Tag Archives: racism

Respect must be earned: BTS’ journey towards gaining its stripes in black America

EDIT: This article is OVER 9000!

This article in its final form has been published at Reappropriate, with some extra additions to make the post even more engaging, and once the readers latched on to it, it went VIRAL!  Thanks to everyone who made the Reappropriate version of this post go viral, and thanks to Jenn at Reappropriate for publishing it! Much appreciated. And if BTS ever reads this, Monique noona writes out of love.


When I first wrote my article about BTS coming to the AMAs, I was quite excited to see this infamous K-pop group I’d heard so much about in the days leading up to the awards show. I was very happy that they got the chance to perform on a big international stage like the AMAs, which will, I think, only serve as the biggest stepping stone yet towards K-pop’s eventual domination of the American airwaves. As I wrote on Twitter after viewing BTS perform (and seeing the crowd, especially the fans, whipped up into a frenzy), it felt like what seeing the Beatles for the first time must have been like.

So far, BTS has been on a roll since their big AMAs debut; they’ve already hob-knobbed with R&B it-boy Khalid and have already released a track featuring Desiigner and Steve Aoki,”Mic Drop”. Everything’s going well. For BTS, anyways.

The rest of K-pop, however, still has a lot of hurdles to climb if they want to get to Beatles-esque levels in America. While there are many reasons K-pop hasn’t yet made it to top-tier status in the States–language barriers, stereotypes about Asian performers held by music execs, general American disinterest when it comes to international music that isn’t British or Canadian–the biggest reason is because K-pop, as a whole, has a race issue.

Throughout K-pop’s history, there have been instances of anti-blackness, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, such as wearing blackface in a way that’s similar to the ganguros of Japan, who self-identify with the black rapper image so much that they darken their skin, blurring the line of wayward appreciation, fetishism, and straight offense. There has been colorism, such as some members of groups poking fun at other group members’ tan skin. There’s intense fetishism, one of the defining traits of K-pop. It colors how K-pop idols–K-pop male idols specifically– interact with black men; an association with a black man can be perceived as getting an “all clear” or a “black card” without a true understanding of the culture they love and mimic. It also colors how the male idols interact with black women. Yes, many K-pop idols, male and female, love Beyonce, Rihanna and Tinashe, and some male idols even claim to prefer black women as romantic interests. But are black women–rappers, dancers, and fans–seen as just hypersexual objects or are they seen as legitimate collaborators in a larger conversation in music and culture?

The other overriding factor of K-pop is the exoticism of the Black Rap Image, such as dressing in the “black rapper” style, affecting a “blaccent,” and mimicking notable rapper mannerisms. As shown by such has-beens like Iggy Azalea, being blatantly fake will only get you so far.

In short, K-pop has a credibility issue as well as a sensitivity issue. Can K-pop fix these two problems and get firmly on the road towards American domination? It seems like if there’s any group to do it, BTS is definitely the one most prepared for the task. Through a trial-by-fire in the form of a reality show three years ago, BTS has gained the knowledge necessary to possibly become the first K-pop group to actually go beyond the mimicry of other acts and develop a brand that openly and honestly respects its black musical forefathers and foremothers in a way that could win over black America, and by extension, the rest of the country.

Fakery Versus Reality

Screencap from BTS’ “Drop the Mic” music video

It is unclear what people expected from BTS when they arrived for the AMAs. But from every interview they’ve done for the week they were in L.A., it’s apparent that they succeeded in winning hearts. With how they presented themselves, winning hearts and changing minds were their top priorities.

From what I’ve learned about BTS so far, it seems they’re a K-pop band that understands the racial hurdles the best. They came with the knowledge of how the Asian diaspora is stereotyped in America, especially if you’re trying to make it in the music business.

BTS group leader and rapper RM (formerly known as Rap Monster), seems particularly astute to what the stakes are, since not only did he have to act as the English-speaking spokesman for the group during their time in America, but he also knows enough about America’s stereotypes against Asian performers to comment on how the AMAs treated the band with respect.

“The AMAs didn’t treat us as a curious novelty from Asia, but showed us respect and treated us as an important part of the show,” he told Metro UK. “They put our performance right before Diana Ross, and we were introduced by the Chainsmokers, who are very popular in the United States. It was clear in many ways that they knew a lot about us and had prepared for our appearance for a long time.”

RM is different from what many Westerners perceive the K-pop idol to be. Aside from being highly intelligent–he has an IQ of 148–he’s introspective and, as you’ll read later in this post, actually seems to apply the lessons he’s learned from some of his more haunting mistakes. Also, his journey in the music industry, coupled with his personality, has imbued in him an “anti-mainstream” sensibility.

On top of that, he also has a rap cred that’s hard to come by if you’re a singer or rapper that has come up through idol school. Unlike some of the other members of BTS, RM and fellow groupmate Suga cut their teeth in Korea’s underground rap scene. If you work your way up from the grimy bottom, you’re bound to learn some things an idol class won’t teach you, both from personal experience and self-education. He’s already had to prove himself worthy to be called a rapper because of his decision to join a boy band; he’s already taken on other rappers who have tried to start beef through his cover of Drake’s “Too Much,” which features RM talking about being perceived, as reported by Noisey’s Blanca Méndez, “a sell-out.” In fact, many of the songs RM has written for the rookie band feature “the inner conflicts that Rap Monster, Suga and J-Hope have as idol rappers.” His 2015 mixtape continues the thread of exploring the duality of himself and his inner and outer conflicts.

It’s this grounding in underground rap that could prove to be part of BTS’ secret weapon for breaking out of the confines of Korean popularity and into the international stratosphere. What will also come in handy is an experience other K-pop groups might not have had–a military style bootcamp on the history of hip hop and rap from none other than one of the legends of rap, Coolio as part of a 2014 reality series, American Hustle Life, in which the boys get on-the-ground training from legends in R&B and hip hop in LA, the home turf of West Coast rap.

Screencap of RM with Warren G in the music video for “P.D.D. (Please Don’t Die).” Warren G produced the track for RM after getting to know him through the reality series “American Hustle Life.”

As Méndez wrote in 2014, one reason many Americans–particularly black Americans–don’t really see it for K-pop, at least initially, is the amount of fakery that defines its performers. That fakeness comes down to not understanding blackness at all.

Though Rap Monster and his groupmates may be relatively well-versed in current hip-hop music, it’s hard to understand the music without fully understanding the culture. It’s even harder to do so in a place so far from the source, especially since, for a country that consumes and repackages hip-hop culture as much as it does, Korea has some serious issues with anti-blackness.

As it stands now, K-pop is a touch-and-go situation for many American pop and rap fans, especially if you’re black. Because Korea’s homogenous culture can perpetuate an ignorance of (or in some cases, an unwillingness to learn about) black stereotypes and offensive words (such as the power of the N-word and blackface), and because of the K-pop machine’s rigorous M.O. of flawlessly copying without completely understanding of the culture its imitating, there’s a weird, virulent strain of fetishism, exoticism, and anti-blackness running throughout K-pop as a cultural entity.

Even BTS, early in their formation, couldn’t escape some of the same egregious mistakes that have befallen other K-pop idols. The group has had their own brushes with the N-word, which had courted extreme controversy. A younger RM would run off at the mouth about how talking black was “a talent” he was good at. Up until their education with the actual rap greats themselves, BTS was like any other K-pop group: problematic. Some fans even labeled them “racist.”

But what’s the difference between abject racism–which is apparent in Korea as in the rest of the world–and plain ignorance? Ignorance certainly isn’t an excuse for bad behavior, especially since there are several K-pop idols who were actually born and raised in North America and should be adept at understanding the racial implications of playing black, as it were. But ignorance is certainly something that has to realized and reckoned with.

