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The following is from the Livejournal blogger Sabotabby, one of the best political minds I know. Their thesis is not a happy one, but because of that, is even more worth reading and thinking about that it otherwise would be. Originally posted by Sabotabby at Frog, meet boiling water

While you're at it, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, that Abdul-Jabbar) has written a powerful piece on how Ferguson is less about race and racism than it is about class war. Possibly a little more hopeful than the below, but equally frightening.

People shocked by Ferguson—and a lot of good, intelligent people are—and by the militarization of thuggish local police appear, to my jaded eyes, to lack a certain historical perspective.

There was a blip in North American history, lasting less, I think, than a century, where this sort of atrocity outraged the general population for any length of time. The Lawrence Textile Strike and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire were horrible but up until the Reagan-Thatcher era, that violence begat basic protections for workers. The war in Vietnam, the first televised war, meant that the US had to tread a bit more carefully internationally. But essentially the armed wing of the state has been beating on marginalized and, in particular, racialized populations, regardless—and this is important, would-be pacifists—of whether they resist or not or resort to violence or not, as long as it's been in existence, to a chorus of shrugs and sighs from those too privileged to be directly affected.

Ferguson dominates the media cycle at the moment, not because it is radically different in content from similar crackdowns in the past, but because it is the first of a thing. The first time many people have seen the active deployment of police outfitted with military gear. (Unless you've been at a protest in the past twenty years. Or you're not white.) The first time it's not just televised, but livestreamed, tweeted, reblogged. The first time people have been able to hold out long enough without being crushed to get it into the news cycle. Among the first times the citizen media has been able to loudly counter the mainstream narrative. But beyond the technological angle, it's not shocking or surprising or any sort of historical aberration; if anything, the aberration is the aforementioned few decades where speaking truth to power actually had an effect.

The next time this happens, the militarized police response, the almost inevitable murder of demonstrators, will be routine. That's how it works. That's why it's happening now, unfolding in the way it is; to pave the way for the new normal. So that next time we can just sigh and remember that getting outraged didn't work last time so why bother now? That's just how things are.

The other day on the radio, I was listening to an interview with Ken Jarecke, the photographer who, in 1991, took a picture of an incinerated Iraqi soldier just before the Gulf War ceasefire (this is the photo, if you need to see it; here is an interview—with the man's face blurred out—about the photo's significance). The photo was suppressed in the North American press; at the time, the trend in news reporting was to sanitize the war, to make it look like there were really no casualties at all on either side. I was 12 in 1991; I knew what war was, that obviously people were dying, but the essential truth of it, the genuine outrage and the horrific human cost, didn't hit me until several years later, when I came across that photo. Nowadays, such images are commonplace, and Jarecke was speaking about how photos of dead bodies from war zones had completely lost their power to shock. I think he's mostly right; the photos of dead kids in Syria and Gaza splashed all over my Facebook feed have never changed a single person's mind on the issues at hand. In 1991, the AP felt the need to suppress that photo for no reason I can see other than that it might make people question the war, might make them not go along so readily with the next one, might—and this would have been the worst thing—recognize the humanity of the enemy. It had power, back then. Now, we understand that the Other is human, suffers horribly as the result of our actions, and we don't give a fuck.

We are able to briefly give a fuck about Ferguson because it still has the power to shock—this time, and not completely; open racism is socially acceptable again in the US, and so the KKK can raise money to smear the reputation of the murdered child in question. When it happens again—and make no mistake, Ferguson is the future of policing—we will all understand the collective truth that this is the way it always happens, the way it's always been done.

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Some brief thoughts on Michael Brown
Mansplaining, group-think and the need
To my big mouth shut while on duty

Sweet Jesus. Having to keep quiet while two (white, male) pilots mansplain the Micheal Brown killing and subsequent riots to their (black, female) flight attendant was 20 minutes of psychological torture for an opinionated Young Geoffrey.

Horribly fascinating, though, to learn that even the flight attendant mostly accepted the dominant media narrative.

That Michael Brown DID jostle people and steal the cigars. That the riots were ONLY riots.

No mention of peaceful protests. Police over-reaction only admitted in reference to press being tear-gassed and in context that everyone (whatever gender, colour, creed) would be wise to shut up and obey when confronted by cops. Couldn't help but think of comments about what rape-victim was wearing.

