty but to ethical character as “dark skin = a bad person.” Any rational person knows these notions are far from truth, however, individuals internalize messages from the larger society whether they intend to or not, and these internalized messages influence behavior. So, no, this ad is not harmless, and it is not funny.
Let’s unpack this ad further. We have racism, ethnocentrism, and colonialism to unpack here. Racism often aligns with colorism when those involved do not identify as the same race or ethnicity. The racist message here is not hard to see: Black men are not suitable partners for Chinese women. That is what this commercial is saying. Do I have to explain it? You know what? If I have to explain this part, just get the hell out. If you do get it, let’s proceed to ethnocentrism and colonialism.
I don’t know how common of knowledge this is, but Chinese immigrants have been moving to Africa at increasing rate citing both economic opportunity and the physical crowding of their home country as motivators. Howard W. French, in China’s Second Continent: How a million migrants are building a new empire in Africa, quasi-ethnographically describes the relationship between the Chinese immigrants, and the locals of the countries to which migration is common: Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Namibia, and other countries. The relationship between the immigrants and the local populations is tepid at best and openly contentious at worst, with many viewing the presence of the immigrants as exploitative. This undoubtedly influences any existing racial or ethnic tensions. For a more nuanced discussion of this relationship, I strongly suggest French’s book.
Lastly, let’s talk about why the hell this continues. Well, there are a lot of stakeholders invested in maintaining stratified systems of race, color, and nationality. The people at the top of the stratum, for one, have a lot to lose if this system collapses in terms of rights, political representation, access to resources, and economic strength. The institutions that perpetuate this stratification (chiefly governments as well as corporations who rely on cheap labor) tend to be the losers when a citizenry is united, and so they will exploit differences of race, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, or whatever happens to work for them at the time. It’s kind of fascist in that way. Who else is a stakeholder in this system? It’s you and me. Now, calm the hell down. I am not calling you a racist. What I am saying is that our brains are really efficient, and part of the reason for that is that we do a whole lot of automatic categorizations that influence how we behave towards another person. Getting rid of all these categories our brains use is impossible, but it is possible to be more self-aware, to be more cognizant, and ultimately making a difference by recognizing that commercials such as this detergent ad are piling on to the most damaging stereotypes and calling folks out when they defend such content as humor. And for anyone so ardently holding on to their belief that this ad is not racist, I encourage you to explore what your gains are in maintaining this. Are you benefitting as a stakeholder in a racist system, and are others suffering for your participation in a severely stratified society?
A valued coworker left the company recently. I was heartbroken to hear that someone who could legitimately make me (and just about everyone else) laugh amidst such utter corporate drudgery had decided to leave. However, I was fairly soon overcome with admiration and respect for someone to choose to live their values and live so truly authentically in the face of uncertainty. I’m not feeling upset, I’m feeling awe at this person’s nuanced, purposeful decision to leave a work life that was inducing so much emotional turmoil it was all-consuming at some points.
I take this act personally. No, not personally as an affront, but personally as a call to action. You see, I’m not living my values nor doing what is healthy for me emotionally or physically. I live in a similar condition to the aforementioned coworker. I have major depressive disorder, panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia. The depression has been with me my entire life with my earliest memories of suicidal ideations at five years. The anxiety manifested in a severe way when I was 14 and was unable to leave the house for about 18 weeks.
I’d thought the agoraphobia was gone. It’s been 20 years. In that time, I’ve finished high school with honors, finished three degrees with multiple awards and recognitions, and moved to a major metropolitan area where I had to give up reliance on a car. After getting into a PhD program didn’t work out, I had to get a “real job.” This is where working for an American corporation comes in. It’s important to note that in American capitalism, the sole responsibility of a corporation is to generate profit for stakeholders/shareholders. That means corporations (most of them) do the absolute minimum to adhere to labor laws and little to nothing else to ensure employee well-being. Sure, they give us the holiday party, endless free coffee, and maybe a softball team, but let’s be real. Have any of the decision makers ever seen Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?
Here’s where we are in the United States: “You should not complain because others have it worse. Be grateful for these crumbs.” This rhetoric is the greedy wealthy is telling us we cannot both want better for ourselves AND better for others. Well, folks, this is bullsh*t. We’re fielding such a contradictory set of messages as Americans that we cannot suss out the truth anymore. The truth is this situation is not either/or, it is both/and. It is not one or the other. We can simultaneously work towards a better situation for ourselves and a better situation for others. That this is framed in an unresolvable dialectic is fueling emotional distress – the depression, the anxiety – among us. It’s not the only thing fueling this, but it is a major player.
More to come…
I’ve never played WoW. I’m familiar with the massive multi-player game and whatnot, but it always seemed like such a massive time commitment to get anywhere with it. Hearthstone, however, I love. I came across a pattern for Amiguri style plush Hearthstones on Ravelry, and had to make them. I’m not a fan of the seaming through the center of the stone, so I crocheted it in one piece.
Check out the free pattern on Ravelry: Amiguri Hearthstone
My other project were the freezer pop cozies that look like Light Saber hilts. I’m not a Star Wars fan and haven’t seen anything but the original three films, but I do have a lot of coworkers who are very into all things Star Wars.
It’s another free pattern: Light Sword Freezer Pop Cozies
Othering in the workplace: the steps the Other takes to prove themselves and the group they represent
Let me start this post by clarifying “the group [the Other] represents.” I don’t mean this to be understood that the Other is willingly taking up the spokesperson role for whatever minority group of which they are a part (“minority group” here is meant in the context of American society and generally includes anyone not male/masculine, cisgender, white, Christian, straight – the dominant, hegemonic norm by which the rest of us are assessed and othered). However, regardless of the fact that very few of us volunteer for this spokesperson role, this role that requires us to go above and beyond to prove that, believe it or not, the othered group to which we belong do not deserve whatever absurd stereotyping placed upon us, we end up doing the spokesperson work anyway.
The prompt for this post was a series of unrelated workplace conversations that held a common theme – those who are Othered (for example: women and racial and ethnic minorities) have a pressure to constantly police themselves and others within their group to prevent or correct what we’ve internalized as negative stereotypes that put us at a disadvantage with those in charge of our promotions, raises, bonuses, and overall employment status. And let us not forget about how intersections of minority statuses (see: Patricia Hill Collins’ and Kimberle Crenshaw’s work) serve to add layers of pressure to perform in ways that proactively counter those stereotypes. Sounds exhausting, right? It is.
Let us speak about what this means for women in the workplace. I feel most comfortable speaking about this experience as I am a white woman in a male-dominated industry. Women are typed as emotional, which has many implications. It means we are impetuous with decisions, for one. We have to work doubly hard to check our emotions if we want to be taken seriously, that is, act like a man. However, it’s not that men lack emotions or emotional expressions, but rather that the hegemonic ideology has defined the emotions that men express more often in the workplace than women (anger, aggressiveness, abrasiveness) as acceptable. Well, acceptable for men, but not for women. If a women displays those same emotions too often, she’s a ballbuster, a b*tch, etc. It’s at this point of realization for us women that we realize we just can’t win.
This is a massive emotional and mental drain on anyone who has at least one oppressed status, and must addressed as a contributing factor to the attrition of many types of people from the STEM fields amongst other career paths in the U.S. Now, this post is far from a complete analysis of what is going on in American workplaces, but I do hope it is enough to get people to think about what it is like to be the default representation for millions of others who share your sex or gender, skin tone, religion, sexual orientation simply because you are the only person in the room with that status.