Much of K-pop, from my viewpoint, is similar to watching a non-white boy discover rap for the first time. Everything about it is cool. It’s a culture that seems so cool, that the kid becomes obsessed with knowing every lyric (even the bad ones) and mimicking every cool movement. The kid doesn’t realize he’s parodying the culture he idolizes. The only time he does realize this is when he goofs in front of an actual black person in public. Whether he gets beat up over it or simply lectured to depends on the black person he goofs in front of, but regardless, the boy comes out the other side a different, and hopefully more aware, person.

BTS got a similar wake-up call during the first American Hustle Life episode, in which they found themselves in front of Coolio for the first time

As Méndez wrote:

Coolio gets right down to business, asking BTS some basic questions about the origins and history of hip-hop. Whether it’s because they’re nervous or clueless or both, the room goes quiet. But it’s not long before Coolio is interrupted by class clown V, who chimes in with a “turn up” that makes Coolio pauses his pop quiz to get the kid in line. He asks V if he even knows what “turn up” means, to which V replies, “Let’s go party?” Some of the other members chuckle, the others shake their heads in embarrassment. Coolio is not amused. He orders V to do 25 pushups, and the group’s eyes collectively widen. Shit just got real.

“Do you even know what that means?” is a fair question to ask of k-pop stars, or idols, who often talk the talk without really knowing what they’re talking about. This is not to say these stars aren’t genuine or talented artists, but the k-pop industry is about selling a package. Idol groups are formed by finding raw talent and the right look that can be preened, polished, and trained to deliver that package. When forming a hip-hop group, it’s not as important to know and respect hip-hop culture as it is to be able to sell it.

The group continued their education with rapper/producer Warren G, one of the pioneers of the West Coast hip hop scene and renowned vocal coach and music consultant Iris Stevenson, who served as the inspiration for Sister Mary Clarence in Sister Act 2.

Yes, if you watch the reality series, it starts out rough–the boys are “kidnapped” by the guys who will eventually become their L.A. brothers from other mothers–and a lot of the series is edited for laughs. But surprisingly, there are big chunks of the series that do show that the boys are taking their lessons seriously and actually come away with a deeper appreciation of the artform and for the people behind it. It’s especially apparent when the boys who took Stevenson’s singing lessons come away visibly changed–not just because of the new skills they’ve learned, but because of Stevenson’s patience, kindness, and maternal spirit. They respect her as a master of her craft. To them, Stevenson, or “Iris seonsaeng (teacher)” as they called her, is one of the newfound fans they hope to impress the most.

Warren G is another seonsaeng they hope to impress throughout their idol journey. Coolio acted like the hardnosed drill sergeant and quizzed them on deep hip hop history that they should know if they plan on being R&B/hip hop stars. Warren G, on the other hand, calmly taught some of the more nuanced aspects of the racism and negative stereotypes that hip hop is wrongly defined by. He also taught them the true meaning of hip hop.

As RM told HipHopPlaya in 2015:

I wanted to ask Warren G a lot about hip-hop. Like Warren G stated, things like ‘shooting guns, doing drugs, robbery’ aren’t things that are hip-hop itself, but a negative side that’s included within hip-hop. It’s like an uninvited guest that shoved its way into hip-hop, but people said that that’s hip-hop. He also told me that hip-hop is something that’s open to everyone despite what race you may be or what language you may speak. I heard a lot of great things from him besides those as well. Although it may seem like a very obvious thing, but the weight of it just felt different when Warren G said it. And after everything he would say, Warren G attached “It’s all Good.” When I heard those words from the side, then my mood felt really good. Should I compare it to the feeling of a grandfather telling good stories next to you (laughter).

RM espoused on more of Warren G’s teachings in another interview, to the point where he actually taught the interviewer a thing or two about hip-hop:

Interviewer: You recently released a collaboration song with Warren G… But I had the thought that thoe who are more interested in Rapmon than in Bangtan would really enjoy that song. How was it like working with Warren G?

RM: There are two things that Warren G told me that I will never be able to forget. The first is, hip-hop is open to any one. Despite what your race is or where you’re from, hip-hop is a type of music that is always ready to give you space for anyone who enjoys hip-hop. So, don’t restrain yourself behind any type of prejudiced thought, and the other one was you’re doing well, so no matter what others say, believe in yourself and do what you want. Although it’s something that anyone says, I think it touched me even more because he was the one to say it to me. He has a habit of saying, “It’s so good.” But I think that it became a sort of spell. Someting like Hakuna Matata. ‘It’s so good’, when I think of that phrase lately, my hearts becomes at rest a bit more.

Interviewer: Although hip-hop is a genre of music, it seems like a type of religion and philosophy. Just what is hip-hop? Just what is it that guys seem to go crazy over it?

RM: Defining hip-hop is the same as trying to define love. If there are 6 billion people in the world, then there are 6 billion definitions of love, and like that, each definition of hip-hop is different for each person. Of course, it’s possible to give a dictionary definition. In 1970, there was a person called DJ Herc in South Bronx. At a party that he was hosting, he set breaks on a beat and during that break, someone would be rapping, someone would be dancing, and someone else would be doing graffiti… That’s how hip-hop was born, and they call that the 4 elements of hip-hop, but dictionary definitions like these is something anyone knows, but to explain that spirit… In one word, it’s something that can’t be explained. It’s a way that expresses me as well as being a meaning for freedom and rebelling. Because it’s something where people play and have fun with, it can have messages of peace and love placed in it. If you compare it to a Pokemon, it’s like a Ditto. Personally, hip-hop to me is the world. The world that I’m living in… It’s difficult, right? To be honest, it’s still hard for me too.

Interviewer: Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about hip-hop, but there are many aspects of hip-hop culture or clothing that I’m unable to understand easily. The hanging gold necklaces, gun fires, images like that… I also don’t really understand the term ‘swag’ that is used often.

RM: The culture of shooting guns and doing drugs is not the actual self of hip-hop. It’s just become a by-product that appeared around hip-hop music, it’s not the actual self of hip-hop. Although there’s a certain image that pops up clearly when you think of hip-hop fashion, that’s also becoming something that’s more broad. Look at A$AP Rocky or Kanye West. They don’t wear pants that drag around any more. To understand ‘swag’, you need to understand what kind of meaning ‘making it on your own’ has in hip-hop. Making it on your own is a very cool and important concept in hip-hop. I’ll use Jay-Z as an example. Jay-Z was a drug dealer. He’s someone that sold drugs on the rooftop of a very large stadium called Barclays Center, but he succeeded and bought that building. After buying that building, he dressed up in hip-hop and then went up to the rooftop and looked down at that building. Then they took a picture of that and posted it. After seeing that, everyone died. Kya… Just how cool is that? Jay-Z had a song a long time ago that was called ‘99 Problems’, but he raps “I’m someone with a lot of problems, but I don’t have any problems with women? [actual lyrics]”, yet he ended up marrying Beyonce later. Isn’t that amazing? Starting off as a drug dealer, becoming the best wealthy person, and marrying the most amazing woman in the world. I think that gives dreams and hopes to men. Showing that off and revealing it to the world is called ‘swag’. Even when they show it off very openly, you can’t hate or dislike it. Because they started from the bottom and made it on their own.

Screencap of RM in his “Do You” music video.

Whether RM was interested in black music and black messages outside of rap is something I don’t know. But it’s definitely apparent that everything shifted for RM in particular after his time in LA with rap greats and, to be blunt, actual black people (the group would regularly be immersed with average black denizens of LA, whether it was while touring Warren G’s neighborhood, chilling with their LA mentors/big brother figures, or befriending a random guy on the bus).

