Friday, August 8, 2014

Is it "racism"? Selfies and symbolism (photos)

Seth Auberon, Ashley Wells, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly;
Cheerleading squad's "Thug Life" at Redlands [Sweet] Valley High (Global Grind/AZC)
REDLANDS, California - A SoCal high school is suspending its cheerleading program after a photo circulated on social media showing team members pretending to be gang members.
  • See "shocking" selfie of crazed cheerleaders above.
The photo first posted to Instagram by a senior at Redlands East Valley High School shows 13 cheerleaders... VIDEO (NBC LA/Daily Mail).
Should we take selfies if it might offend? Jason Feifer, Dr. Thorin Tritter, J.P. Weisman join Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani to discuss (Huff Post/AZC).

But I love the Buddha and art! (DJ Jenny/
Is unthinkable insensitivity, no big deal, a matter of perspective, or racism that would drive a group of Israeli Facebookers to post selfies from Auschwitz, the site of WW II German Nazi industrial level atrocities?
Auschwitz is, of course, an infamous "death camp," the site of mass murder...not completely unlike some parts of Israel (parts called Palestine).

[Hey, no one can make that comparison! That's racist! Look what just happened to Prof. Steve Salaita according to Scott Jaschik. No criticism of poor innocent Israel allowed!]

Kitty-selfie (Dee McIntosh/deemac/flickr)
Why would Israelis boast about being there? Why would gang members graffiti their monikers or names in jail or prison cells or in ghettos?

Why would American men buy Nazi paraphernalia as antique collectibles (as in "American Beauty")? It may be a mark of misguided pride. It may not be misguided.

Why would cheerleaders who are not gang members post photos of themselves dressed as thugs, one with a gun to another's head, with tattoos, gang signs, pregnant, and other demeaning stereotypes?

Boating by Leshan Buddha (leana.niemand3)
Yesterday, Rihanna and Eminem played Pasadena's Rose Bowl not long after rapper Jay-Z and Beyonce rocked the stadium -- all playing music filled with "street" quality, aspirational capitalist riches, urban bravado, and the gritty reality of lower socioeconomic living in a racist USA. Does that make it racist?

What about when insensitive Westerners pose for pictures by standing in front of Buddha statues? That is very bad form, very insulting to locals, very much not done. But to us it seems not only fine, we may even consider it a spiritual thing:
"Look at me, look at me, I'm a Buddhist, I'm a traveler, I revere the Shakyamuni, Kwan Yin, Maitreya, Prajna, or whoever this one is!"

The best missteps have to be tourists who high-five the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island like someone pretending to set the Leaning Tower of Piza upright.
Roundtable discussion
Faux pas? We're not crass. We like totally want to be Buddhists! (Canfielddelyse/
Look how cool I am (Aidan McRae Thomson)
So our roundtable asks the question, "Is it racist, is it wrong, or what do you think about cheerleaders dressed as gang bangers, Israeli Jews using Facebook for selfies at a Nazi death camp, American men collecting Nazi 'antiques,' or Ugly Americans and other Westerners posing in front of the Buddha?"

Ashley: "Who cares?" Crystal: "Doesn't seem like a big deal." Auberon: "We've got better things to worry about."
Let's ask the editor! Hey, Amber, what do you say? [Answer: *Shrugs shoulders.*] Come on, we need your opinion!
"People should be sensitive, but sensitivity depends on perspective. From their perspective, it's not insensitive; there's no malice. There's no 'common' sense anymore. We all look at things differently, so these things are going to happen." Well, there you have it, an exciting debate. lol.

For the record: Feedback
[(September 1, 2014) Brilliant Brit photographer Aidan McRae Thomson writes in]:
  • For the record, as one of the "crass Westerners" under fire in this photo, I can say in all honesty the motive was purely an innocent.
The Presence
Devas in stained glass (Aidan McRae Thomson)
[But that's the whole point, Aidan. As Westerners we don't mean any harm, and so we're asking Is it racism? If it offends Asian sensibilities when we are in Asia, have we crossed the line? If someone came here and did it, we know they mean no harm. So does that mean no one gets offended, or that they aren't being insensitive, or that racism hasn't crept in? We don't think it's racism; of course, we don't think it's racism. But as Westerners it's not our choice to decide. WQ is willing to ask, Are others right: are we "ugly Americans/Brits"? We love your photos; we think this one is funny and harmless, but wouldn't others be offended? If you don't know the answer to that, we guarantee you Thai Buddhists are offended that such shots are taken by Westerners. So is it "racism"? Are you suggesting it can't be racism because you're not a racist? Only confirmed "racists" can do anything racist or biased or insensitive to other races? We don't have to be racist for our actions to possibly be racist, full of implicit bias, offensive to others, disrespectful of the spiritual and cultural sensibilities of others.]
  • It was a fun way of filling an otherwise empty but picturesque archway, in what was actually a humble roadside sculpture workshop in rural Thailand, not a shrine of any kind (as your article seems to be suggesting).
Altar Window, Arley
Stained glass, Arley (Aidan McRae Thomson)
[We apologize if that's what we're suggesting. It's the statue that makes the site holy and the posing with it or horsing around by it that makes it disrespectful. Not to us. We think it's funny and trivial. But, again, we're not talking about ourselves to ourselves as Americans. We're talking about the world we offend while we have no idea we're offending anybody. It's not this photo that's the problem; it's our casual attitude that goes to ancient lands to extract cheap laughs or innocent horsing around.]
  • There were all kind of figures randomly placed outside here. Those nearest and appearing in this shot just happened to be Buddha images, to which, being accustomed to showing sensitivity whilst visiting temples, I certainly intended no disrespect!
[We know, Aidan. The photo does not show intentional disrespect. It may, however, be another example of our general carelessness as entitled and overbearing Westerners. May be is not is. Read the last lines, Aidan. They could have been written exactly for you: "People should be sensitive, but sensitivity depends on perspective. From their perspective, it's not insensitive; there's no malice." We know there's not. That's not the potential problem. Keep shooting if you don't think there is any problem. We hope we got your attention that there might be a tiny problem, a tiny thing to consider, like other non-Western peoples' feelings or perspective.]

No comments: