Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Don't Get Racism Well Enough, Apparently

I have a soft spot for graffiti art.  Not for graffiti, in the traditional sense.  You know, gang signs and such.  I’m talking about real graffiti art, where the guy that does it is a true artist and the graffiti is beautiful enough when he’s done with it that anyone that goes to “clean it up” feels bad about destroying it to the point to where folks usually just leave it up. 

Here are some examples:

I saw this series of pictures about a guy who was going around putting googly-eyes on things and making cartoon characters out of mundane things around his town.  The artistic value of all of this is a bit less than the examples, but the results are funny and light-hearted, and I know that if I were to run into these in my home town, it would make me laugh and brighten my day a bit. 

The comments in the forum where these pictures were posted almost immediately went off the rails with righteous indignation.

Care to guess why? 

I’ll give you a hint:

 Googly-Eyed street art

Yup.  That one, right there?  That one is apparently RACIST as all holy fuck. 

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why.  It could easily be interpreted as attempting to portray the stereotypical 18th century Chinese man, with the round, pointed hat and the long, wispy beard and mustache, but why is that offensive or racist?  This is, by all accounts, the way that Chinese men dressed in the 18th century.  It was the fashion back then.

I see depictions of 18th century white guys all the time.  Why is it not offensive to show a picture of a European wearing a frilly cravat and a tri-corner hat with knee length britches and stockings?  That’s how they dressed in the 18th century.  If someone is going to be embarrassed about the way they used to dress, Europeans should be the ones that are sensitive about it.  I mean, seriously?  Knee length britches and frilly lacey shit?  What a bunch of prancing nancies.  So by the same reasoning (ie, showing a man in traditional 18th century dress is racist) then why isn’t this racist?

I see very, very stereotypical depictions of norsemen as Vikings all the time, with horns coming out of their helmets (something they almost certainly did not do, by the way) and broadswords and so forth.  Even worse, most norsemen DIDN’T actually dress this way.  Why isn’t this racist?

Or a depiction of a german man wearing lederhosen?  Or a Scotsman wearing a kilt?  Or a Russian wearing fur hats?  Or an Indian man wearing a turban? 

The offensive stereotypes applied to Chinese men are not shown here.  An offensive depiction would have him painted yellow, wearing thick glasses, with deeply slanted, or even closed eyes.  Wearing the hat that they wore, with the facial hair done in the style that was prevalent back then – and that’s racist?  I don’t get it.  It makes no sense to me.

Are we supposed to forget that Chinese men dressed this way?  Is the fact that they did dress that way somehow shameful in a way that I’m not familiar with?  Is it my white privilege that’s keeping me from understanding why a cartoonish depiction of 18th century Chinese dress is offensive?  

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