For instance, when RM put out his mixtape, a series of songs that reflected his own inner turmoil, loneliness, and stress from rival rappers doubting his credibility, he cited India Arie’s “Just Do You” as a source of inspiration.

“It’s a song that gave a lot of comfort to me when I felt confused,” he said to HipHopPlaya. “I believe that the message of this song gave a lot of influence towards this mixtape. That’s why the song that represents the entire message for this mixtape is ‘Do You’.”

India Arie is a deep cut even by American standards–even though she was once mainstream with her 2006 hit, “I Am Not My Hair,” her positioning has since become more indie and low-key–but she’s an especially deep cut by Korean standards, especially in K-pop, which only uses people from the Top 40 charts, like Beyonce and Rihanna, for reference.

It also seems that the RM of now is definitely not the “black is a talent”-spouting RM of the past. At some point between then and his time in LA, RM put out a video apologizing for his past mistakes, regretting that some of his words might have caused his fans pain. He said he had to come to terms with the fact that his words might have been hurtful, and seemed resigned to having to accept that he can’t change the past; all he can do is go forward. Most importantly, he said he holds himself responsible for what he’s done.

Finally, it seems a K-pop group is understanding the sensitivity they need to take when diving into the world of black culture.

Along with learning cultural sensitivity, it would also behoove K-pop as a whole to know about issues facing black people today. What with Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling, #BlackLivesMatter, and police getting off scot-free after killing black men and women, there’s a lot that K-pop can (and should) comment on. To be real about it, the stars of the K-pop machine, out of any Asian group aiming to make it big in the States, should be at the forefront of supporting black lives–the lives of their fans–regardless if they’re traveling in America or if they’re on a game show back home in Korea. If a group plans on indoctrinating themselves in a culture like blackness, it doesn’t do well to just focus on the marketable aspects.

What many stars and management execs don’t realize is that to adopt blackness in any form is also to adopt the issues that affect black people. Black people didn’t gain their unique swag just by happenstance; the ways we express ourselves come from centuries of finding alternative ways of keeping our dignity through unspeakable horrors, of figuring out how to express ourselves in sly, inventive ways. Our culture comes from the little we were able to retain from crossing the Middle Passage. Blackness is, in a nutshell, achieving greatness amid struggle and constantly finding ways to achieve success in a society that hates you. Through pressure and stress, unexpected diamonds were created. But our diamonds–our culture–are things we are not willing to have mined without reciprocation. To get in the vicinity of these diamonds, you have to earn it.

Interestingly enough, BTS seems aware of even this fact. The group is dedicated to having the socially-conscious aspect of their brand down. They makes sure most, if not all of their songs, deal with things socially relevant to their audience.

“Our song lyrics are not 100 percent based on our personal experiences. However, a lot of the lyrics have been influenced by our experiences,” said Suga to Soompi’s E.Cha. “…We’ve tried hard to tell the stories of our generation and our age group in present-day society.”

Much of that deals with topics that aren’t normally expressed in K-pop. As Billboard‘s Tamar Herman wrote when describing RM’s single with Wale, “Change”:

“Though most K-pop acts shy away from politicizing their music, or even touching on seemingly controversial topics, the Rap Monster-led K-pop act has addressed politics and cultural issues in their songs on multiple occasions, with a particular focus on youth-related issues such as mental health, bullying and suicide. The atypical approach has made BTS fan favorites in the U.S., leading to them becoming the highest-ranked K-pop act ever on the Billboard 200.”

Speaking of that track with Wale, “Change,” which was released this March, not only features RM’s commentary on Twitter bullying, but it also features Wale commenting on the state of black America, such as the amount of police shootings and injustices there have been against black people. As Herman wrote, “With the duo currently criticizing the ‘alt-right,’ Twitter’s ability to ‘kill,’ ‘racist police’ and declaring ‘no faith in the government,’ the unrestrained hip-hop track is one of the most progressive songs yet from the socially aware boy band BTS.”

Screencap of Wale and RM in their “Change” music video.

According to what RM told Teen Vogue’s Taylor Glasby, the collaboration was Wale’s idea, which shows the power of BTS’ relevance.

“When he suggested the collaboration, that was a real shock,” he said. ” thought about it, [and was] like, should we do a party song? But I wanted to something different. The title is ‘Change’–in America. They’ve got their situations and we’ve got ours in Seoul, the problems are everywhere and the song is like a prayer for change. He talks about the police, and problems he’s faced since he was a child. I talked about Korea, my problems, and about those on Twitter who kill people by keyboards.”

The group also has a good cause attached to their name. The band has partnered with UNICEF to create the LOVE MYSELF campaign, which will “be used to protect and support child and teen victims of domestic ad school violence as well as sexual assault around the world.” The two-year campaign will also “provide an education to local communities for violence prevention.” Another arm of the initiative is #ENDviolence, a joint global campaign between BTS, [BTS management] Big Hit Entertainment and the Korean Committe for UNICEF, which is “primarily aimed at protecting children and teens from violence and encouraging preventive measures.”

Overall, the partnership with UNICEF has cemented BTS as a standout group among other K-pop groups thanks to their philanthropy.

“The members expressed their willingness to become the first artists in Korea to raise funds as part of a social fund for global campaigns and to donate a portion of their income from album sales and 100% of all profits from the sale of goods to numerous social programs–inclusive of violence prevention against children and teens as well as support programs for the victims of violence,” states the website.

Setting the precedent

BTS performing at the AMAs. (ABC/Image Group LA)

It would seem that BTS is on the right track towards learning from K-pop’s past mistakes and heading into the international realm on clean, even footing. I’d certainly love to know more about their education process when it comes to getting immersed in the finer points of black cultural history, since, despite the show’s goofiness, it seemed the band really took their LA bootcamp experience to heart. At the very least, a leader like RM can keep the group on the straight-and-narrow path as they break down more glass ceilings in America.

But BTS could also set a precedent for other K-pop groups, if everything goes right and if BTS is heavily committed to earning their stripes with black audiences. The group has the potential to be that special group that teaches their fellow K-pop idols a thing or two about what true respect for hip hop looks like.

Just take what one of the black LA mentors they became the closest to during their hip hop bootcamp, artist and musician Tony Jones, said to Soompi in 2014.

I thought every other group and artist in Korea that did K-Pop was like that and that talented. I was wrong. Not to talk about any other group, but they’re just different. BTS has so much to offer. They really studied hip hop culture. I want to meet the person behind them because the producers and the directors are finding the beats, and everything they’re doing is really American. I also really think that they can come over to the U.S. and do music if they can learn English in the future. They’re that good. They’re that talented. Afterwards, people were like “Look up BAP, look up EXO, or G-Dragon,” and all these groups. I checked them all out, and it wasn’t the same for me, you know. They’re talented as well, but it wasn’t the same reaction that I got.

…They took from New Edition, from Boys to Men, they also took from A$AP Rocky. They just took everything and put it together. I don’t know if that was the plan or the boys were that talented but it’s lucky they came together. It’s brilliant. I really think that K-Pop will blow up more and it won’t be a local thing anymore. It’s going to grow because of BTS.

…Those boys and the staff really studied American culture and they do it very well. I’ve seen people from different countries try to mimic it and try to replicate it and try to rap the same, sing the same, and act the same, but it’s not happening. Those boys really studied and really got good at it. They’re all talented from top to bottom. There’s not a weak link in the group. So it’s very interesting. They’re really good.

