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OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS

JOURNAL

SPR 2017


Journal of Social and Cultural Analysis New York University College of Arts and Science

Issue 8, Spring 2017


FACULTY ADVISOR Michael Ralph EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Maya Singhal EDITORS Lilli Biltucci Gabbi Lee Jailene Peralta Sophie Sandberg Hannah Shulman Ernest Tjia Katerina Voegtle Sean Waxman JOURNAL OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS We are a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to showcasing scholarship and artwork informed by the interdisciplinary fields of inquiry that are housed in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. The Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA) combines topics and methodologies from the humanities and social sciences into seven interdisciplinary programs—Africana Studies, American Studies, Asian/Pacific/American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Latino Studies, Metropolitan Studies, & Social and Cultural Analysis. The students and faculty in SCA pride themselves in their use of intersectional analysis to consider race, class, gender, sexuality, and dis/ability while investigating apparatuses of power and critiquing the relationships between individuals, institutions, and governments. If you are interested in learning more about the department of Social and Cultural Analysis, please visit sca.as.nyu. edu/. If you would like to submit work to the Journal of Social and Cultural Analysis or if you have questions about the journal, please email sca.ug.journal@gmail.com.


TABLE OF CONTENTS Post-Racial America: “Nice” White Liberals Recognizing Black Culture but Not Black People Linda Duverne

1

Feminist Anthems in Hip-Hop and the Male Remix Nancy Uddin

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Tell Me Who You Are Part 1 Sam Soon

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Body Positivity in Popular Culture: Renegotiating a History of Fat Denigration Sarah Shaddock

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Bratz Dolls: The Hypersexualization and the Exotification of Otherness Isabella León-Chambers

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Photos of Chinatown Lawrence Wu

34

Poetry Debora Bang Photos of Chinatown Lawrence Wu

35 37

Unyielding Earth: The Climate of Racism and the Corporeal Effects of Violence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison Maya Singhal

38

Veiled Intimacies in the Colonial Home Lilli Biltucci

51

Acknowledgements

62

Contributor and Editor Bios

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Post-Racial America: “Nice” White Liberals Recognizing Black Culture but Not Black People By Linda Duverne Political commentary in zombie films and paranoia inducing films has been used to expose a hidden flaw or flaws in American society. Zombie apocalypse films hint at the ineffectiveness of government and the reactionary solidarity among people towards an almost impossible solution. The film’s components are visualized through physical and mental violence. The zombies inflict violence to carry out a mischievous mission programmed by the oppressor, brainwashed to do whatever the oppressor desires. By preying on civilization zombie apocalypses portray the masses rising to erase the status quo and show the true image of the reality minorities live in. Zombie films are populated with political messages, such as modern consumerism in Dawn of Dead, and gender roles in Stepford Wives (McElroy). The effect these films have on the audience is to show the political issue as a horror story, making the audience attentive to the problem outside the fictional film. A political issue that the zombie genre has rarely showcased before is race. Get Out, a newly released and critically acclaimed film deals with how black people are oppressed by white liberals who use “nice” racism and white liberalism. In this film the white characters glorify the traits of black people but they do not respect them as individual human beings. “Nice” racism and white liberalism admires black culture more than black bodies due to white liberals’ fascination with the power of and fear that is associated with the black body. The figure of the black body, particularly in regards to the black man is 1


deemed stronger than the average white man due to implications of dehumanizing black men during slavery. The physical exploitation has since been replaced by the obsession with the physicality of the black body through obvious racist comments from white liberals. “Nice” racism or what is seen as a euphemistic term benevolent prejudice, “is a superficially positive prejudice that is expressed in terms of positive beliefs and emotional responses, which are associated with hostile prejudices or result in keeping affected groups in inferior positions in society” (Revolvy) used by white liberals against black people. Benevolent prejudice appears throughout Get Out as white liberals embark on the fetishization of black bodies. What we are seeing in this film is linked to centuries of enslavement of Africans and the exploitation of their bodies, cultures, and minds. Through understanding how white liberals have used “nice” racism, we can unpack why white liberals have alienated black culture from black bodies and how white liberals have and continue to exploited black bodies and their minds. Before, we talk about the new age exploitation of Black people and their culture we need to understand why African Americans are the chosen minority group that is oppressed in Get Out. As creator Jordan Peele stated, “We’re [Black Americans] all in the Sunken Place” (Peele). In reference to the film, the Sunken Place is depicted as a figurative and literal place in the mind where African Americans become trapped in their own body. Jordan Peele elaborates on what the “Sunken Place” means by saying, “We’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us” (Lincoln). The marginalization of African Americans traces back to the history of slavery and the institutionalized racism that has resulted from it. The “Sunken Place” depicted in the movie is perpetuated by the “nice” white liberals. There are so many references that deal with the colonization of Africans and their message on how to escape the oppression that was perpetuated by the white settlers. Get Out as the movie holds a message for descendants of African peoples, the lyrics to the song played in the introduction of the movie says, “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga”which translates to “listen to your ancestors… something bad is coming. Run.” This Swahili message foreshadows an escape that the main black character, Chris takes after realizing the danger he is in as he can potentially be the next host for a white controller. 2


The idea of escape and later freedom in the Swahili message juxtaposes with the biblical reference of the story of Exodus. Exodus as described in Robin D. G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination “provided black people with a language to critique America’s racist state and build a new nation, for its central theme wasn’t simply escape but a new beginning” (Kelley 17). The idea of escaping the “Sunken Place” follows a similar journey in Exodus, where there is a “desire to leave the place of oppression for either a new land or some kind of peaceful coexistence” (Kelley 17). It is interesting enough that Africans were the “chosen people” in Exodus similar to black people being the chosen ones for the Coagula procedure in the film. The Order of the Coagula is a cult-like group. The Coagula procedure preys on black bodies through hypnosis and later brain transplantation in order to extend the lives of the members of the order, which include white friends, family members and the one peculiar Asian man. African Americans being the chosen people places them as the oppressed and the object of festishization. Being this object prolongs the fear and power that is associated with the black body and because this fear and power does not extend to white bodies, they admire and are envious of the African Americans’ physical traits they lack. The genetic makeup and physicality of the black body has always been envied by whites since slavery, and because of this black bodies are exploited and therefore neglected. Black bodies have been treated like animals and dehumanized well after slavery. As Steven Thrasher writes: But some of the brilliance of Get Out is how it explores a paradox about slavery: In a way, slavery initially had nothing to do with race, as race didn’t yet exist. If you go back far enough in slavery history, you start to understand that it is the theft of bodies that were Black, captured by bodies that were white, which created the concept of race itself. Race is the theft of Black bodies, further developed as white people committed genocide against Native people, colonized Mexican people, and imported Chinese people for dangerous labor (before being excluded). (Thrasher) In order to make sense of their white supremacy and race, White set3


tlers in general believed African slaves had a different genetic makeup compared to them. They believed that white men were “intellectually, psychologically, and morally superior” (Southern Poverty Law Center) while African slaves, not explicitly stated, were physically stronger due to the belief that they were animalistic. This belief continues in the stereotypes and images of black men today. The obsession of the capability of black bodies is well depicted in the film. Benevolent racism is introduced at the neighborhood party where the white guests comment on Chris’ frame, genetic makeup, his black skin being in fashion and one guest even asks his girlfriend, Rose, “Is it better?,” a reference to the supposed sexual advances of black men. During the neighborhood party scene the guests, mostly “nice white liberals,” were pleased by the presence of Chris, but Rose’s brother was more excited by his presence in a scene at the family dinner table. Rose’s brother Jeremy at dinner tells Chris that with his “genetic makeup and an extra push” he can be great at martial arts. Rose’s brother comments hint at something much more than nice racism, which is how both in the film and in real life the oppressors believed “black muscle can be useful if separated from its black mind, emotions, and politics” (Thrasher), further dehumanizing the black body. Literally, the use of the black muscle satisfies the desires of the whites in the film, as part of the deceased white grandfather’s brain is implanted in a tall and built black body. He practices sprints during the night to compensate for his loss to Jesse Owens, a black runner in the Olympics. The exploitation occurs after the shock that the grandfather believed that with his Aryan blood he was positioned to win over the faster runner Jesse Owens and now sees that the only way to beat Jesse Owens is through the usage of a black body. The negligence towards black bodies is further disregarded when white liberals feel the need to appropriate black culture. “It’s such a privilege to experience someone else’s culture,” Rose’s father says to Chris when he and Rose first arrive at the family home. The privilege Rose’s father has as an elite white liberal is the power to silence and take from the black culture without permission. The privilege taken by white liberals in the film mirrors the same sentiments in Patrick Wolfe’s “Settler Colonialism and The Elimination of The Native.” In the essay settler colonialism is described as a 4