The flight attendant did, tentatively, hint at systemic issues but agreed that, of course, no one knew exactly what had happened in this case. (But again, all three believed that Brown stole the cigars. No one asked why that 'fact' only came out yesterday.)

Customer service can be another kind of hell. But not nearly the hell that must exist in the hearts and minds of the people of Ferguson, Missouri.

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Girls gone funny

The older I get, the less patience I have for ideologues of any description, whether of the right or of the left.

No matter what their intentions — whether it is to combat racism or to combat other races — anyone who believes there is but One True Way to do things, or think about things, has the soul of a fascist.

And so, rather than just recommending you rent or otherwise get a-hold of the now-completed first season of Lena Dunham's Girls, I found myself struggling with people who seem to seriously believe that cliquish exclusion and nepotism is worse than the Holocaust.

My essay is a long one, so I'll put it plainly here. I enjoyed Girls an awful lot and eagerly await its second season. Dunham is an excellent young writer and her show is a bloody good professional debut — even if its principals are all privileged white people.

Am I blind to my own privilege as a white guy? As I said, my review is a long one, but I welcome your comments. Also, please note: it is not safe for work! You've been warned. Click here for Privilege and prejudice: The unbearable whiteness of being Lena Dunham.

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Time gentlemen! Please!

Well, here we are. The last episode of Doctor Who's 2011 series has gone to air and I have it in a thermos, hoping to keep it warm while I scrabble to polish up my impressions of the penultimate episode, the unfortunately-titled Closing Time.

What can I say? I've been busy, then I fell sick, then I was sick and busy.

Truth to tell, I'm glad the series is coming to a close. It's no secret that Moffat's Who has not been my cup of tea and I suspect I am almost as weary of saying so as I am sure many of you are of hearing me say it.

So it is with considerable sadness, not glee, that I find myself forced to say that, while more slickly-written, Closing Time rivals the infamous pirate episode for badness.

You really don't need to read on if you don't want to. But if you do, you'll find the usual snark and spoilers, along with thoughts on racism, sexism and (of course) on good writing and bad. Time, gentlemen! Please!

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Where have all the white men gone?

This week's episodes of my favourite children's adventure program might have been the best of the year so far. More interestingly, to me at least, is just how far outside of the standard adventure paradigm The Sarah Jane Adventures has ventured, without any great on-screen fuss or muss.

Somehow, a program about "fighting aliens" has dared to feature a more-than-sixty year-old woman and two non-white teenagers as the "defenders of the Earth" as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

I don't know about you, but I think it's worthy of some note.

Not many plot-spoilers, but some possibly unfomfortable (I hope not offensive) thoughts at Edifice Rex Online.

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Alberta reminds Canada of its past and its future

In Calgary, we have met the Other 
(and found only ourselves)

 
Traditional Canadian values: Calgary's mayor-elect Naheed Nenshi in victory. 
 
 Traditional Canadian values: Québec Premier Jacques Parizeau in defeat.

On Tuesday, the people of Calgary elected to the mayorship a brown man — the first time a Moslem has been handed the keys to a major Canadian city.

15 years ago next week, the people of Quebec very narrowly opted to hold their province within the Canadian political experiment; the second time Quebecers voted for Canada in repudiation of their homegrown Indépendatistes.

At first glance, you might not think the two events, separated by a generation in time and half-a-continent in space, have much to do with one another.

What does a narrow defeat for the forces of a defeatest tribal isolationism 15 years ago have to with an apparent victory by the forces of tolerance, progress and pluralism today?

Quite a lot, actually.

Click here to find out why.

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To serve and protect?
The arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and
The real elephant in the corner

I moved to Toronto from Sudbury, Ontario, when I was 14 and, despite the fact Toronto was a city nearly 20 times the size of Sudbury, it took more than two years before anything happened to make me feel unsafe in the metropolis.

And it wasn't an angry drunk or a gang of teen-age boys that frightened me, but a pair of policemen on the muscle.

I was 16 years old when my friend Vern and I decided to form a band — well, a duet, with Vern on guitar while I banged away at a tambourine and croaked out lyrics as best as my pubescent throat would allow. With a week of practising under our belts we made our début in front of the Eaton Centre and were successful enough that we spent many nights that summer playing Neil Young and Dylan and Beatles songs for spare change.

We were white kids, but we were kids and we both had hair flowing past our shoulders. Being stopped by the police while walking home was a regular, and tiresome, occurrence. Still, we were smart enough to be polite and to answer any and all questions, no matter that we muttered "Pigs!" as soon as they were out of ear-shot. To their faces, they were always "officer".

One night we were stopped three times. The third was in the alley just behind Vern's house and that pair were cops with attitude. I am still convinced they would have happily taken us down to Cherry Beach for a private working-over had we uttered even a single disrespectful syllable. Even without it, Vern and I both sensed that these two wanted us to say something — anything — to give them an excuse.

As I said, we were bright boys and we were very polite, but even so, it felt like a touch-and-go situation until another cruiser pulled up and two officers who had stopped us maybe a half-hour before told our hostile pair, "It's okay, we checked them out earlier." After a tense, six-way moment of indecision, officers Cruisin' and Bruisin' brusquely told us to be on our way.

In this photo taken by a neighbour on July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr., centre, the director of Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, is arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.
In this photo taken by a neighbour on July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr., centre, the director of Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, is arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.

Which, in an admittedly roundabout way, brings me to the recent arrest at his own home of the man the New York Times called America's "... pre-eminent black scholar", Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Gates (along with his driver),

"...had forced his way through the front door because it was jammed, his lawyer said. Colleagues call the arrest last Thursday afternoon a clear case of racial profiling.

"Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing 'two black males with backpacks on the porch,' with one 'wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.'"

(According to The Associated Press, the woman did not actually say the two men were black; as we shall see, this sort of "inaccuracy" is unhappily typical of police reports and is, I believe, the real "elephant in the room" in this story.)

Arrested for "being rude while being black"?

According to the Times,

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

"Why, because I'm a black man in America?" Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley. The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest Monday.

Gates—the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research—initially refused to show the officer his identification, but then gave him a Harvard University ID card, according to police.

"Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him," the officer wrote.

Unless someone has taped that event, only the arresting officers and Gates himself can know what exactly was said. But we do know that Professor Gates was arrested, in his own home, basically for being rude. Being black might have been a contributing factor to the arresting officer, but it was the (I believe mistaken) accusation of racism that got the cop really angry — that, and the simple fact that a "civilian" wasn't being sufficiently respectful of the officers' badges and uniforms.

I do believe that Professor Gates really did — for completely understandable reasons — jump to the conclusion that he was being visited by the law only because he was a black man in a well-to-do white neighbourhood. At the same time, this is a man who has a driver, who is a friend of the President of the United States, and who probably has the fragile pride typical of a "self-made man".

In other words, in this case I believe the police report that says Gates became belligerent. He was being treated like a criminal in his own home and he didn't like it, as none of us would. To the police, that is "belligerent" behaviour.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and U.S. President Barack Obama drink beer and talk in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 30, 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and U.S. President Barack Obama drink beer and talk in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 30, 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

When a "civilian" becomes belligerent, police officers typically become defensive — aggressively defensive. Where a white man might have decided to take things down a notch, Gates, emotionally insecure in his position of privilege and politically determined to defend that position, could not bring himself to do so. Being right was more important to him that getting a good night's sleep.

Since that 20th of July, the charges against Gates have been dropped and U.S. President Barack Obama has famously hosted the "Rose Garden beer chat", an event he hoped would be "teachable moment" about racism.

According to the Globe and Mail article,

There was no acrimony —nor apology— from any of the three: black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., white Cambridge, Mass., police Sergeant James Crowley, who had arrested him for disorderly conduct, and Mr. Obama, who declared on national TV that the police had "acted stupidly." But neither Mr. Gates nor Sgt. Crowley backtracked either, agreeing they still had differences.

[...]

"We agreed to move forward," Sgt. Crowley said Thursday night when asked if anything was solved in the meeting. "I think what you had today was two gentlemen agreeing to disagree on a particular issue. I don’t think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future."

I think the two men agreed to disagree because they weren't talking about the same thing.

Gates probably insisted his arrest was related to his race while Sgt. Crowley who, ironically, teaches a course on racial profiling, almost certainly denied it. What explanation he offered for the incident I of course don't know.