Warren G is right–anyone can rap. But not everyone has the dedication to the craft or the willingness to learn about black history and culture. This could also be what separates BTS from its more formulaic K-pop cousins and propels them into the stratosphere. If that’s the case, hopefully the other groups will get the hint.

What BTS’ success in the States depends on, ultimately, is how black America views their journey to the people they are now. Initially, I was immediately charmed by how professional and committed BTS conducted themselves during their AMA press week leading up to the AMAs performance. After diving into the world of K-pop, I won’t lie and say that I haven’t come away with some emotional calluses. The world of K-pop can be a Matryoshka doll of racism, colorism, fanaticism, fetishism and exoticism, surrounded by a core of complete and (sometimes genuine) ignorance. To dig through those levels as a black American can be tiring. To try to put it in perspective–to put yourself in someone else’s cultural shoes–can be even more tiring. Throughout this post, I’ve battled with myself as to if I was giving BTS too much wiggle room or not enough. I did what every black person interested in BTS is going to have to do–judge the group based on where they started to where they are now. From where I’m sitting, the group has had its hard knocks, but they’ve learned and taken responsibility, and taking responsibility for your worst mistakes has to count for something.

Where they started was rough, speaking honestly. But the potential for BTS comes out of how they’ve grown from their initially problematic start. It appears they’re working on making peace with their past transgressions and, thanks to their mentors, have truly understood what it means to make great hip hop. As RM said, even if there is a dictionary definition for hip hop, the true spirit of hip hop can’t be explained. Hip hop isn’t about affectation and it isn’t about pretense. It’s about being real and being true to who you are.

Is BTS’ education on black America done? On the contrary: it’s far from over. In fact, it’ll never be over for the group, who are bound to make a new set of mistakes the more they fight for U.S. dominance. They will always have to learn more about their black audience and unlearn anything else they need to unlearn as they gain American popularity. But being true is probably the biggest lesson BTS has taken away from their experience, and it shows in a new, broader-reaching, and more culturally responsible sound and outlook. If being true to themselves is something BTS can learn, then the rest of K-pop can learn, too. ♦

FURTHER READING: Hip Hop and its Complications in BTS’ ‘American Hustle Life’ | CriticalKpop

Why America needs Marvel superhero Kamala Khan now more than ever

Katie M. Logan, Virginia Commonwealth University

During the first few weeks of the Trump administration, we’ve seen increased pressure on Muslim and immigrant communities in the United States.

In the face of these threats, which Marvel superhero might be best equipped to defend the people, ideals and institutions under attack? Some comic fans and critics are pointing to Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel.

Khan, the brainchild of comic writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat, is a revamp of the classic Ms. Marvel character (originally named Carol Danvers and created in 1968). First introduced in early 2014, Khan is a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager who fights crime in Jersey City and occasionally teams up with the Avengers.

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, fans have created images of Khan tearing up a photo of the president, punching him (evoking a famous 1941 cover of Captain America punching Hitler) and grieving in her room. But the new Ms. Marvel’s significance extends beyond symbolism.

In Kamala Khan, Wilson and Amanat have created a superhero whose patriotism and contributions to Jersey City emerge because of her Muslim heritage, not despite it. She challenges the assumptions many Americans have about Muslims and is a radical departure from how the media tend to depict Muslim-Americans. She shows how Muslim-Americans and immigrants are not forces that threaten communities – as some would argue – but are people who can strengthen and preserve them.

Superhero-in-training

After inhaling a mysterious gas, Kamala Khan discovers she can stretch, enlarge, shrink and otherwise manipulate her body. Like many superheroes, she chooses to keep her identity a secret. She selects the Ms. Marvel moniker in homage to the first Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, who has since given up the name in favor of becoming Captain Marvel. Khan cites her family’s safety and her desire to lead a normal life, while also fearing that “the NSA will wiretap our mosque or something.”

As she wrestles with her newfound powers, her parents grow concerned about broken curfews and send her to the local imam for counseling. Rather than reinforcing her parents’ curfew or prying the truth from Khan, though, Sheikh Abdullah says, “I am asking you for something more difficult. If you insist on pursuing this thing you will not tell me about, do it with the qualities benefiting an upright young woman: courage, strength, honesty, compassion and self-respect.”

Her experience at the mosque becomes an important step on her journey to superheroism. Sheikh Abdullah contributes to her education, as does Wolverine. Islam is not a restrictive force in her story. Instead, the religion models for Khan many of the traits she needs in order to become an effective superhero. When her mother learns the truth about why her daughter is sneaking out, she “thank[s] God for having raised a righteous child.”

The comics paint an accurate portrait of Jersey City. Her brother Aamir is a committed Salafi (a conservative and sometimes controversial branch of Sunni Islam) and member of his university’s Muslim Student Association. Her best friend and occasional love interest, Bruno, works at a corner store and comes from Italian roots. The city’s diversity helps Kamala as she learns to be a more effective superhero. But it also rescues her from being a stand-in for all Muslim-American or Jersey City experiences.

Fighting a ‘war on terror culture’

Kamala’s brown skin and costume – self-fashioned from an old burkini – point to Marvel Comics’ desire to diversify its roster of superheroes (as well as writers and artists). As creator Sana Amanat explained on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” last month, representation is a powerful thing, especially in comics. It matters when readers who feel marginalized can see people like themselves performing heroic acts.

As one of 3.3 million Muslim-Americans, Khan flips the script on what Moustafa Bayoumi, author of “This Muslim American Life,” calls a “war on terror culture” that sees Muslim-Americans “not as complex human being[s] but only as purveyor[s] of possible future violence.”

Bayoumi’s book echoes other studies that detail the heightened suspicion and racial profiling Muslim-Americans have faced since 9/11, whether it’s in the workplace or interactions with the police. Each time there’s been a high-profile terrorist attack, these experiences, coupled with hate crimes and speech, intensify. Political rhetoric – like Donald Trump’s proposal to have a Muslim registry or his lie that thousands of Muslims cheered from Jersey City rooftops after the Twin Towers fell – only fans the flames.

Scholars of media psychology see this suspicion fostered, in part, by negative representations of Muslims in both news media outlets and popular culture, where they are depicted as bloodthirsty terrorists or slavish informants to a non-Muslim hero.

These stereotypes are so entrenched that a single positive Muslim character cannot counteract their effects. In fact, some point to the dangers of “balanced” representations, arguing that confronting stereotypes with wholly positive images only enforces a simplistic division between “good” and “bad” Muslims.

Unbreakable

Kamala Khan, however, signals an important development in cultural representations of Muslim-Americans. It’s not just because she is a powerful superhero instead of a terrorist. It’s because she is, at the same time, a clumsy teenager who makes a mountain of mistakes while trying to balance her abilities, school, friends and family. And it’s because Wilson surrounds Kamala with a diverse assortment of characters who demonstrate the array of heroic (and not-so-heroic) actions people can take.

For example, in one of Ms. Marvel’s most powerful narrative arcs, a planet attacks New York, leading to destruction eerily reminiscent of 9/11. Kamala works to protect Jersey City while realizing that her world has changed – and will change – irrevocably.

Carol Danvers appears to fill Kamala in on the gravity of the situation, telling her, “The fate of the world is out of your hands. It always was. But your fate – what you decide to do right now – is still up to you … Today is the day you stand up.” Kamala connects the talk with Sheikh Abdullah’s lectures about the value of one’s deeds, once again linking her superhero and religious training to rise to the occasion. In both cases, the lectures teach Kamala to take a stand to protect her community.