system of assimilation through the violent eradication of Indigenous culture. Although, the settlers executed their mission of erasing the natives culture they appropriated what they believed would make themselves superior to others, for example by taking what the natives were most connected to, their land. Settlers that were white men took their land, their people and parts of their culture and made it their own. This is what cultural appropriation describes, “…the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another. It generally is applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture” (Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory & Practice). White settlers then and white liberals now justify cultural appropriation through what Wolfe coins as “repressive authenticity” (Wolfe 402). He explains that this is a style of romantic stereotyping that disregards certain characteristics and individuals and “eliminates natives from official reckonings” (Wolfe 402). What “repressive authenticity” does is dehumanize the natives and, in the case of Get Out, African Americans to justify why these minority groups are less deserving of their culture. White settlers stole from natives’ resources such as their land and treated natives as animals, similar in Get Out white liberals treat black bodies as if they are animals and use their bodies to have total domination over them. Deer are used as a symbol representing Black people; they are hunted and seen as trophies once dead. Rose’s father’s strange rant about his hatred for deer, the eradication of them and saying a dead deer is a win for humankind corroborates an indirect genocide of the minority group. Also, it shows what is left after their extinction as Rose’s father Dean has a display of a head of a deer in his living room. This scene describes how, “The process of assimilation is sped up when culture markers are appropriated by the dominant culture. Once the dominant culture has access to the cultural markers of a marginalized culture, they are no longer markers of the marginalized culture, and the marginalized culture is gobbled up by the dominant culture” (Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory & Practice). The affect of centuries of erasing one’s culture to advance another has hindered the minds of the oppressed group, erase their culture and force them to yield to the oppressor’s control. 5


. The film mirrors realities for Black people to view themselves through the eyes of the oppressor and through their own self-identity. W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” talks about this phenomenon of double-consciousness that has plagued the minds of African Americans arguably since emancipation. Du Bois explains double-consciousness as “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (Du Bois). This combination of being American and Negro as Du Bois refers to Black people weighs on the psyche of black people since slavery because of the stereotypes established and perpetuated by white liberals and white people as a whole. Since there is a continuation of a sense of not belonging because of the struggle of being an American and Negro or now an African American, black people are further silenced and put back into the “sunken place.” Within the film, Chris deals with his conflicted identity as he is asked a question about whether the black experience is an advantage or disadvantage by a peculiar Asian character who associates with white liberals. This puts Chris in an awkward position so he calls on a black person who is under the Coagula procedure and trapped in the “sunken place.” Chris can tell something is off with the only other black person at the party by how he talks, dresses and carries himself as an old white man. This scene displays the duality of the identity of the Negro and American and how it is tremendously hard for both to coexist in one body without being marginalized. Trying to find a common ground for an African American person to exist in America takes a toll on their minds. Audre Lorde says it best in her essay “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” that “Oppressed peoples are always being asked to stretch a little more, to bridge the gap between blindness and humanity” (Lorde), meaning it’s supposedly the oppressed peoples’ duty to unpack the power of white privilege. This puts more work on the backs of African Americans and less on white Americans to realize their faults. The double-consciousness black people faced after slavery parallels to what it is like to live as a black person in our socalled post-racial America. Although Get Out is a fictional movie it tells a compelling 6


American horror story that is embedded in every Black person’s story in America. What the film offers the audience to take home is to not trust white liberals’ usage of “nice” racism and to dream for African Americans to fully escape the “Sunken place.” Despite living under the falsification that is “post-racial” America, African Americans have continued to persist through adversity. The true escape from the “Sunken Place” is through “Exodus represented dreams of black self-determination, of being on our own, under our own rules and beliefs, developing our own cultures, without interference” (Kelley). In order to fulfill this dream black people need to understand “that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (Lorde 99). This metaphor can mean so much to African Americans such as learning how to use our differences as our strengths and begin to use what oppressed us before as a lesson for the future. In one of the last scenes in the film, Chris is tied to a chair in the basement of the Armitage’s home and is brainwashed as part of the Coagula procedure. Chris shows the audience what it means to use what has oppressed us, as cotton in slavery, to escape in such a clever way. In the matter of life and death, Chris stuffs his ears with cotton to ignore the hypnosis, therefore escaping the “Sunken place.” This scene speaks volumes as it shows a double meaning of cotton, a form of oppression, but in this film, a form of freedom. This is probably the first time a Black man has picked cotton to free himself from further marginalization and a lesson for us all that in order to free ourselves from oppression we must be aware of our past history to educate ourselves and others. Works Cited Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1903. Kelley, Robin D. G. Freedon Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Boston: Beacon Press, 2002. Lincoln, Ross A. The Wrap. 16 March 2017. 18 March 2017 <http:// www.thewrap.com/get-out-director-jordan-peele-explains-thesunken-place/>. Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” (n.d.): 98-101. Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” 7


Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde. Crossing Press, 1981. 124-133. Revolvy. 7 March 2015. 18 March 2017 <https://www.revolvy.com/ main/index.php?s=Benevolent%20prejudice>. Southern Poverty Law Center. 18 March 2017 <https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/charles-murray>. Thrasher, Steven. Esquire. 1 March 2017. 18 March 2017 <http:// www.esquire.com/entertainment/movies/a53515/get-out-jordan-peele-slavery/>. Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory & Practice. 16 September 2011. 18 March 2017 <https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/cultural-appreciation-or-cultural-appropriation/>. Wolfe, Patrick. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.â&#x20AC;? Journal of Genocide Research (2006): 387-409.

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Feminist Anthems in HipHop and the Male Remix By Nancy Uddin

Along with bass drops and lyrical twists, misogyny is another element often heard in mainstream hip-hop. With men dominating the art, many hip-hop songs dehumanize and objectify women. However, female hip-hop artists are carving a new identity in the male dominated sphere. In particular, female rapper Nicki Minaj’s song “Lookin’ Ass Nigga” and female R&B star Kehlani’s song “Niggas” call out men for their sexism and their attitude. In response to Minaj, male artist Cassidy and male R&B singer Trey Songz created their own renditions titling them “Lookin’ Ass Bitches;” Eric Bellinger wrote “Bitches” in retaliation to Kehlani’s “Niggas.” It is evident that the male ego is a reactionary force to women’s frustration. This analysis is drawn from lyric videos on YouTube. I decided to watch lyric videos as opposed to music videos to look critically at the lyrics and unpack the meaning behind the songs. Ultimately, these songs are representative of the tension between feminism and male fragility. In order to shift the patriarchal culture of hip-hop, men need to actually listen to their women counterparts and practice accountability. Minaj labels men “niggas” and criticizes them for not being able to handle her. She associates them with weakness and says they are not worth her energy: “Ain’t feelin’ these niggas/Niggas want my time, call me Clinton, I’m billin’ these niggas.” Minaj asserts her independence and does not want any of the men’s attention. Parallel to Minaj, Kehlani writes about how she has grown up and learned from her mistakes with men. She also labels men “niggas” and notes 9


their downfalls, from their arrogance to their immaturity. When she sings “And I’m completely fine with everything that I am/ Too damn strong/ To let you get the best of me/ Took way too long/To find the light inside of me/ Fuck all these niggas,” she channels her energy towards finding her self worth. She denounces all men for hurting her and is moving on for the better. In Cassidy’s and Songz’s counterattack songs, they both refer to women as “bitches.” Cassidy’s version labels women “fake” and poor. He notes that women only exploit men for their money. In addition, he criticizes women for either wearing non name brands or wearing expensive clothes in spite of being poor. The paradoxical expectations for women are used to belittle women. In Songz’s song, he begins by saying he had to remix Minaj’s song. Like Cassidy, he slutshames women for sleeping around. He also classifies them as liars and thieves. Furthermore, he sings “Man I hate these kind of bitches/ And if you’re a good girl/ Don’t be trippin, I ain’t talkin bout you/ Talkin bout these bitches/ No disrespect at all to my women that are ladies that carry themselves/ I don’t like these bitches/ Know I ain’t talkin to you girl, me I’m on/ Talkin bout these bitches/ And I hate that I had to be so vulgar/ Talkin bout these bitches/ It’s just when I heard this shit/ I mean like I felt like an incredible time to say what’s on my mind.” Women are dichotomized into the virgin/whore category. This demonstrates the politics of respectability where “good” women are expected to look proper and be independent and “indecent” women are hypersexualized, expected to please the male fantasy. Both roles are nonetheless beholden to men. Songz is aware of his crudeness, but still sings this song to defend manhood. In the song “Bitches,” Bellinger sings about his annoyance towards women. He says he is one step ahead of the manipulative women. He acknowledges deviant men, yet writes “But if niggas gone be niggas then bitches gone be bitches too.” He remarks how women need men sexually, so they need to quit complaining: “Bet you still cumming two times, yeah.” The male rebuttal song is a defense mechanism, guided by the male ego. When women call out men in their songs, they are deemed more powerful than men, and in order to put them “back in their place,” a comeback song is deemed essential to protect male ego. Cas10


sidy, Songz, and Bellinger neglect the fact that a rebuttal song is unnecessary in a music industry that profits off of the disempowerment of women. The norm in mainstream hip hop is to disrespect and insult women. Listeners are desensitized to the oppression towards women. More so, when songs that encourage “beating the pussy up” are uplifted, rape culture is promoted. Violence towards women becomes accepted without question. In hegemony, there is room for residuals. We have witnessed what happens when women go against the grain in Minaj’s and Kehlani’s examples. Minaj’s and Kehlani’s “diss” tracks are meant to shame men and offer a different perspective to the usual “these hoes ain’t loyal” and “bad bitch on my dick.” When one woman stands up to this misogyny, her art is remixed and she is attacked. This competitive dynamic creates a power struggle, undermining the raw impact of sexism. The sexism in hip-hop does not exist in a vacuum. It is certainly a reflection of sexism in larger society. Male rule has generated a world where women are street harassed on the daily, consent is not practiced, and breastfeeding in public is condemned. The silver lining in hip-hop is that there are queens funneling their energy (#blackgirlmagic) towards self-determination and self-expression. Artists like Minaj and Kehlani are taking hip hop by storm. In spite of the male ego being threatened, women continue to make hits with bold statements. Amid the traction Beyoncé is receiving for launching the feminist anthems in Lemonade, hip-hop clearly has room for improvement. It is a platform for revolution and there is potential to harness the pro-blackness attitude that many male hip-hop artists identify with and add a pro-women component. Intersectionality cannot be forgotten and feminist songs can stimulate a dialogue between people where accountability and male allyship are action points. Ultimately, “Lookin’ Ass Nigga” and “Niggas” are a form of resistance. They raise awareness on how men are problematic and repressive towards women. Male artists may feel the urge to respond musically, but still have to acknowledge the truth in the original songs. The reason why many of the men responded so angrily is because they know that the women are capable of adjusting the normalized rhetoric in hip-hop. This threat instills fear in men and leads to rebuttal songs that protect the status quo. However, there is potential 11


for solidarity between women and men to make feminist and radical music. The future of hip-hop can take a feminist path if women unapologetically continue producing fierce music and men finally genuinely listen. Works Cited Song. Cassidy - Lookin Ass Bitches (Nicki Minaj ‘Lookin Ass Nigga’ Reply) New CDQ Dirty NO DJ. February 14, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjiFhJDqJhY Song. Chris Brown - Loyal (Explicit) ft. Lil Wayne, Tyga. March 24, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=JXRN_LkCa_o Song. Eric Bellinger - Bitches (Response). January 8, 2016. Accessed May 1, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9U7oqtmp8no Song. Future - Freak Hoe Lyrics ( DS2 ). July 26, 2015. Accessed May 1, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o59ssVnCR1M Song. Kehlani - Niggas [Official Audio]. April 27, 2015. Accessed May 1, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPvKyFoApQs Song. Lookin’ Ass - Nicki Minaj (Lyric Video). February 22, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=I8G-rVlk3zM. Song. Trey Songz - “Lookin Ass Bitch” (Nicki Minaj “looking ass nigga” Response). February 14, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fvnl6RgQX9Q

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SAM SOON

Tell Me Who You Are Pt I

is the first installment of a long project exploring Asian American female identity. This series circulates around my maternal grandmother’s story. Growing up, my grandmother has always been a headstrong, fiercely independent force. However, as time has gone on, I’ve had to negotiate these images of my grandmother with images perpetuating damaging, hypersexualized stereotypes of East Asian women. With this project, I’ve combined images, events, and excerpts from history that occurred before or during the time my grandmother was around my age (1940’s and 1950’s) because, despite her complexity, her history is interwoven with the history of events that came before her - and her history is my history. It’s my mother’s history, my aunt’s history, and my own now.

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Body Positivity in Popular Culture: Renegotiating a History of Fat Denigration By Sarah Shaddock

In 2015, Protein World, a self-described “premium lifestyle nutrition brand,” released a marketing campaign promoting their new collection of weight loss supplements. Placed in metro stations in London and New York, the bright yellow advertisement is impossible to miss: a thin, full-chested blonde woman in a yellow bikini stands next to a question that reads, “Are you beach body ready?” This simple advertisement suggests that: the woman is beach body ready, the viewer is most likely not beach body ready, and for the small sum of $99, the viewer can fix her body so that she—as this advertisement is only truly targeting women—can finally be accepted at the beach. A “beach body” is not merely a body at the beach, but a purchasable thing. In her book Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture, Amy Farrell traces the origins of the U.S. diet industry and a thin body ideal in order to analyze how we characterize fatness, and in turn, how we construct a normative, acceptable body. As Farrell discovers, the presence of fat denigration in advertisements has a long history and the diet-focused marketing campaigns of 2016—just like Protein World’s “beach body” ads—are highly reminiscent of those from the late 1800s. ). Amy Farrell’s research supports the idea that beauty standards are tools for control: for example, she notes that the discrimination of fat people “effectively [reduces]” their life chances, or their ability to have a “good and safe life” (7). The vilification of fatness paired with the equation of higher weight with undesirable character traits has resulted in not only a deeply engrained beauty 16


standard but also a culture that renders fat people as second-class citizens. By examining health as a visual category, it is clear that the predominant notions of fitness rely on fat myths in order to justify discrimination against fat people. Prior to the onset of fat denigration in the 1800s, cultural representations of fatness shifted from fatness as a signifier of wealth and power to the “fat and undesirable ordinary person,” an indication that the lower class could not control their bodies (Farrell 18). As Farrell states, “…if [fatness] had a color, [it] would be black, and if it had a national origin, it would be illegal immigrant, non-U.S., and non-Western” (8). In other words, fatness is a marker of the “Other.” While fat people are discriminated against despite their race, gender, and sexuality, bodies that exist outside of the white, heteronormative beauty standards face exacerbated prejudice. Thus, certain types of bodies are deemed superior to others (Farrell 19). In the late 1800s to the early 1900s, scientific researchers and scholars used fatness as a marker of inferiority by interpreting Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to conclude that thin Europeans were higher on the evolutionary and racial scale. These scientists also concluded that because women, regardless of race or nationality, were more susceptible to weight gain, they were inherently less evolutionarily advanced than men (Farrell 64). This pseudo-scientific thought seeped its way into popular media, as seen in Henry Finck’s popular 1923 dieting book Girth Control. By describing the practice of fat appreciation among Africans, Polynesians, the Turkish, and Indigenous Australians, Finck reminded his “modern British and American” readers that their body size preference is what separates them from these “primitive cultures” (Farrell 59). The language used by 19th century physicians like Finck attributed modernity to thinner bodies, reinforcing the link between race, gender, and evolutionary superiority. Therefore, fat denigration is linked to a history of racial and gender hierarchies. To further depict the links between body size and “ideas of citizenship,” or perceived belonging and social status, Farrell opens the first chapter of her book with the description of the Delta Zeta sorority at DePauw University in 2006 (3). At the end of the fall semester, the national office had removed twenty-two members who did not fit the image of a “sorority girl”: notably, the ousted 17


members were overweight or women of color (Farrell 1). While the national office stated these members were kicked out due to a lack of commitment, Farrell explains that when “commitment” is seen as “white, thin, and ‘American,’” then the ousted members could never actually “look” committed (2). By valuing thin, white bodies over all others, fat bodies—especially when compounded by race and sexuality—could never be the “popular girl.” The popular girl is the Protein World model, the blonde bombshell: the girl that the viewer is certainly not, but could try to be, with the purchase of certain products and just a little more effort. This “abomination of the body,” or the shame of fatness that is so powerful that it impedes the onlooker’s ability to go about their own lives, creates a level of accountability for the fat person, making the onlooker’s reaction to their appearance their fault (Farrell 6). This shame is a result of a history of stigmatization of the fat person’s looks and character, only worsened by the alleged connection of weight to health. In 1887, an advertisement in Life magazine promoting a “flesh reducer” addresses and asks the reader, “To ladies! Are you corpulent?” followed by a promise to reduce the female user’s weight by ten to fifteen pounds a month (Farrell 25). By referencing advertisements from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Farrell points out that marketing campaigns targeting fatness have not changed all that much. Asking the viewer “Are you beach body ready?” is euphemistically asking, “Are you corpulent?” Fatness was transformed from a marker of prosperity to a “metaphoric representation of greed and corruption” (Farrell 31). The language of the advertisements and cartoons explicitly targets the fat person as an embodiment of primitive, immoral, and uncontrolled behavior (Farrell 34). The “war against obesity” is merely the alleged medical evidence needed to justify the vilification of fat people: we do not condemn fat people because they are fat, but because they are unhealthy. Thus, the “war against obesity” is in reality a war against fat people. The diet-industrial complex relies on the causality between thinness and health: if a person can be healthy and fat—and the presumed goal is to be healthy—why do we continue to ostracize fat people? Can we look at a person and determine their level of fitness? As Farrell shows by juxtaposing the facts of medical research—that one can be fat and healthy—and the 18


history of weight focused marketing campaigns, the goal is to be thin, at all costs. It is important to note that “health” in this chapter refers to physical wellbeing, typically determined by metabolic measures like blood pressure and cholesterol. Therefore, a person with satisfactory metabolic measures—disregarding size or body type—is healthy. While there is a correlation between excess body fat and health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis, determining at what weight or size fat people are at risk is convoluted as these findings often rely on body mass index, or BMI. As a simple calculation comparing weight to height, BMI has become known for its faulty determinations of whether a person is at a healthy weight. For example, many male athletes—given their height and their muscle mass—are deemed “overweight” or “obese” by the BMI calculation. Again, it is important to note that while there is a wealth of medical research that shows a correlation between obesity and health problems, it is assumed that all fat people have health problems. In reality, thin people are at a similar risk for high blood pressure—yet unless this thinness is extreme, there is little conversation regarding their metabolic measures. Yet, considering the persistence of height and weight exams like BMI, it is believed that a person’s health can be determined by the way that they look. Thus, fitness has become not so much a health category as it is a visual category. We look at a person’s body type and believe we can make a definitive statement on their fitness. Thinness—specifically the toned look of a model on Instagram as opposed to the extreme thinness exhibited by those who suffer from eating disorders—has become a signifier for fitness, regardless of a person’s eating or exercise habits. The rise of the diet industry not only exacerbated the desire to be thin but created it, as thinness was marketed not only as a body type, but a lifestyle: the popular, thin girl is promoted as having a happy relationship, a successful career, and a carefree life. Ironically, in the early 1920s, women were criticized for losing weight, as their new, active lifestyles provided too much freedom: they were becoming like men (Farrell 48). Body standards became a form of control: a woman’s body that is too thin or too fat hinted at homosexuality, criminality, and mental illness (Farrell 49). Women were expected to maintain the line of “civilized culture,” maintaining her doting, submissive role to her husband but also 19


remaining thin enough to aesthetically please him (Farrell 50). Just as the concept of the beach body suggests, a woman must conform to the geographic space and the expectations of the people around her—not the other way around. Protein World portrays losing weight as the central way to gain access to social spaces. As such, the products marketed in Protein World’s beach body marketing campaign make up the “Weight Loss Collection.” The “Slender Blend,” a low-calorie protein powder, the “Hunger Buster” capsule, a meal replacement tablet, and the “Fat Metabolizer Capsule,” a meal supplement tablet, are all advertised as an effective means for weight loss. As depicted by the plethora of women in workout clothes on the company’s Instagram, this diet regime is supposed to be used in conjunction with a dedicated exercise routine. By replacing two meals a day with some sort of low-calorie tablet or protein smoothie, paired with intensive exercise, it is not surprising that a person would lose weight. This pseudo-fast is not in the name of skinniness per se, however, but rather “fitness.” The girl with the beach body is “fit,” and she is “fit” because she is skinny. Again, fitness takes its place as a visual category—something that can be determined with a quick glance. This chapter will dissect the use of “fit” in celebrity endorsements on social media in order to examine what kinds of products are being promoted and to determine how these kinds of posts further reinforce beauty standards through a reinvigorated focus on body accountability. According to data by Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm that has tracked the U.S. weight loss market since 1989, the diet industry in the U.S. is worth $64 billion as of 2014 (Kell). This profit is almost evenly split between weight loss products and services, with products accounting for 49.3% of total profits and services accounting for 50.7% (LaRosa). As consumers engage more frequently with online fitness programs, Marketdata Enterprises predicts that weight loss services will gain momentum, as 83.3% of dieting consumers favor “do-it-yourself ” weight loss programs or the use of celebrity-endorsed diet plans (LaRosa). What exactly drives such an extreme level of participation in weight loss products and services? As Farrell explains, the diet industry is a complex: diet product manufacturers, pharmaceutical corporations, the advertising industry, and medical 20


practitioners all benefit financially from fat stigma (14). Thinking back to the Protein World advertisement, would the “Weight Loss Collection” sell if everyone believed that they were already beach body ready? In conjunction with Amy Farrell’s Fat Shame, Deborah Rhode’s The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law analyzes the $200 billion global investment in appearance in order to provide a systematic approach to tackle appearance-based stigma and discrimination. Rhode notes that the business model of the diet-industrial complex puts the consumer and corporate interests at odds: whereas the buyer benefits from the success of the diet, the business benefits from repeat purchases (50). Considering that 95% of dieters do not sustain any progress they make—and yet over 45 million Americans continue to diet each year—the goal of weight loss is lucrative enough for consumers to aim for the 5% success rate. As fat studies and feminist scholar Susie Orbach states, the diet industry’s “profitability depends on failure… and failure [is what] happens” (Rhode 50). The weight loss market frames this continued effort as in the name of “health,” while the motives of the industry make it clear that it is just to keep people buying more diet products. Whereas continuous failure may typically spur skepticism of a product or regime’s efficacy, the promotion of solely successful “weight loss journeys” places the blame on the consumer. Social media reinforces the importance of beauty and body image through the promotion of weight loss products and services. The hashtags #fitspiration (the combination of the words fitness and inspiration), frequently stylized as #fitspo, and #thinspiration (#thinspo) have been used as a way to organize content that is “inspiration” or continued motivation to achieve either a fit or thin look. As Rhode critiques, thinspiration “[supports] anorexics and bulimics who believe that they are making lifestyle choices rather than experiencing eating disorders” (54). In response to the widespread backlash against the use of #thinspiration, Instagram updated their safety guidelines to delete accounts that “[encourage] or [urge] users to embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders” and hashtags that “actively promote self-harm,” including thinspiration, are no longer searchable (Instagram). While most of the #thinspiration content is 21


undoubtedly inappropriate for its encouragement of eating disorders, it is interesting to note the language similarities between #thinspiration and #fitspiration posts. The current top posts of the #fitspo tag, like “This month’s choices are next month’s body,” “Suck it up now and you won’t have to suck it in later,” and “You need to do this for yourself ” may be hard to distinguish from the #thinspiration mantras. Similarly, Protein World posted an image of a woman in workout clothes on a beach with the accompanying caption, “When I lost all of my excuses I found all of my results” (Proteinworld). Fitspiration relies on accountability and necessity, as a person must be responsible for their appearance and cognizant that losing weight is crucial to their wellbeing. Achieving thinness in the name of “fitness” is acceptable, but achieving thinness for the sake of being thin is harmful. Despite the blackballing of the hashtag “thinspiration” among many Instagram fitness communities due to the revised community guidelines, Protein World still uses #thinspiration as a tag on the “Before and After” posts they share to their company account. Interestingly enough, the two most recent “Before and After” posts (both from the first week of November 2016) have been the first to use #thinspiration in over 52 weeks, with the other “Before and After” posts opting to use the hashtags “#motivation,” “#fitness,” “#wellness,” and “#healthychoices.” Through the associated hashtags, Protein World, like countless other fitness brands, reinforces the false narrative that weight loss is synonymous to health—and thinking transitively, if the products in the “Weight Loss Collection” elicit weight loss, they must elicit health, too. Farrell concludes that the “healthy body” is the modern interpretation of the “civilized body”: Today’s “healthy” body is one that is thin, stripped of any vestiges of fatness, just as Cuvier’s and then Lombroso’s [cultural anthropologists in the 18th and 19th centuries, respectively] most civilized bodies had no signs of fat. And, significantly, just as those 19th-century theories of civilization were frequently used to justify discrimination and inequities based on “science,” today’s theories of the “fit” body justify unfair treatment… (176). To substantiate the relationship between the healthy body and the civilized body, it is important to look at the language regarding 22


fatness. In both instances, the bodies have no “vestiges” or “signs” of fatness—again, something that is visually determined. In other words, a person’s citizenship is directly influenced by their appearance. The desire to avoid the aforementioned discrimination and unfair treatment is not only what fuels the weight loss industry but also what motivates the consumer to continuously try out new products and services. According to a study conducted by health psychologists at Flinders University in South Australia, fitspiration images have a positive effect on motivation to pursue healthy goals. However, these same images have a negative effect on body image due to appearance-based social comparison—or the participant’s failure of obtaining significant weight loss compared to the results of the “Before and After” participants seen on social media (Tiggemann and Zaccardo). Thus, consumers are simultaneously inspired by these posts—and inspired to invest in weight loss products and services—despite continuous disappointment. The American preoccupation with weight transcends social status, as tabloids exploit unflattering images of celebrities just as frequently as these same celebrities are paid to endorse beauty products. By exploring narratives of popular American figures—from celebrities to political figures—Farrell suggests that fatness is a motif to tell “the story of one’s upward, or downward, mobility” (118). The connotations of fatness—that a fat person is out of control, lazy, and indulgent—allow it to become a “discrediting attribute,” or an indication of improvement or decline in a person’s life (Farrell 118). Oprah Winfrey, one of the most celebrated and critically acclaimed television entertainers and media moguls, has experienced scrutiny for her multiple weight gains and subsequent losses. In a 2009 story about her most recent weight gain, Winfrey concluded that “[Success] doesn’t mean anything if you can’t fit into your clothes. It means the fat won” (Farrell 126). The validating power of weight and appearance stems from the role fatness has in denoting the civilized body. Winfrey cannot claim her successes if she is deemed uncivilized. Winfrey’s ability to influence American interests is unprecedented, as seen in the success of the items featured on her “Favorite Things” list or the widespread participation of her book club. Winfrey’s 1999 diet book Make the Connection: Ten Steps to a Better Life and accompany23


ing video were sold as a package that included “Oprah’s Daily Routine.” With her prominent influence, consumers were convinced that they could also achieve the same weight loss success if they followed her same schedule. A similar kind of endorsement—what buyers interpret as a promise—occurs with each issue of O, The Oprah Magazine that features headlines like “Get Your Best Body!” and “No More Diets! The Real Key to Weight Loss Inside” (O, The Oprah Magazine). With Winfrey’s own successful weight loss struggle paired with her valued endorsements of products, her diet tips appear as a foolproof way to lose weight. Brands hire celebrities to endorse their products to create a specific brand image in hopes that the brand identity resonates with consumer interests and aspirations. Oprah Winfrey is both her own brand and her own brand ambassador, allowing her to dictate her brand identity precisely. The success of the Winfrey brand and her endorsements comes from the perceived relationship between the products she promotes and their quality. Pre-existing literature suggests that celebrity endorsements are more effective when a consumer perceives a correlation between the celebrity and the promoted product (Choi and Rifon). In addition, the congruence between a consumer’s self-image—how they characterize themselves—and celebrity image is crucial in the success of the celebrity endorsement (Choi and Rifon). The effectiveness of the endorsement can also be dependent on the congruence between the celebrity and the consumer’s ideal self-image: the kind of person they would like to become. The Kardashian and Jenner clan are renowned for their use of sponsored posts on social media platforms. For example, four members of the Kardashian/Jenner family have been paid to endorse the brand Fit Tea and its products, self-promoted “detox” teas that act as diuretics. From an April 2016 post, Kylie Jenner posted a selfie with a bag of the Fit Tea detox with the caption “#ad using @fittea before my shoots is my favorite ” (Kyliejenner). The implication of this sponsored post is that Jenner really does use Fit Tea to get her coveted hourglass frame. Similarly, the Kardashian-wide sponsorship of waist trainers, a modern-day take on the corset that allegedly helps reduce abdominal fat, creates the illusion that the waist trainer is solely responsible for their figures. In a July 2016 post, Jenner states “#ad 24


I love sharing my beauty secrets with you guys and this is a favourite! @waisttrainer_nzaus helps to maintain and accentuate my curves and is one of the best quality waist trainers I have used” (Kyliejenner). A naïve Instagram follower might take this as a genuine endorsement of the product, but looking at the caption reveals an interesting error: the British spelling of “favorite.” It seems much more likely that Jenner merely copy and pasted the advertisement copy the brand sent to her, just as her brother-in-law Scott Disick got caught doing a few months prior (Weiss). It is important to note that the use of the hashtag “ad” or “sponsored” is a newly enforced requirement—implemented in August 2016—of the Federal Trade Commission for all paid endorsements in order to limit deceptive advertisements, especially those that do not explicitly disclose paid endorsement status. As a result of this crackdown, the Kardashian/Jenner family, like many other Instagram “influencers,” had to go through their accounts to revise their sponsored posts or delete them in their entirety. In a New York Times interview, Jaclyn Johnson, president of creative services at Small Girls PR, states “A few bloggers we work with say, ‘I want you to know, my engagement on posts that are tagged “#ad” or “#spon” get lower engagement than if that wasn’t there’” (Maheshwari). This discrepancy indicates that consumers want a genuine testimonial, as it would confirm that Fit Tea and waist trainers are actually responsible for the Kardashian figure. In other words, consumers desperately want to believe they can achieve their ideal self-image through purchasable goods. Considering the idealization of certain celebrity features, a consumer could build their ideal self-image based on achieving these aesthetic qualities. This celebrity inspired self-image could influence the decision to try the products and services that the celebrity claims they use to attain their physical appearance. Before admitting to receiving lip injections, Kylie Jenner explained her new, fuller lips were the result of a do-it-yourself lip plumping technique: placing your lips inside the rim of a shot glass and sucking out the air to create a suction effect. This prompted the “Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge,” a 2015 phenomenon where teenagers tried her technique, resulting in significant pain, swelling, and lacerations to their lips in attempt to get Jenner’s fuller look. After Jenner finally admitted to receiving lip 25


injections, the do-it-yourself lip plumper challenge ended. As Rhode explains, “For most appearance products, consumers’ only realistic protection is common sense” (142). Whereas Jenner revealed that her lips are cosmetically enhanced, the producers of misleading weight loss products will not confess that their products do not work as claimed, just as celebrity sponsors will not outright admit that they may not use the products they are paid to endorse. The diet-industry complex not only exacerbates insecurities through marketing campaigns, but it also exploits these insecurities to increase revenue. In a culture that champions the thin body over all others, losing weight is the only way for a person to claim his or her rightful citizenship as thin people do not suffer the same discrimination or body policing as their fat counterparts. By rendering civilized bodies and healthy bodies as visual categories, characteristics can be ascribed to a person by just looking at them. Since fatness and health are portrayed as mutually exclusive, fatness is seen as a deliberate, harmful choice that is somehow threatening to the onlooker. Thus, the rampant discrimination fat people face is seen as just punishment—or in other words, if someone wants to find a spouse, or receive adequate medical care, or move upwards in their career, they should lose weight. Disproving fat myths and challenging the construction of the normative body could begin to present all types of bodies as fit for citizenship. Works Cited Choi, Sejung Marina, and Nora J. Rifon. “It Is a Match: The Impact of Congruence between Celebrity Image and Consumer Ideal Self on Endorsement Effectiveness.” Psychology and Marketing 29.9 (2012): 639-50. Wiley Online. Web. Farrell, Amy Erdman. Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture. New York, NY: New York UP, 2011. Print. Instagram. “Instagram’s New Guidelines Against Self-Harm Images & Accounts.” Instagram Blog. Instagram, 20 Apr. 2016. Web. Kell, John. “Lean Times for the Diet Industry.” Fortune. Fortune Magazine, 21 May 26


2015. Web. Kyliejenner. @kyliejenner. “#ad I love sharing my beauty secrets…” Instagram, 29 July 2016, https://www.instagram.com/p/BIdn8OdB09F/?taken-by=kyliejenner Kyliejenner. @kyliejenner. “#ad using @fittea before my shoots…” Instagram, 28 April 2016, https://www.instagram.com/p/BEv4jEmHGqK/?hl=en LaRosa, John. “Momentum Shifts From Diet Products to Diet Services, Says Marketdata.” Marketdata Enterprises, Inc., 4 Feb. 2014. Web. Maheshwari, Sapna. “Endorsed on Instagram by a Kardashian, but Is It Love or Just an Ad?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Aug. 2016. Web. “O, The Oprah Magazine.” Hearst. Hearst, n.d. Web. <https://www.hearst.com/magazines/o-the-oprah-magazine>. Proteinworld. @proteinworld. “When I lost all my excuses…” Instagram, 30 October 2016, https://www.instagram.com/p/BML3j95BJ5a/?hl=en. Protein World. “Are You Beach Body Ready?” Advertisement. N.p., n.d. Web. Rhode, Deborah L. The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. Tiggemann, Marika, and Mia Zaccardo. ““Exercise to Be Fit, Not Skinny”: The Effect of Fitspiration Imagery on Women’s Body Image.” Body Image 15 (2015): 61-67. ScienceDirect. Web. Weiss, Suzannah. “Scott Disick Accidentally Revealed How Instagram Endorsements Work.” Refinery 29. Refinery 29, 19 May 2016. Web.

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Bratz Dolls: The Hypersexualization and the Exotification of “Otherness” By Isabella León-Chambers

Cloe (Angel), Jade (Kool Kat), Sasha (Bunny Boo), and Yasmin (Pretty Princess) are the names of the four original Bratz dolls. These “exotic” names compliment their pouty lips, high arched eyebrows, almond shaped eyes and short mini-skirts. Due to their racially ambiguous features, these dolls have supplied many children, growing up in a more diverse America, a new alternative to the light skinned, blond haired and blue-eyed Barbie. However, this multiethnic crew ultimately fabricates race as an accessory. By exoticizing otherness, constructing gender, and composing an unrealistic perspective of class, in a manner that commodifies “being ethnic” and innately “wild,” Bratz dolls emblematize the mutilating gaze of White fascination with the urban cultural experience. Ten years ago, a Latina woman working at a Mervyn’s Department Store told me that I looked like a Bratz doll. I was taken aback because it was clear to me that she meant this as a compliment. I smiled and laughed it off because, in my mind, the term Bratz doll seemed synonymous to the word “chola.” However, I wasn’t wearing any makeup or jewelry, so I was confused. Looking back, I see how this statement could be meant as a compliment; we live in a society where people are constantly tanning their skin, receiving collagen lip injections, and getting butt implants in an attempt to be considered more beautiful and sexually desirable. Specialized language, cultural identifiers, and linguistic flags of the inner-city experience (like “chola”) are all imported into the mainstream consciousness. Despite the 28


fact that European beauty standards are widely accepted throughout our society, there has always been a fascination with “the other” and their ethnic features. We can see this hijacking, and counter-hijacking, of cultural and ethnic accessories everyday within the fabric of our capitalist society. As a child, my three younger sisters and I were obsessed with Bratz dolls. Due to our multiracial background, we were drawn to the racially ambiguous Latina looking doll named Yasmin. We slowly began to reject Barbie because we had nothing in common with her features. In Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, Claudia, the young protagonist, aspires to dismember her White doll because “adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs – all agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured” (Morrison 21). Unfortunately, women of color are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of European standards of beauty due to internalized racism. However, Claudia is able to use this experience as a rehearsal space, a space for the rehabilitation for her sense of self-worth and power in the face of a white supremacist society. For decades, Barbie was the standard of beauty for young American girls. In contrast, Bratz dolls supply today’s generation of children, who do not necessarily adhere to European beauty standards, to find a doll that they can relate to, but this line ultimately transforms race into something that can be commodified. However, there are stereotypes embedded throughout the Bratz doll products. The only doll that seems to be of Asian descent represents the White fascination of notions connected to “The Orient.” However, before we move forward, we must unpack the West’s fetishization of the East. Edward Said, in his seminal work, Orientalism, states that Americans oftentimes associate the Orient with “the Far East (China and Japan, mainly)” (Said 1). He defines “Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient” (3). Not only is this doll with sleek black hair named Jade, an ornamental rock found in China, but her nickname is also “Kool Kat.” In Western culture, cats are typically portrayed as being unreliable in comparison to dogs, which are known as “man’s best friend.” On the other hand, in Japanese culture, the lucky cat figurine is supposed to bring good luck to its owner. Despite the fact 29


that these two connotations are on opposite ends of the spectrum, the terms are troublesome because they are framed by the West. They assert dominance over the East, and this allows them to transform a symbol of luck into an unreliable (even unlikeable) creature. Although the Bratz doll products are seemingly “innocent,” their depiction of “otherness” relies on a problematic discourse around race and ethnicity. It is no coincidence that the only White doll of the group, Cloe, is known as “Angel,” because morality and Christianity have historically been linked to Whiteness and even godliness. European standards of beauty spread across the globe as a result of colonialism and imperialism, which transmitted Western depictions of Jesus and angelic figures as having European features. Angels are supposed to possess qualities of purity, beauty and moral clarity. While still being depicted sexually, Cloe’s whiteness differentiates her purity from the remaining members of the group, who are women of color and representatives of the morally lax “other.” Throughout the 21st century, many companies have recognized the profitability of multicultural and exotic imagery. There has been a “trend toward the darkening of American racial identity generally – from the ceaseless growth in popularity of tanning salons… to the frequent elevation and visibility of people of color within the American public sphere” (Guerrero 190). An executive at MGA Entertainment, the company that produces Bratz dolls, once described how the racial ambiguity of the dolls prove to be advantageous because there are “little girls in South America who think Sasha is South African, girls in Samoa who thinks she is Samoan and girls in the United States who think she is from Harlem” (McAllister 248). Thus, the creators of Bratz use race as a tool to reach broader audiences. Consequently, this construction of “otherness” allows the Bratz line to profit off of ethnic features that are deemed as desirable accessories, which are seen as “cool” by consumers. Thus, the Bratz line profits while their customers remain framed by their “otherness.” These dolls teach young girls what is required for femininity, while simultaneously training them to strive for a consumer-oriented lifestyle. They highlight the performance of gender by necessitating the accumulation of items needed to be a “true woman.” Throughout 30


“‘Girls with a Passion for Fashion’: The Bratz Brand as Integrated Spectacular Consumption,” the author discusses the way in which these dolls’ outfits are “sexualized and therefore sold as defiantly adult-oriented fashion” to children (McAllister 251). The wardrobe of Bratz dolls is much skimpier in comparison to Barbie’s. These dolls are feeding off of “hoochie mama” fashion statements due to their heavy applications of makeup, eyebrows that are “on fleek,” and their use of “bling,” which starkly contrasts against the conservative nature of Barbie. Thus, Bratz dolls become objects of desire that create hypersexualized depictions of womanhood. By endowing these characters with sexual agency, which is entirely performative, the manufacturers cause these multiethnic dolls to be deemed as innately “wild” and immoral in contrast to their Barbie counterparts. By perpetuating notions of exotic “otherness,” this line of dolls constructs depictions of women of color as more “sexually available” than their White female peers. Stuart Hall writes that fetishism is defined as “a powerful fascination or desire [that] is both indulged and at the same time denied” (Hall 267). These fetishized dolls help to further eroticize women of color due to the consumerist gaze and white American voyeurism, which both admires and disdains this type of hypersexualized imagery. The author of “Difference That Is Actually Sameness Mass-Reproduced: Barbie joins the Princess Convergence,” argues that “the stereotypes of the overly sexualized woman of color are well-established… in the case of the Bratz dolls, their color stands as one more signifier of sexy” (Orr 24). In turn, these products enable the hypersexualization of black and brown female bodies in dominant culture to reach an audience of children who are as young as 4-years-old. Over the past decade, there has been an outcry from mothers concerned about the role of these dolls in their children’s lives. The hypersexualization of young girls is undeniable, especially in a society that bombards women with brainwashing images of the ideal “sexy” female body. However, the arguments that these “Moms for Modesty” make tote a tone of moral superiority. Not only do “Moms for Modesty” “believe that it is unwise and unfair to taunt boys and young men by permitting [their daughters] to dress in an immodest manner,” but they also call for “common-sense modesty for girls 31


and young women” (Adventures in Parenting). These mothers employ the archaic argument that provocative clothing provokes men, while simultaneously implying that women of color dress more seductively than their White peers. As a result, Bratz dolls insight a moral panic amongst White stay-at-home moms (Valdivia 89). Since women of color are often characterized as undisciplined, inappropriately sexual, and unrefined, Bratz dolls perpetuate these stereotypes with their brattitude, which commonly renders ethnic girls as being more confrontational and sassier than their White counterparts. Even though the problematic nature of these products is undeniable, Bratz dolls use their brattitude to seize power from what has been culturally acceptable for years by threatening what is expected of a civilized and well-behaved young lady. By dictating what is stylish, womanly, and cool to young girls, these racialized urban dolls teach consumers that you are what you wear. The urban wardrobe of Bratz dolls contains “platform boots, midriff tops, mini skirts, baby tees, fur jackets and skull caps (Guerrero 189). As the dolls appropriate streetwear in an effort to earn “street cred,” from consumers, their efforts ultimately fail because none of them have jobs in their materialistic Bratz world, which would allow them to pay for such items. As a result, Bratz dolls construct an unrealistic view of class. Guerrero points out that the Bratz “are [never] in a space of work; instead they are always marketed in spaces of pleasure and consumption;” furthermore, “these dolls naturalize an upper-middle-class vision of the world through the erasure of markers of any kind, most notably jobs, that would denote other, lower classes” (Guerrero 192). Even though dolls allow children to imagine a lighthearted world where they can be carefree consumers, Barbie has been historically shown as being career-oriented. The bizarre construction of class throughout the Bratz line is invalid because its sole purpose is to encourage young girls to imitate styles popular in urban areas while also striving to achieve a consumerist lifestyle without having a job. Analyzing the problematic representations of race/ethnicity throughout the Bratz doll line is vital to unpacking a discourse about race in the West and how ideas of race are disseminated through material culture. These products fabricate race/ethnicity as some32


thing you can wear and something that can be removed whenever it is most desirable to do so. For example, Guerrero states that privileged “white, little girls... are able to ‘play the exotic’ through the dolls, all from the security of their largely suburban lifestyles” (Guerrero 193). Thus, Bratz dolls merely fashion race as an accessory. In the real world, racial markers cannot simply be removed in a society fraught with institutionalized racism. Despite the fact that these products are undeniably problematic, due to the way they eroticize “otherness” and the female body, Bratz dolls are able to destabilize the norm of Barbie beauty standards. By being more “wild,” than their white Barbie peers, Bratz dolls are able to use their “otherness” to be “cooler” and more desirable than their competitors, allowing these products to benefit from otherness at the expense of “the other.” Works Cited Guerrero, Elizabeth. “Can the Subaltern Shop? The Commodification of Difference in the Bratz dolls.” Cultural Studies - Critical Methodologies, vol. 9, no. 2, 2009, pp. 186-196. Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Sage Publications, 1997. McAllister, Matthew. “‘Girls with a Passion for Fashion’: The Bratz Brand as Integrated Spectacular Consumption.” Journal of Children and Media, vo.1, no. 3, 2007, pp. 244–258. “Moms for Modesty.” Adventures in Parenting, 23 April 2008, www.aiparenting.com/2008/04/23/moms-for-modesty/ Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. Vintage International, 2007. Orr, Lisa. “‘Difference That Is Actually Sameness Mass-Reproduced’: Barbie Joins the Princess Convergence.” Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, vol. 1, no.1, 2009, pp. 9-30. Said, Edward. Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1979. Valdivia, Angharad. “Living in a Hybrid Material World: Girls, Ethnicity, and Mediated Doll Products.” Girlhood Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, 2009, pp. 73-93. 33