But I bet he didn't say, "You yelled at a police officer! You disrespected us!"

Which I think was the real cause for this particular circus. As members of an "occupying army", police officers tend to see rudeness as equivalent to assault, to view any questioning of their right to (say) demand ID from someone at his own home as something not far off insurrection. In other words, the elephant in the corner is police culture in general.

But of course, even in the doubtful case that Sgt. Crowley recognized that police culture was the real author of the incident, he certainly wouldn't have said so. Easier by far to simply deny that he is a racist and (probably) to suggest that Gates over-reacted than to confront the dark underbelly of police culture itself, its view of itself a separate from the "civilian" population rather than as members of that population devoted to its (own) protection.

Just as the murder of Robert Dzienkanski was followed by police lies and attempted cover-ups (starting with the RCMP's attempt to suppress the video taken of the incident, most of the subsequent debate has focussed on the taser and whether or not it is "safe" and not why it is that when police statements are compared to independent evidence, the police usually turn out to be liars.

In polite society, to mention the possibility that police culture is out of control is to be naive at best, an anarchist at worst; in political culture, taking on police wrong-doings is to risk political suicide — no matter what, the broad swath of the comfortable middle class still naively "supports the police" no matter what the actual behaviour of its members.

And so from Barack Obama's "teachable moment" we learned nothing at all, except that "race" allows all three parties involved to avoid talking about an institutional problem that is separate from (though still related to) race and racism.

Training police officers not to use racial profiling is all well and good; but so long as police officers think of the rest of us as "civilians" rather than fellow-citizens, we are all in danger from them (yes, and those with dark skin are in more danger than those of us who are pale, I'm not trying to deny it).

Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.

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Apparently I'm not the only person who thinks race may not have been the cause of Gates' arrest.

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] supergee for this article, and to the internet in general for this one.

And, not related to race (at least not directly) but definitely related to a creeping police state: "The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes."
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To serve and protect?
The arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and
The real elephant in the corner

I moved to Toronto from Sudbury, Ontario, when I was 14 and, despite the fact Toronto was a city nearly 20 times the size of Sudbury, it took more than two years before anything happened to make me feel unsafe in the metropolis.

And it wasn't an angry drunk or a gang of teen-age boys that frightened me, but a pair of policemen on the muscle.

I was 16 years old when my friend Vern and I decided to form a band — well, a duet, with Vern on guitar while I banged away at a tambourine and croaked out lyrics as best as my pubescent throat would allow. With a week of practising under our belts we made our début in front of the Eaton Centre and were successful enough that we spent many nights that summer playing Neil Young and Dylan and Beatles songs for spare change.

We were white kids, but we were kids and we both had hair flowing past our shoulders. Being stopped by the police while walking home was a regular, and tiresome, occurrence. Still, we were smart enough to be polite and to answer any and all questions, no matter that we muttered "Pigs!" as soon as they were out of ear-shot. To their faces, they were always "officer".

One night we were stopped three times. The third was in the alley just behind Vern's house and that pair were cops with attitude. I am still convinced they would have happily taken us down to Cherry Beach for a private working-over had we uttered even a single disrespectful syllable. Even without it, Vern and I both sensed that these two wanted us to say something — anything — to give them an excuse.

As I said, we were bright boys and we were very polite, but even so, it felt like a touch-and-go situation until another cruiser pulled up and two officers who had stopped us maybe a half-hour before told our hostile pair, "It's okay, we checked them out earlier." After a tense, six-way moment of indecision, officers Cruisin' and Bruisin' brusquely told us to be on our way.

In this photo taken by a neighbour on July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr., centre, the director of Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, is arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.
In this photo taken by a neighbour on July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr., centre, the director of Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, is arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.

Which, in an admittedly roundabout way, brings me to the recent arrest at his own home of the man the New York Times called America's "... pre-eminent black scholar", Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Gates (along with his driver),

"...had forced his way through the front door because it was jammed, his lawyer said. Colleagues call the arrest last Thursday afternoon a clear case of racial profiling.

"Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing 'two black males with backpacks on the porch,' with one 'wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.'"

(According to The Associated Press, the woman did not actually say the two men were black; as we shall see, this sort of "inaccuracy" is unhappily typical of police reports and is, I believe, the real "elephant in the room" in this story.)

