You’re in luck that I’m at least writing this letter to you in my best handwriting because I am very angry at you. Why should it not be prohibited to write ‘Neger’ in children’s books? One has to be able to put oneself in somebody else’s shoes. Because my father is Senegalese, and he is a very dark shade of brown; I am café-au-lait brown. Just imagine if you were Afro-German and lived in Germany. You’re a newspaper reader and unsuspectingly buy the ZEIT of January 17th 2013. Suddenly, you note the article ‘The Little Witch Hunt.’ This is when you read that the word ‘Neger’ is supposed to be deleted from children’s books, and that this would allegedly spoil the children’s books. I find it totally shit that this word should remain in children’s books if it were up to you. You cannot imagine how I feel when I have to read or hear that word. It is simply very, very terrible. My father is not a ‘Neger’ [lightning bolt sign] nor am I. This is also true for all other Africans. Right. That was my opinion. This word should be deleted from children’s books.
Ishema Kane, 9 1/2 years old
P.S.: You’re welcome to send me a response.
[more lightning bolt signs]
From Indigenous genocides to women’s implication in the reproduction of patriarchy, it is important to examine not only historical events that codify violence as their strategy of citizen making. Also, we need to think about how violence is deployed in discourse and laws as systematic means of exclusion. Nowhere are we seeing more of this quotidian means of exclusion than in debates about the role of Latino/a children. Their precarity carries into ideas about Dora the Explorer’s privileged social mobility, which created quite a stir after the State of Arizona adopted SB1070. Passed on April 24th 2010, SB1070 “Requires officials and agencies to reasonably attempt to determine the immigration status of a person involved in a lawful contact where reasonable suspicion exists regarding the immigration status of the person, except if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation.”
Right at the moment this policy emerged, Latino/a social mobility as a crime was galvanized via the Arizona law. So even though Dora, as a figure, manifests a particular amount of privilege (social, class, and economic) that is most closely associated with whiteness rather than black or indigenous identities, conscious projections of her as a Latina/o after SB1070 constructs Dora as a universal Latina subject and potential illegal.
Immigration activists flipped the script with these images, seeing Dora as a means of expressing the absurdity and irony of suggesting that all Latina/os are like Dora and thus are all the same. They took America’s and the Nickelodeon Network’s goldmine of childhood innocence and turned Dora into a potential threat representative of what the Right would like us to believe are the invading brown hordes. The people who created these images draw on the fact that Dora’s creators purposefully did not specify her ethnic background, “preferring that she have a pan-Latino appeal.” (iii)
By doing so, those photoshop wizards play upon the fact that there is a common assumption about what Latinos “look like” which is both specific (the majority have brown eyes) and vague (brown eyes are a genetically dominant trait). They also play on xenophobic fears about brown bodies and immigration, suggesting that even a brown, 7-year old cartoon character might be illegal. In the case of Dora’s deployment in the anti-SB1070 and pro-immigrant reform movement, Dora is “the” representation of the universal Latina/o subject that I discussed in my earlier article. Yet despite these problematic constructions, U.S. Latinas/os and Latin Americans identify with Dora on a different plane, not just as consumers but now in ethnic and political solidarity as she represents version of their identities, cultures, in a new re-appropriated political role model for immigration activists.
In this poignant political moment, we see how Dora the Explorer intercedes not only into children’s self-identities, but those of adults in the immigration reform movement. In other words, people who identify with Dora as criminalized Latino/a or rather questioning illegality explicitly engage with the concepts of nation-space and citizenship when they use her image. Major news outlets including CBS picked up the story dramatizing what many of us already knew: Doctored pictures of Dora the Explorer are being widely circulated online and through text messages. As the caption states, “Dora the Explorer’s alleged crime? “Illegal Border Crossing Resisting Arrest.” (iv)
An often repeated assertion in the body of film criticism I have written is the assertion that movies do not just mirror the culture of any given time; they also create it With this assertion in mind I leaving a viewing of the film Beasts of the Southern Wilds deeply disturbed and militantly outraged by the images I have just seen. Having traveled with friends an hour to see this acclaimed movie, I have no way home if I leave the cinema; there were images in the movie that I just did not want inside my head. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn tells students that putting images inside our heads is just like eating. And if “you are what you eat” it is equally true that to a grave extent we are what we see. Having read wonderful reviews of the film, pushed by friends and colleagues alike to see it, I was amazed that what I saw, they did not see. The majority of folks I talked with, like the reviewers, praised the film’s compelling cinematography, the magical realism, and the poetics of space. In his long affirming review in the New Yorker critic David Denby praises the film, calling it a “vibrant feature.”
Sadly, all the vibrancy in this film is generated by a crude pornography of violence. At the center of this spectacle is the continuous physical and emotional violation of the body and being of a small six year old black girl called Hushpuppy (played by the ten year old actress Quzenhane Wallis). While she is portrayed as continuously resisting and refusing to be a victim, she is victimized. Subject to both romanticization as a modern primitive and eroticization, her plight is presented as comically farcical. Some audiences laugh as Hushpuppy, when enraged at the antics of her disappearing alcoholic oftentimes abusive wild man dad Wink, burns her shanty house. Initially, she hides from the fire in an overturned cardboard box until Wink rescues her by fiercely yelling mean spirited words that both frighten her and lead her to run for her life; in that moment she is more terrified of her raging dad than she is of the fire.
Hushpuppy has a resilient spirit. She is indeed a miniature version of the ‘strong black female matriarch,’ racist and sexist representations have depicted from slavery on into the present day. Like the unrealistic racist/sexist stereotypical images of grown black women in the recent blockbuster film The Help who confront all manner of exploitation and oppression only to triumph in this ridiculous macabre fantasy of modern primitivism, Hushpuppy is a survivor. From the onset of the film, she is depicted as a wild child, so at home in the natural wild of the Gulf of Mexico bayou world where black and white po’ folks create their own community affectionately called the Bathtub. This is the territory they claim as a renegade place of belonging. It is a total homemade world of make do, use whatever you got to survive.
For many folks who see this film it is the mythic focus that enchants. And yet it is precisely this mythic focus that deflects attention away from egregious sub-textual narratives present in the film. Writing about the role of myth n popular media that makes use of race in his book White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness critic Maurice Berger contends: “Despite the visual sophistication and supposed vigilance of a media-oriented culture …Western commentators, critics, and academics seem no to realize how duplicitous words and images can be. They simply do not understand how myths work, how myths hold us hostage to their smooth elegant fictions. The subject of race, perhaps more than any other subject in contemporary life feeds on myth…. Myth is the book, seamless narrative that tells us the contradictions and incongruities of race and racism are too confusing or too dangerous to articulate. Myths provide the elegant deceptions that reinforce our unconscious prejudices. Myths are the white lies that tell us everything is all right, even when it is not.” Deploying myth and fantasy we are shown a world in Beasts of the Southern Wild where black and white poor folks live together in utopian harmony. No race talk, no racial discourse disturbs the peace.
I know a lot of people who were pretty bummed when Jeremy Lin departed New York to sign with the Houston Rockets. But I’m pretty sure nobody was more broken up than this kid Naim.
Upon learning that the Knicks would not match Houston’s offer sheet, the 5-year-old Jeremy fan had something of an emotional breakdown… and his dad caught the whole thing on video.
But wait. It doesn’t end there. Somewhere along the way, the video reached Jeremy. He saw how distraught the kid was, so he arranged to speak with young Naim via Skype video chat. Jeremy thanked him for his support, answered his questions, and encouraged him to keep cheering for the Knicks. And again, his dad recorded the whole thing on video.