LAWRENCE WU PHOTOS

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The Colonizers Arrive in Koreatown leer warily at their graffitied surroundings the foreign, grimy streets lined with brown people yellow people throngs of baggedchicharrรณn tied to elotecarts and fruitstands all they want is that Yelp-Reviewed Jonathan Gold-Affirmed Exotic New koreanfood at the bottom of a LuxuryCondo across from a dilapidated cardboardhome while halmuni limps along with her cane on her way to the piss-stained busstation and ajumma drives by in her pristine bmw fresh from the manipedi and skaters roll along high and oblivious

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hardened eyes windows shut by curtained burdens refuse to see only deflect strong shoulders steady back head held high his rigid mouth utters silence trace each jag ged curve a story pride never told gaze at his stoic face illegible a mind devoured by wrinkles in time

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Photo by Lawrence Wu

Last Week a halmuni an 83-year old grandma was assaulted by a woman she yelled WHITE POWER before bashing her head in with her fist. -Debora Bang

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Unyielding Earth: The Climate of Racism and the Corporeal Effects of Violence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison By Maya Singhal Abstract This thesis uses the fiction of Toni Morrison in order to explore how racial trauma is corporeally inherited. Most of Morrison’s work is set in all-Black towns, in liminal time periods (such as that of the transition from slavery to freedom in Beloved) in which Black children do not always have direct contact with white people. Therefore, while many of the older characters in Morrison’s novels have had traumatic experiences with white people, their children may not. Still, the children internalize the logics of white supremacy and anti-Blackness, and the legacies of legalized enslavement, even without any traumatic interactions with white people to enforce this internalization of racism. In this paper, I explore how Black parents pass down their racial trauma to their children, literally shaping their children’s bodies—their phenotypical features, their corporeal existences, their bodily expression of age—through the lens of white supremacy. Rather than merely framing parental abuse as an example of racial violence transmitted through the generations, I read Morrison’s work as suggesting that racial violence is an historical, environmental trauma that has shaped the corporeality and the mentality of every person in American society. Not only does Morrison suggest that Black parents are culpable for how they reproduce racism and violence on the bodies of their children, she argues that violence in American society stems from the unhealthy climate white people created through genocide and legalized enslavement. This thesis is written in three chapters 38


with two brief interludes that accentuate the argument. All of the chapters discuss instances of parental violence that transmits racial trauma to their children, re-creating their children’s bodies through racism and white supremacy. The interludes deal with Sula, which is useful for introducing themes that are important to my understanding of the making and unmaking of the self in Morrison’s work. What follows is an excerpt from this thesis, comprised of the first interlude and the chapter about Beloved. Interlude: Sula – Some Thoughts on Creation How is a person made? In Sula, Eva makes the deweys by giving them names—or rather, one name: Dewey, which, in its tripling, becomes lowercase. “Well. Look at Dewey. My my mymymy” (37), she says. “My my mymymy” and, suddenly: one – two – one, two, three—there are three equal deweys. Morrison writes: “Slowly each boy came out of whatever cocoon he was in at the time his mother or somebody gave him away, and accepted Eva’s view, becoming in fact as well as in name a dewey—joining with the other two to become a trinity with a plural name… inseparable, loving nothing and no one but themselves” (38). Although the deweys do not actually look alike, their insistence upon sameness makes it impossible for anyone to tell them apart. Eventually, they stop growing “except for their magnificent teeth” (84). Morrison writes: “They had been forty-eight inches tall for years now, and while their size was unusual, it was not unheard of. The realization [that they would not grow] was based on the fact that they remained boys in mind. Mischievous, cunning, private and completely unhousebroken, their games and interests had not changed since Hannah had them all put into the first grade together” (84-5). So perhaps this is how a person—or group of people—is made: through an insistence upon his sameness, through deep and selfish, exclusive friendship. At first glance, one might not assume that this is how Sula and Nel were made. Perhaps Sula was made through her witnessing of independent women: Eva and Hannah, and their man-loving, which leaves Sula unable to understand possessiveness or jealousy until she meets Ajax. Or perhaps Sula shaped something of herself all her own. 39


Certainly, Sula’s individuality shapes the town: “Their conviction of Sula’s evil changed them in accountable yet mysterious ways. Once the source of their personal misfortune was identified [Sula], they had leave to protect and love one another” (117). Thus, only through opposition to Sula can the townspeople become good to each other. At first glance, the grown Nel appears to be one of the townspeople, hurt by Sula. However, at the end of the novel, Nel talks about Sula in a way that suggests more similarities than differences between them and the deweys: “ ‘We was girls together,’ [Nel] said as though explaining something. ‘O Lord, Sula,’ she cried, ‘girl, girl, girlgirlgirl’ ” (174). Mirroring Eva and the deweys, Nel again gives us the one – two – one, two, three pattern: one for Sula, two for Nel, and three, perhaps, for the single whole they make when they are together. Like the “my my mymymy” deweys, Nel and Sula are revealed as inextricable from each other. They are the deweys’ foils—and, just as no one can tell the deweys apart, neither can Eva tell Nel and Sula apart when Nel goes to visit her after Sula’s death. Eva says, “You. Sula. What’s the difference?” (168). And perhaps it’s true. When Sula kills Chicken Little by accident, Nel watches, just as Sula watches when her mother burns to death and Eva jumps out of the window to save her. So perhaps, this is the way a person is made: through genuine friendship, the insistence upon closeness, the sharing of everything. Is a person made in death? The correct question for this instance might be: How is a body changed?—rather than How is a person made? Perhaps Eva does not (re)create Plum in her murder by fire, but consider: On the one hand, Eva kills Plum to avoid “[birthing] him twice” (71). On the other, the gasoline on Plum feels like “[s]ome kind of baptism, some kind of blessing” (47). So maybe Plum really is re-created by Eva in the eyes of the Lord, her violence against him a way to impart the things she has come to know: “a big man can’t be a baby all wrapped up inside his mamma no more; he suffocate” (72). So when she couldn’t send him back off into the world, Eva sent him to God. Maybe this is one way a person is remade: in death. Beloved – Power in a Slave Society Something is certainly created when Sethe kills her “crawling 40


already? baby girl.” If, before the murder, the separation between Sethe’s self and the baby’s self is in question, the murder creates a spirit of the crawling already? girl distinctly separate from Sethe. When Paul D expels the spirit from the house, he re-creates a physical body for the spirit, but the spirit also goes back to seeing herself and Sethe as nearly one and the same. Similarly to Plum, Beloved seems to become a newborn again, feeding off Sethe’s body and her stories. In a sense, there are two ways to read Sethe killing Beloved: as murder or as suicide. The question of creation through death necessitates the question of the boundaries of the self: If we understand Beloved as a person of her own apart from her mother, the murder is deplorable, and it seems clear that Beloved’s spirit is shaped and racialized into slavery through the abusive violence of her mother, ostensibly necessitated by a slave society that offers no other ways out, or no ways out at all. However, if we instead understand Beloved as being a part of her mother, Sethe’s suicide becomes an expression of power in a racist society. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle. Sethe does murder Beloved, but it is an act that seems necessary to invert the racist social order—not an act of desperation so much as an act of power. The murder underscores Sethe’s power, and it also forces her children to become pawns—or even slaves—in the game of power. Beloved sacrifices her life for Sethe’s freedom, not her own. It is only after Sethe sells her body to engrave “Beloved” on her crawling already? baby girl’s tomb stone that the baby’s ghost begins to haunt the house. Perhaps it is the murder that gives the baby ghost its independent spirit, its single-mindedness in haunting 124. Certainly, the murder separates mother from daughter, living from dead. But perhaps, it is the naming, too, that allows the baby’s spirit to become independent from its mother and start wreaking havoc on her life, as the naming allows Beloved to be something different than Sethe—not just in body or life, but in language. However, when Beloved returns as a physical body after Paul D exorcizes her spirit from the house, she does her best to become one again with Sethe. Beloved fears falling apart. When she loses a tooth, she thinks, “Next would be her arm, her hand, a toe. Pieces of her would drop maybe one at a time, maybe all at once. Or on one of 41