Arrested for "being rude while being black"?

According to the Times,

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

"Why, because I'm a black man in America?" Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley. The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest Monday.

Gates—the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research—initially refused to show the officer his identification, but then gave him a Harvard University ID card, according to police.

"Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him," the officer wrote.

Unless someone has taped that event, only the arresting officers and Gates himself can know what exactly was said. But we do know that Professor Gates was arrested, in his own home, basically for being rude. Being black might have been a contributing factor to the arresting officer, but it was the (I believe mistaken) accusation of racism that got the cop really angry — that, and the simple fact that a "civilian" wasn't being sufficiently respectful of the officers' badges and uniforms.

I do believe that Professor Gates really did — for completely understandable reasons — jump to the conclusion that he was being visited by the law only because he was a black man in a well-to-do white neighbourhood. At the same time, this is a man who has a driver, who is a friend of the President of the United States, and who probably has the fragile pride typical of a "self-made man".

In other words, in this case I believe the police report that says Gates became belligerent. He was being treated like a criminal in his own home and he didn't like it, as none of us would. To the police, that is "belligerent" behaviour.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and U.S. President Barack Obama drink beer and talk in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 30, 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and U.S. President Barack Obama drink beer and talk in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 30, 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

When a "civilian" becomes belligerent, police officers typically become defensive — aggressively defensive. Where a white man might have decided to take things down a notch, Gates, emotionally insecure in his position of privilege and politically determined to defend that position, could not bring himself to do so. Being right was more important to him that getting a good night's sleep.

Since that 20th of July, the charges against Gates have been dropped and U.S. President Barack Obama has famously hosted the "Rose Garden beer chat", an event he hoped would be "teachable moment" about racism.

According to the Globe and Mail article,

There was no acrimony —nor apology— from any of the three: black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., white Cambridge, Mass., police Sergeant James Crowley, who had arrested him for disorderly conduct, and Mr. Obama, who declared on national TV that the police had "acted stupidly." But neither Mr. Gates nor Sgt. Crowley backtracked either, agreeing they still had differences.

[...]

"We agreed to move forward," Sgt. Crowley said Thursday night when asked if anything was solved in the meeting. "I think what you had today was two gentlemen agreeing to disagree on a particular issue. I don’t think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future."

I think the two men agreed to disagree because they weren't talking about the same thing.

Gates probably insisted his arrest was related to his race while Sgt. Crowley who, ironically, teaches a course on racial profiling, almost certainly denied it. What explanation he offered for the incident I of course don't know.

But I bet he didn't say, "You yelled at a police officer! You disrespected us!"

Which I think was the real cause for this particular circus. As members of an "occupying army", police officers tend to see rudeness as equivalent to assault, to view any questioning of their right to (say) demand ID from someone at his own home as something not far off insurrection. In other words, the elephant in the corner is police culture in general.

But of course, even in the doubtful case that Sgt. Crowley recognized that police culture was the real author of the incident, he certainly wouldn't have said so. Easier by far to simply deny that he is a racist and (probably) to suggest that Gates over-reacted than to confront the dark underbelly of police culture itself, its view of itself a separate from the "civilian" population rather than as members of that population devoted to its (own) protection.

Just as the murder of Robert Dzienkanski was followed by police lies and attempted cover-ups (starting with the RCMP's attempt to suppress the video taken of the incident, most of the subsequent debate has focussed on the taser and whether or not it is "safe" and not why it is that when police statements are compared to independent evidence, the police usually turn out to be liars.

In polite society, to mention the possibility that police culture is out of control is to be naive at best, an anarchist at worst; in political culture, taking on police wrong-doings is to risk political suicide — no matter what, the broad swath of the comfortable middle class still naively "supports the police" no matter what the actual behaviour of its members.

And so from Barack Obama's "teachable moment" we learned nothing at all, except that "race" allows all three parties involved to avoid talking about an institutional problem that is separate from (though still related to) race and racism.

Training police officers not to use racial profiling is all well and good; but so long as police officers think of the rest of us as "civilians" rather than fellow-citizens, we are all in danger from them (yes, and those with dark skin are in more danger than those of us who are pale, I'm not trying to deny it).

Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.