Arriving at the high school gym now serving as a safe haven for Jersey City residents, Kamala realizes her friends and classmates have been inspired by her heroism. They safely transport their neighbors to the gym while outfitting the space with water, food, dance parties and even a “non-denominational, non-judgmental prayer area.” The community response prompts Kamala to realize that “even if things are profoundly not okay, at least we’re not okay together. And even if we don’t always get along, we’re still connected by something you can’t break. Something there isn’t even a word for. Something … beautiful.”

The ConversationKamala Khan is precisely the hero America needs today, but not because of a bat sign in the sky or any single definitive image. She is, above all, committed to the idea that every member of her faith, her generation, and her city has value and that their lives should be respected and protected. She demonstrates that the most heroic action is to face even the most despair-inducing challenges of the world head on while standing up for – and empowering – every vulnerable neighbor, classmate or stranger. She shows us how diverse representation can transform into action and organization that connect whole communities “by something you can’t break.”

Katie M. Logan, Assistant Professor of Focused Inquiry, Virginia Commonwealth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The difference between black football fans and white football fans

File 20170928 1449 1qygp07.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
New Orleans Saints fans cheer from the stands during a game against the Denver Broncos in 2016.
Jeff Haynes/AP Photo

Tamir Sorek, University of Florida and Robert G. White, University of Florida

A significant portion of the NFL’s fan base has reacted negatively to the national anthem protests of the past year. The responses tend to follow a pattern:

The stadium is no place for political protest. The game is a color-blind meritocracy. To protest football is to protest America.

But according to a study we published last year, white football fans and black football fans hold very different views about the relationship between football and national pride. And it might explain why there have been such divergent, emotional responses to the protests.

Black Americans love football, but…

Social scientists who study sports have long argued that sports are a powerful political stage. Popular wisdom, on the other hand, tends to maintain that sports are inherently apolitical, and should remain that way.

It’s true that until recently, visible black protests in American sports were rare. Yes, Muhammad Ali was outspoken about politics and became a symbol of black protest in the 1960s. And there’s the famous instance of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in the 1968 Olympic Games. But generally, athletes have not waded into politics, no doubt in part because of the influence of corporate interests and sponsors. (Michael Jordan, when asked why he wouldn’t endorse a black Democratic candidate for Senate in 1990, famously said, “Republicans buy shoes too.”)

So for many white fans, the racial issues addressed by the protests upend what they see as the innocent, colorless patriotism of football.

But for black fans, feelings of alienation toward the imposed patriotism in NFL games have been stewing for a while. And it may be that black athletes finally decided to respond to the attitudes of their black fans.

In our study, we aggregated 75 opinion polls between 1981 and 2014, and compared the relationship between national pride and football fandom among white and black Americans.

We found that since the early 1980s, national pride has been in decline among American men and women of all races. But among black men, this decline has been especially sharp. At the same time, it’s also been accompanied by a marked increase in their interest in the NFL.

We suspect that this inverse relationship isn’t coincidental.

Which Americans do patriotic displays speak to?

For decades, the league and broadcasting networks have conflated football with patriotism. Massive American flags get spread across the field before the game, celebrities sing highly produced renditions of the national anthem, military jets streak across the skies and teams routinely honor veterans and active service members.

Fighter jets do a flyover and military personnel hold a giant American flag before an NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens.
Mel Evans/AP Photo

Networks air segments about the players’ lives and team histories that emphasize racial integration and national unity. They also promote the narrative that hard work and following the rules lead to success on the field – the crux of the American Dream.

Many football fans might embrace these displays, which reinforce their beliefs and reflect their view of the country as a colorblind meritocracy.

Indeed, our study did show that enthusiasm for football and national pride are interrelated.

But the nature of this relationship depends on your race.

Only among white Americans did we find a positive association between football fandom and national pride: Football fans were much more likely to express high levels of national pride than white Americans who weren’t football fans. Among African-Americans, on the other hand, there was a negative association. This suggests that when black fans watch their favorite team play, it’s a very different type of experience.

And this was happening long before Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee.

Black identity and American identity

W.E.B Du Bois once observed that for black Americans, a fundamental tension exists between their American identities and their black identities. We now know from other studies that African-Americans tend to see themselves as less “typically American” than other races. Meanwhile, among white Americans there’s a common tendency to link American national identity with whiteness.

It could be that the symbols of American national pride – so visible during football games – give white fans the chance to unite their national pride with their fandom. To them, the fact that African-Americans make up between 65 and 69 percent of all NFL players is simply part of the country’s ethos of “inclusion.”

But for black fans, the overrepresentation of African-American athletes might mean something else. Football broadcasts can create highly visible opportunities to express black prowess, pride and resistance. At the same time, watching wildly successful black players on the football field might sharpen the contrast of racial injustice off the field.

Meanwhile, studies have shown that the more black Americans emphasize their blackness, the less likely they are to have patriotic feelings.

Together, this could create a situation where black fans are prone to reject the popular national narrative that links football to a wider, ethnically blind meritocratic order. To many of them, football isn’t connected to any sort of national identity in a positive way, so it’s easier for black fans to press successful black athletes to protest the status quo and use their platforms to address issues of discrimination and inequality.

In other words, even before black athletes started taking an explicit stand, their presence and success on the field created the conditions to question the dominant ideology of a meritocratic, colorblind society. National debates about inequality, police brutality and incarceration clearly resonate with many players, and they’ve been pushed to respond.

The ConversationLooking at it this way, these protests were only a matter a time.

Tamir Sorek, Professor of Sociology, University of Florida and Robert G. White, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

George Romero’s zombies will make Americans reflect on racial violence long after his death

File 20170726 29425 a9c4no.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Annual 2010 zombie march in Madrid, an homage to George A. Romero.
AP Photo/Paul White

Erin C. Cassese, West Virginia University

“What’s your zombie apocalypse survival plan?”

The question invites the liveliest discussions of the semester. I teach a course on social movements in fiction and film at West Virginia University, where I also conduct research on race and gender politics in the United States.

George Romero’s first film, “Night of the Living Dead,” is on the syllabus. The film was groundbreaking in its use of horror as political critique. Half a century later, Romero’s films are still in conversation with racial politics in the United States, and Romero’s recent death calls for reflection on his legacy as a filmmaker.

Disquieted times

Newark, N.J. Rioting erupted in the predominantly black area of Newark’s central ward in July 1967.
AP Photo

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, an English professor and monster theorist at George Washington University, notes that “Like all monsters, zombies are metaphors for that which disquiets their generative times.”

Romero shot “Night of the Living Dead” in 1967, when Americans’ attention was focused on powerful televised images of race riots in cities like Newark and Detroit, and on the Vietnam War, the likes of which were new to broadcast news. Romero reimagined scores of bleeding faces, twisted in rage or vacant from trauma, as the zombie hoard. He filtered public anger and anxieties through the hoard, reflecting what many viewed as liberals’ rage and disappointment over a lack of real social change and others saw as conservatives’ fear over disruptions in race relations and traditional family structures. This is the utility of the zombie as a political metaphor – it’s flexible; there is room enough for all our fears.

In “Night of the Living Dead,” an unlikely cross-section of people are cornered in a farmhouse by a zombie hoard. They struggle with each other and against the zombies to survive the night. At the end of the film, black protagonist Ben Huss is the sole survivor. He emerges from the basement at daybreak, only to be mistaken for a zombie and shot by an all-white militia. The militiamen congratulate each other and remark that Huss is “another one for the fire.” They never realize their terrible error. Perhaps they are inclined to see Huss as a threat to begin with, because he is black.

At the start of Romero’s next film, “Dawn of the Dead,” in which another unlikely bunch faces off against zombies in a shopping mall, police surround a public housing building. One officer remarks on the unfairness of putting blacks and Hispanics in these “big-ass fancy hotels” and proceeds to shoot residents indiscriminately, not distinguishing between the living and the undead.

The officers are shooting to restore the “natural order” in which the dead stay dead. But their actions also restore the prevailing social order and the institutions that create and reinforce racial inequality.

Zombie revival

In my class, I connect these scenes of dehumanization to contemporary racial politics, using them as a springboard for conversations about racially motivated police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement. These discussions focus on the zombie as a dehumanized creature.

In returning from the dead, zombies lose their human essence – their agency, critical reasoning capacities, empathy and language. As Cohen writes, “Zombies are a collective, a swarm. They do not own individualizing stories. They do not have personalities. They eat. They kill. They shamble. They suffer and they cause suffering. They are dirty, stinking, and poorly dressed. They are indifferent to their own decay.” Zombies retain a human form, but lose their individuality and are dehumanized in their reanimation.

Film director George A. Romero in Mexico City in 2011.
AP Photo/Marco Ugarte

Minority victims of police shootings are often portrayed in the media as dangerous, animalistic and even monstrous – meaning they too are stripped of their basic humanity. Social psychologists argue that perceptions of humanity are a critical part of social cognition – the way we process or think about other people and social settings. When we see people or groups as less than human, predictable consequences arise. Romero’s films tune us in to our own potential for dehumanization.

Zombie psychology

Dehumanization relaxes our moral restrictions on doing harm to others and ultimately facilitates violence against them. When people see members of a group as an undifferentiated “hoard,” they’re susceptible to the same error as the militiamen in “Night of the Living Dead.” When they couple dehumanization with hatred, resentment or fear, they become like the resentful police officer in “Dawn of the Dead.” Dehumanization of black Americans underpins the violence perpetrated against them in Romero’s films and in America today.

Dehumanization isn’t confined to police violence. New research shows that dehumanization of Muslims and Hispanics underlies support for restrictive immigration policies and a border wall. It also undercuts support for aid to refugees.

In my own research, I show that political candidates are often dehumanized in political discourse and campaign imagery. This work suggests that monsters plague our elections and governance processes more broadly.

The ConversationRomero will be best remembered for giving the zombie a place in mainstream American culture, but he also gave us a warning about human psychology and critical insights into racial politics in the U.S. For this reason, his work will continue to have a revered place on my syllabus.

Erin C. Cassese, Associate Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Need help fighting back against racist taunts? Turn to #ChangeWithWords

changewithwords

We’re now living in Trump’s America, which means we’re going to be subject to folks who think they can say racist ish and get away with it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to have a good comeback when you’re stunned into silence, shocked someone would even say something racist to you for just walking down the street. But the Asian Social Network has created a hashtag called #ChangeWithWords to help us already have some good comebacks locked in our mental banks.

The hashtag was specifically created with young kids in mind. Kids today have no reference point to a time in which people willingly said racist stuff, and these kids need help the most in dealing with these uncertain times.#ChangeWithWords was designed to give people a way to defend themselves as well as give the bully something to think about and, maybe, change their mind about how they interact with people in the future.

Here are some that have already been shared online:

If you’ve got some good comebacks you want to share, leave your comments below or, better yet, supply them directly online with the hashtag #ChangeWithWords. You never know who might need your witticisms to help them get through the day.

 

#RepresentYourStory: Shaun Lau of No, Totally! on Overcoming Self-Hate

no-totally-logo

“The worship of whiteness as a person of color requires and encourages self-hatred.” Does this statement resonate with you?

This is part of the personal story of Shaun Lau, creator of podcast site “No, Totally!”, a site that actually was the genesis of this #RepresentYourStory project.

As I’ve written on the #RepresentYourStory page, this project started as a thought after I was on an episode of Shaun’s podcast. On that episode, I talked about my own struggles with identity and race. My struggles were more about not feeling accepted and/or exoticized by other black people around me, leaving me feeling unsupported despite my deep-rootedness in the black experience. Shaun’s story, on the other hand, is of facing internalized racism.

Shaun’s story isn’t unusual; there are many people out there who have had to come to terms with their own feelings of self-hate and the ways in which they relate to themselves in a society that praises whiteness.

What is interesting is that there are parallels between our two stories; while our own journeys might have started at different places, the feelings of ostracism, loss, and the desire to have a sense of identity are very much the same. The desire to feel “normal” is something that drives a lot of us, and that desire manifests in many forms.

Read Shaun’s story, and if you identified with him, leave a comment and share it on Twitter and Facebook. Also, take a listen to my episode of “No, Totally!” and share it with your friends if it resonated with you!

Family members sometimes call me a “banana,” because an Asian-American who consumes white American culture as readily as Asian culture is often seen as inherently treasonous; like a banana, you’re yellow on the outside, but white on the inside.

The name never bothered me, to be honest, but finally understanding, years later, the reason it didn’t bother me was horrifying: I took “banana” as a compliment because it meant that my “true self” was white, and I didn’t see a problem with that. To be brutally honest, I secretly exalted in the knowledge that any kind of inherent whiteness made me automatically better than the rest of my family.

Nothing I encountered until my thirties challenged this internalization of white superiority, which is a kind of decaying of the soul. The worship of whiteness as a person of color requires and encourages self-hatred. I remember going to movies, identifying with the white protagonist, and then experiencing massive deflation at seeing my Asian features reflected in the theater’s gigantic glass doors on the way out. I’ve blamed myself for not being white with nearly every breath I’ve ever taken.

The process of scrubbing white worship from my psyche over the past few years has exposed its converse: condescension towards my Asian background, upbringing, and culture. Accepting that my estrangement from any kind of Asian-American community has been my fault is a work in progress, and untangling all of it without falling into old, familiar habits of self-hatred is a puzzle I’m nowhere near solving.

If I could relive my life, I’d do everything I could to recognize that culture is deeply personal. The ethnic boundaries around different cultures in a country as diverse as the United States are malleable, in my opinion; it’s well within our power to respect where we come from while engaging with cultures that aren’t historically our own. I wouldn’t be so quick to believe that expertise in American culture requires a kind of monogamous, Eurocentric engagement. I’d know that any culture requiring self-destruction, self-hatred, and self-erasure isn’t worth obeying in the first place.

Do you want to participate in #RepresentYourStory? Share your story of self-acceptance at monique@colorwebmag.com, or fill out the #RepresentYourStory questionnaire! Read more about #RepresentYourStory here

What Disney’s Lack of a Black Disney Prince Reveals about America’s View of Black Masculinity

We’ve got Aladdin. We’ve got Kokoum. We’ve got Shang. We’ve got Kuzco. We’ve got Naveen. We’ve got Maui, who is technically a demigod. But where’s the animated black Disney prince? Inquiring minds want to know, but inquiring minds also want to understand why the majesty of the black man has been erased from Disney’s range of thought.

Disney has had some explaining to do about this issue, but the problem became glaringly apparent with the development of The Princess and The Frog, which included a belabored creation process for the prince character that would eventually become Prince Naveen. Originally, the prince character was going to be, from what I remember, a charismatic “Cary Grant” type. According to the old, old description from The SuperHeroHype forums:

[PRINCE HARRY] A gregarious, fun-loving European Prince, in his early twenties. A young Cary Grant. Charming, witty but irresponsible and immature. Loves jazz. Dialect: British upper-class.

This was met with criticism, because why couldn’t a black prince be created? The other princesses get princes of their own races—why not Tiana? Disney met this criticism by changing Prince Harry to a beige, non-white, but also non-black Prince from…Maldonia? Needle scratch.