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Edit, close to 24 hours after the fact: If you're coming to this post late and feel inclined to hammer me for it, please read the comments first. I was wrong all over the place and don't want you to have to point out things to me that others have done already.

Jesus. I wanted this post to be All About Me and the fact that my ewebsite has been rebuilt and is now interactive (yes, comments about the look and feel of it are more than welcome; at this point, most of you are familiar with most of the material that's on it), but instead I've spent hours reading various iterations of the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of (January) 2009.

Some of you are already aware of it and I don't have the strength to try to summarize it — suffice it to say that that the starting point was matociquala's post about "writing the other". The ensuing discussion/flame-war(s) contain(s) links-a-plenty for those interested in pursuings it/them.

In a nutshell (as I understand/remember it — and note that my understanding has changed quite a bit over the past few days), [livejournal.com profile] matociquala's post was side-hijacked by a reply which suggested she was naive and (unconsciously) racist in some of her assumptions and before you knew it, the flame was on. Attacks were parried, counter-attacks launched and feelings were bruised left, right and centre. (And some very interesting light was shed, as well — three or four hours ago I ws prepared to sit down and write a screed about "professional victims" who find "racism" in every nook and cranny, but now I'm not so sure that wouldn't be to attack a couple of lunatics while ignoring a whole lot of interesting thinking. So I'll hold my fire in the larger battle until such time as I'm sure it's warranted.)

Doctor Who: Turn Left

At least, sort of.

During my reading, I ran into a post by Livejournaler Prusik, who, on said on Tnh's livejournal to Doctor Who's rejuvenator, Russell T. Davis' 11th episode of last season's Turn Left.

For those of you who are not fans (shocking!), the framing device for the episode was set on a planet (or at least a city) largely inhabited by people one can only presumed were of Chinese descent. The setting reminded me of what I imagine Hong Kong looked like in the 1970s and the actors spoke English like people only recently off the boat.

[livejournal.com profile] prusik said,

I totally understand that, in terms of impact, intentionality does not matter. "Turn Left" affected me viscerally in ways that I'm sure RTD did not intend. Whether RTD intended it as an example of the whole "Dr Fu Man Chu" evil Chinese villain thing or not is utterly irrelevant to the textual analysis that shows we have people who are villains, who are evil, and, oh yeah, they happen to be foreign, exotic Chinese people. How ever RTD tries to justify it, I will still see it as an example of using the Chinese ethnicity as a short hand for "inscrutable, evil villain." Note that here, race is intrinsically a part of the text. (This is not the case with Patrick's statement. Racial context there was inferred.)

He also said,

i.e., I agree. "He didn't mean to" is not a meaningful rebuttal to "'Turn Left'makes use of the 'inscrutable Chinese villain'" trope." (This, BTW, does not mean that someone can not successfully explain to me why "Turn Left" is not, in fact, racist. It just means "He didn't mean to" will not do so successfully.)

There's one factual error above, and I suspect it's indicative of the over-sensitivity (I think) some people have when it comes to the portrayal of minorities/ethnics/people-of-colour.

On the other hand, presumably, Davies should get credit for setting a Doctor Who episode on a planet largely bereft of white people; but on the other, Doctor Who adventures pretty much demand that someone is a bad guy — and if the Doctor is on a planet colonized by Chinese people, the villain pretty much has to be Chinese, doesn't he she?

The "factual error" I referred to was in [livejournal.com profile] prusik use of the term, "'inscrutable Chinese villain'" trope." To my eyes, the villain was not at all "inscrutable", but was, rather, duplicitous and — her plot foiled — emotional.

Yes, the episode's framing device was set on a world (or city) that appeared to be a lot like a western image of (industrial) China; yes, the villain was ethnically Chinese.

But so what?

Does the fact that Russell T. Davies is a white Englishman preclude him from telling stories set in other (human) cultures?*

Does being "sensitive" mean that Davies cannot (legitimately) cast "people of colour" as villains?

Quite seriously, am I missing something important here?

If I haven't made it abundantly clear, I don't think I am. But I'd be very interested in hearing why you think I'm wrong, if you do.

*For the record, I realize that no one criticizing him on LJ is in a position to stop Davies from setting stories, and casting them, anywhere he wants. My question is about the intention of the criticism, not its (non-existent) censorial powers or intent.

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