Let me already say that this statement goes against the fact that this film, despite its flaws, is a representation of interracial marriage, something that is rare in entertainment. But The Princess and the Frog reveals how Disney failed even that narrative. 1) Why make Naveen from a made-up country? Why have the love interest for the first black Disney princess, a character set in a real place, literally be a person who couldn’t exist in our world (because where is MaldoniaNowhere.) Wouldn’t it be easier to just make a character from an actual country if Tiana’s from New Orleans? 2) If Disney set out to create a film focusing on an interracial relationship, it would have been nice for them to include such a focus in their marketing plan. The creators never focused on the type of impact such a story could have on its audiences, so they never showcased it in any interviews or press information. They were only focused on marketing the film as the first black Disney princess film. This is not to say that value can’t be taken from The Princess and the Frog having an interracial relationship, but it would have been fantastic if Disney had actually recognized the story they had on their hands (and thus, the story they could have fleshed out and made even better and more meaningful).

The questions I’ve always had are 1) what prevented Disney from creating a black Disney prince, and 2) why have they not created a black Disney prince before? Why are we still relying on The Lion King for the closest thing we have to a black Disney prince?

I thought I’d take to Twitter to ask this question. Here are the results.

https://twitter.com/smoothfuego1/status/764126650879672321

https://twitter.com/NilesAbston/status/763870650486317056

As it turns out, that while there are some men who aren’t particularly moved by the lack of a black animated Disney prince, there are many others who are upset, to say the least, about the lack of a black Disney prince.

Disney’s silence on not creating a black Disney prince reflects how America at large views black men, black masculinity, and the desirability of black males.

1. Black masculinity is still seen as dangerous: It is telling that the only black man that exists throughout the entirety of the film is Doctor Facilier. If you recall, Tiana’s father, the black man that is a good father, good husband, and all-around upstanding guy, dies during Tiana’s childhood. First, there’s the question of why Disney would even hire a big name like Terrence Howard to say just a couple of lines. But the more serious question is why does Disney feel more comfortable seeing black male villainy on screen rather than a positive portrayal of black fatherhood and manhood?

Despite the fact that Doctor Facilier was designed to be scrawny (and that Disney decided to hire their former long-time animator and Jambalaya Studios creator Bruce W. Smith to oversee his design in order to give the film representation behind the scenes), Doctor Facilier still embodies latent ideas that could be in the subconscious of the film’s white creators and are definitely in the collective consciousness of America at large. On the whole, America still treats black people, uniquely black men, as inherent, born criminals. There’s still a dangerousness that people expect from black men, which explains why so many black men have been stopped by police no bogus claims, thrown in jail for petty crimes (or no crime at all), or killed at the hands of police, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. This idea of “dangerousness” is also inherent in the amount of Latino and Native American men killed by police; there seems to be an “us against them” mentality with some police officers, and that’s not how policing is supposed to be.

The idea of dangerousness goes all the way back to slavery. I wrote in my Michael Brown post that Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others like them have been killed at the ages that they would have been sold for the highest price if they existed during slavery times. That age range is also the same range that they would be (and have been) considered the most dangerous.

Even much of the language used to describe Brown, Martin, and others depict a stereotype of savagery and fear in the mind of the killer. Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, called Brown a “demon” and as someone who was basically hulking up the more he got shot. George Zimmerman described himself as being in fear for his life. That narrative goes back to the idea that black men are brutes that need to be broken like horses, otherwise, they provide a danger for “good” people.

If a black man is considered dangerous by America, then could America accept the idea of a black prince? Could a positive portrayal of a black prince exist in a culture that still fears a section of its citizens? I implore Disney to disrupt the stereotypes facing black men by creating such a character.

2. Black wealth is a buried secret in America: Like how outsiders simply view Rio’s black population as living in favelas, America itself still views its black people as living in poverty. Such an idea is clearly not true, but it’s an idea that still resonates with America’s racist view of black Americans. Just look at how Donald Trump is trying to win over black Americans–by telling them they’re in poverty, they have no jobs, and they’re surrounded by crime. “What the hell do you have to lose?” he asks. A LOT.

But if we look at American history as a whole, there has been black wealth. Take for instance Greenwood, the area of Tulsa, OK called “Black Wall Street” in the early 20th century. That area was then burned down in 1921 in what is called the Tulsa race riot, which was started by neighboring white citizens who felt Greenwood was growing in status and political clout. They felt that to secure their own hold on American wealth and politics, they had to burn down a positive representation of black success.

African-American culture is also removed from pan-African culture, which holds the history of many black princes, generals, etc. The richest man in the world of all time is 14th century African prince Mansa Musa. However, such history, including American history such as the Tulsa race riot, aren’t taught in school.

With such representations of black wealth destroyed, the myth has persisted that black wealth–and therefore, rich black people–doesn’t exist. Such thinking could have taken place when it came to the idea of creating Tiana’s prince. Did the team behind the film not consider the fact that there have been and are, indeed, wealthy black people? Or did they think that was impossible?

3. Black men are seen as unfeeling and emotionless: Again, to go back to slavery, black people were considered to have no feelings at all, thereby partially justifying slavery in the minds of white Americans at the time. Stereotypes like the smiling Sambo and the brutish, hypersexual creature who lives to take white women portray black men in two dynamics, both of which being untrue; either they’re cartoonish buffoons without realistic cares, or they’re an insatiable animal.

There’s also another reason black men are seen as emotionless: the emotional toll some black families put on their black men. Many boys are taught growing up that it’s not okay to show emotion, especially cry. To “be a man,” it’s thought that bottling emotions is the way to go, because showing emotions is “girl stuff.” However, the double whammy of society and familial pressures affects black men in a way that I feel is still unexplored in modern media.

In Disney animated films, we often see princes with a wide range of emotions. Aladdin’s entire story focused on his emotions about being a “streetrat” hoping to impress Princess Jasmine. Tarzan’s story is a classic coming-of-age tale. Shang, a captain in the army, has to deal with the pressures of leading a battalion to glory while processing the death of his father (a moment that probably happens too quickly in the film). Kokoum, who doesn’t express much emotion (which is also a stereotype of the Native Brave), shows reverence for Pocahontas, concern over her safety, and eventual anger at what he thought was John Smith taking advantage of Pocahontas. Even Eric, who is possibly the most wooden Disney prince of all time, has a couple of moments of feeling, even if it’s just confusion as to who rescued him. If Disney created a black prince, would they be able to give him the emotional beats he deserves?

Which leads me to the final point:

4. Disney’s think-tank doesn’t understand the black male experience (and of course they wouldn’t): John Lasseter and his crew have an inclusion issue that must be addressed. Why is it that there isn’t a person of color in these higher ranks? Why is it that Disney acts like Silicon Valley in how they exclude POC voices in its animation ranks? ABC, Lucasfilm, and now even Marvel seem to have a grasp on the idea of including diversity to meet audience demands. Disney, the parent company, still lags behind.

Do I think Disney would eventually make a black prince? Perhaps. But do I think they could really make a black prince that speaks to the black experience on a macro-scale? No. I recommend for Disney to hire black male animators into their ranks, and specifically hire thinkers and, as they call folks, “dreamers” who can be given carte blanche to direct films, much like how they give themselves carte blanche to create films. If a Cars franchise can be created, then an animated film starring a black Disney prince, a film created with sensitivity, intelligence, and a root in the black experience, can be created as well.

What do you think about this? Give your opinions in the comments section below, and if you give your opinions in Twitter, use the hashtag #BlackDisneyPrince. The more people who comment and hashtag, the higher the chances Disney might actually see this post and our hope for a black Disney prince might come closer to a reality!

15 #DarkSkinnedHeroines Who Will Reaffirm Your Worth

At the time Leslie Jones’ Twitter harassment happened, I didn’t know how to write about it. Not because I wasn’t upset by it—I most definitely was. But I was saddened by it to the point where I didn’t want to write about it. But sometimes, not talking about something does just as much damage as intentionally doing the wrong thing. What happened to Leslie Jones didn’t just affect Jones, but it affects every black woman, especially those of a darker hue.

First, let me give a quick rundown of what happened to Jones a few weeks ago. It all started with Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos. He took it upon himself to write a “review” of Ghostbusters with the title “Teenage Boys with Tits.” We’re already on a roll here.

This launched a huge spew of vile, racist, colorism-laden tweets directed directly at Jones. I won’t put them in this article, but you can read their tweets (if you want to) at Fusion.

After facing as much as she could take, Jones left Twitter.

Thankfully (or rather, after much criticism), Twitter finally banned Yiannopoulos, who has been a troll on Twitter for a long time. Twitter denizens rejoiced, but there were still some issues to suss out.

1. None of Jones’ other co-stars came to her defense publicly. I make exclusive note of the word publicly because for all we know, her co-stars could have come to her aid over coffee, or could have called her, or could have visited her at home or something. We don’t know what type of relationship she has with Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Chris Hemsworth. However, no one saw or wrote about any of them saying something in defense of Jones; Jones was seemingly left to fend for herself against hoardes of trolls.

Because of the optics of the situation, regardless if they did comfort her in private, it looked like once again white feminism reared its ugly head. (To understand what white feminism is, read some of these posts.) Instead of showing solidarity with Jones as Ghostbusters sister-in-arms, there were no public tweets of support or public outcry from Jones’ other female co-stars. And let’s all remember that Hemsworth barely escaped controversy with his wife’s Native American themed Halloween party, so maybe it was best he didn’t speak at all. But still, it wouldn’t have hurt if he said something in support of Jones.

The lack of help smells of “Strong Black Woman” Syndrome, in which white individuals don’t recognize the vulnerability and emotional life of their black counterparts (to read more about the plight of the Strong Black Woman, read this post and this one). While white women are routinely shielded and protected over the slightest of infractions, black women are constantly left to fend for themselves. We are constantly faced with the “But you’re so strong!” mindset. This codes into “But you have no feelings!”

2. The type of abuse Jones faced had a specific strain of colorism to it. Excuse me for repeating some of the phrases tweeted out, but the epithets of “big lipped coon,” Yiannopoulos gleefully writing, “rejected by another black dude,” and the constant comparisons to gorillas all reek of colorism directed at darker-skinned women.

The obsession some people have with skin color runs deep in the culture of this nation. The lighter you are, it’s thought, the closer you are to whiteness and acceptability. Whiteness also has erroneous connotations of femininity, gentility, vulnerability and worth. The colonialism of the mind not only affects white Americans, but Americans of all stripes. Within the black community, colorism has a huge history, from the Blue Vein Society of the past, to people claiming other ethnicities (whether it’s true or not) to remove themselves further from their blackness.

Dark skin is not just at the bottom of the colorism ladder; because it’s at the bottom, it’s wrongly associated with lack of femininity, brute strength, and once again, lack of emotion and vulnerability. A dark-skinned woman has had to grow up with verbal and nonverbal abuses about their skintone, which can take a toll on self-esteem; just take a look at the “Paper Bag Test” phenomenon, which tests how light-skinned (and supposedly how acceptable) a person is, as well as the famous doll test performed by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. If you don’t know about the test, the Clarks gave black children white and black baby dolls, then asked the kids which doll they liked the most. The kids ended up liking the white dolls more, while the felt the black dolls—the dolls that looked like them—were worthless. When I was growing up, there were, thankfully, black dolls, and there had been black dolls since the mid-to-late 1960s (particularly after the Civil Rights Movement). But dark-skinned dolls, dolls that look like this:

Barbie-Fashionista

haven’t been around all that long. In fact, these dolls just came out April and June of this year. (I’ve personally seen one other dark-skinned contemporary Barbie doll a few years ago, and this is without counting the South African “World Culture” Barbie doll, which seems to be discontinued on the website.) Darker-skinned girls and women have still had to wait for proper representation in dolls, not to mention in actresses on television and in film.

3. Jones’ non-European features were also the subject of ridicule, and this is based in a European-centric ideology. Black women with more European features, such as thinner noses, lighter skin (again, colorism), and and smaller lips, are often given higher booking over actresses with more pan-African features such as flatter noses, darker skin, and fuller lips. This reflects society at large, which gives precedence to those who have more European features and appearances. This is why Stacey Dash has completely changed herself from this:

Stacey-Dash-Clueless
Movieclips.com/Screengrab

to this:

Stacey-Dash-FOXNews
FOX News/Screengrab

and why Lil’ Kim became unrecognizable.

The Young Turks/Screengrab
The Young Turks/Screengrab

This is also why Viola Davis has been public about combatting colorism and racism in Hollywood. In her interview with The Wrap, she said:

“…[W]hen you do see a woman of color onscreen, the paper-bad test is still very much alive and kicking. That’s the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire. And in the history of television and even in film, I’ve never seen a character like Annalise Keating played by someone who looks like me.”

Society and Hollywood should be ashamed, because Milo Yiannopoulos represents a culmination of societal issues left to fester and, indeed, to make money from. Both should more open to darker-skinned women, because the impact on young girls is humongous. Thankfully, there are darker-skinned girls paving the way for others and showing them that they matter, that they are worthy, and that they are loved and can be loved. In honor of Jones facing the onslaught of the worst of Twitter and coming out on top (not only has Yiannopoulos been banned, but Jones is back on Twitter!), and as a way to say thank you to her for standing up for black women, especially dark-skinned black women, here’s a list of 15 dark-skinned characters who have defined today’s TV and film.

If you have characters you’d like to add to the list, share your post and hashtag it #DarkSkinnedHeroines on Twitter and Instagram!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

#BeyondLabels: Fashion Blogger Freddie Harrel On Rediscovering Her Self-Worth

Like a lot of sites focusing on diversity in the media, JUST ADD COLOR highlights a lot of stories about being defined by labels, particularly bad ones. So much in or society is dominated by how others see us and how each of us are portrayed in the media. That can do a lot of damage to a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. But with all of the labeling that happens in a lifetime, how about living beyond those stereotype-laden labels that limit us? In other words, how do we find our self-worth, despite the messaging we’ve received? #BeyondtheLabels will highlight how people who are considered “outsiders” by the media—because of race, gender, weight/size, sexuality, ability, mental health, etc.—have rediscovered their self-worth and self-acceptance.

Fashion blogger Freddie Harrel combines her love for style with her passion for helping others gain self-confidence because of her own past struggles self acceptance. Her story reminds me of the stories many women of color, black women in particular, have when it comes to accepting their hair, being told by others they were pretty “for a black girl,” and consistently being put down by the mean-spirited and well-meaning alike. Her story is also familiar to me because, like me and many other women of color, she went to a school where she was the minority. Being put in a situation of being the only black person in an institution is stressful enough, but having to deal with both outward and unspoken discrimination is even more taxing on a teenager’s mental growth into adulthood.

Her moment of clarity came after years of trying to fit in. “Before I am a woman, before I am black, I am Freddie,” she said. “…In a really non-arrogant way, I think that’s amazing. I can’t believe I’ve missed that in so many years.”

Instead of me describing her story, just watch this video, created by Stylelikeu’s “What’s Underneath Project: London.”

You can follow Harrel at her site. You can also follow Stylelikeu and see more amazing stories of self-acceptance from people of all walks of life.