those mornings before Denver woke and after Sethe left she would fly apart. It is difficult keeping her head on her neck, her legs attached to her hips when she is by herself ” (157). Beloved “by herself ” fears the dissolution of her body, so she clings to Sethe—and occasionally Paul D and Denver—in order to maintain herself. She requires the presence of a stabilizing other in order to exist. In “The Bonds of Love and the Boundaries of Self in Toni Morrison’s Beloved,” Barbara Schapiro writes, A free autonomous self… is still an essentially relational self and is dependent on the recognizing response of an other. Beloved powerfully dramatizes the fact that… “In order to exist for oneself, one has to exist for another” ([Jessica Benjamin] 53); in so doing, it enacts the complex relationship of social and intrapsychic reality. For Morrison’s characters, African-Americans in a racist, slave society, there is no reliable other to recognize and affirm their existence. (155) Thus, when Beloved returns, her struggle to find herself and maintain her stable body is inherently linked to her struggle to be recognized by Sethe. Schapiro argues that, since the slave system denies intersubjectivity, the mother and child are unable to recognize each other as subjects, so that, “[a]s a young girl, Sethe had to have her mother ‘pointed out’ to her by another child. When she becomes a mother herself, she is so deprived and depleted that she cannot satisfy the hunger for recognition, the longed for ‘look,’ that both her daughters crave” (158). However, Beloved seems to desire more than an ordinary recognition from Sethe. Schapiro believes, “In the case of Beloved, the intense desire for recognition evolves into enraged narcissistic omnipotence and a terrifying tyrannical domination” (158), but I believe that, similarly to Plum in Sula, Beloved’s lack of self and a stable sense of body pushes her to want to take Sethe’s body—not to crawl back into the womb like Plum, for in the womb, she was conversely more alone—but to feed off of Sethe’s body like a newborn in order to create a stable sense of self by sucking from her mother’s. Thus, Beloved becomes hungry for Sethe. She tells Denver, “[Sethe] is the one. She is the one I need” (89). Beloved insatiably 42


desires Sethe’s stories, and Sethe begins to tell Beloved stories she has never told before. But Beloved’s hunger for Sethe grows and grows, and it begins to seem as though Beloved is trying to take from Sethe enough of herself to become Sethe. Like Plum, who was in danger of crawling back into Eva’s womb, Beloved similarly is a grown woman who wishes for the same constant giving from her mother as required by newborn child, despite Sethe’s inability to fulfill this excessive desire. Unlike Plum, however, the place from which the spirit Beloved came seems to be a womb, and in the womb, she was alone. Beloved tells Denver, “I don’t want that place. This is the place I am” (146), and she illustrates to Denver what it was like in “that place”: “Denver watches as Beloved bends over, curls up and rocks. Her eyes go to no place; her moaning is so small Denver can hardly hear it” (146). Beloved’s curling up illustrates her fetal position in the womb, and her small moaning seems to indicate the pain of being a fetus all alone in the dark. Beloved’s desire to become one with Sethe is thus more like a newborn who craves their mother’s milk. Beloved desires to feed off the body of her mother, though, like Plum and Eva, Sethe is not strong enough to survive the newborn-like desires that have grown in proportion to the grown woman’s body of Beloved. As Denver witnesses this fight between her mother and her sister, Morrison writes, “The flesh between her mother’s forefinger and thumb was thin as china silk and there wasn’t a piece of clothing in the house that didn’t sag on her. Beloved held her head up with the palms of her hands, slept wherever she happened to be, and whined for sweets although she was getting bigger, plumper by the day” (281). Beloved’s growth and Sethe’s shrinking suggest Beloved’s living and growing off the life of her mother, as though she really was still a baby. This is further exemplified when Morrison writes that “it was Beloved who made demands. Anything she wanted she got, and when Sethe ran out of things to give her, Beloved invented desire” (283). Beloved’s growing from Sethe’s shrinking suggests the more than merely parental quality to their relationship—Sethe’s relationship to Beloved is one of continual breastfeeding, a time of merging and line blurring between the body of the mother and that of the child, as the child grows from the mother’s milk. If we still understand Beloved as separate from her mother, 43


despite her attempts to be one with her, Sethe’s murder of Beloved must be understood as an act which shapes the baby’s body through racial violence, passing down this violence to the child herself. In this understanding of the text, Sethe fears the future enslavement of her children so much that she attempts to kill them in order to protect them. To her, in a slave society, there is no other way. Sethe says, “if I hadn’t killed her she would have died and that is something I could not bear to happen to her” (236). Sethe believes that, in killing her children, she “carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them. Over there. Outside this place, where they would be safe” (192). Never does it occur to Sethe that her violence against her children might “hurt them” or compromise their safety or even really kill them. In fact, Sethe’s violence ironically forces Beloved to experience the Middle Passage and become a symbol of all slaves in the novel. As Jean Wyatt writes, “Beloved herself ends up outside social discourse, wandering, after the narrative’s conclusion, in a limbo where she is ‘[d]isremembered and unaccounted for’…. Her position in the epilogue is symmetrical with that of the ‘Sixty Million and more’ of Morrison’s epigraph” (240). In Beloved’s own narrative at the end of the novel, she describes her experience after death, saying “there will never be a time when I am not crouching and watching others who are crouching too I am always crouching the man on my face is dead… small rats do not wait for us to sleep someone is thrashing but there is no room to do it in… we are all trying to leave our bodies behind” (248-9). The description might be that of a mass grave or that of a slave ship, and the reader must wonder if there can be a difference between the two. Sethe’s violence at once puts Beloved in the grave and transmits the racial trauma of slavery to her such that Beloved is forced to experience in death exactly what her death was intended to prevent. Just as Sethe does not think that her violence against her children might actually harm them, neither does it occur to her that her violence against her children might, in turn, teach them violent ways to love. When Sethe, Denver and Beloved visit Baby Suggs’s clearing in the woods where she used to preach, Sethe asks the spirit of Baby Suggs to rub her neck. Instead, “Putting the thumbs at the nape, 44


while the fingers pressed the sides. Harder, harder, the fingers moved slowly around toward her windpipe, making little circles on the way. Sethe was actually more surprised than frightened to find that she was being strangled” (113). At first, Sethe believes Baby Suggs must have strangled her, and she allows Beloved a moment of intimacy in which Beloved kisses her neck where bruises from the spirit’s fingers had been. However, once Sethe and the girls start back to the house, Sethe realizes that the hands must have been those of her crawling already? baby girl: “Maybe that was where it had gone to. After Paul D beat it out of 124, maybe it collected itself in the clearing” (116). But Denver realizes that the hands were Beloved’s—of course, making Sethe mostly correct, too, although Sethe doesn’t quite realize who Beloved is—and Denver confronts Beloved: “You did it, I saw you,” said Denver. “What?” “I saw your face. You made her choke.” “I didn’t do it.” “You told me you loved her.” “I fixed it, didn’t I? Didn’t I fix her neck?” “After. After you choked her neck.” “I kissed her neck. I didn’t choke it. The circle of iron choked it.” (119) Like Sethe, Beloved also denies the violence she enacts in the name of love, and, like Sethe, Beloved’s violent love is tinged with the racial trauma of slavery: “The circle of iron” that chokes Sethe, which is both the chains of slavery and also Beloved’s hands, illustrates the passing down of the violent memory of slavery from Sethe to Beloved through Sethe’s violent love. Perhaps, too, where “[t]he circle of iron” chokes Sethe, so did the iron of the handsaw kill Beloved with a sliced throat, just where Beloved chokes Sethe. This expression of racialized, violent love at the neck becomes reciprocal. When Sethe sees the school teacher coming to take her back to slavery, she says she, “[c]ollected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil” (192). She says, “if she thought anything it was No. No. Nono. Nonono” (192). Like the “my my mymymy” deweys or Sula and Nel’s “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl” in 45


Sula, Sethe’s no’s illustrate her oneness with her children. In the one – two – one, two – one, two, three of the “No. No. Nono. Nonono” we hear “Howard. Buglar. Beloved, Denver. Beloved, Denver, Sethe.” Beloved, Denver, and Sethe are the last three to become one. When Sethe realizes that Beloved is her crawling already? baby girl, she says, “Obviously the hand-holding shadows she had seen on the road [when they went to the carnival and came back to find Beloved sleeping under a tree] were not Paul D, Denver and herself, but ‘us three’ ” (214): Beloved, Denver, and Sethe. The hand-holding shadows not only represent the three of them as a single family but as a single entity—their shadows all joined to make one three-headed thing. By the end of the novel, Beloved gets her wish of joining with Sethe to become one. In three consecutive chapters, Sethe, Denver, and Beloved express ownership over one another. Sethe says, “Beloved, she my daughter. She mine” (236). Denver says, “Beloved is my sister. I swallowed her blood right along with my mother’s milk” (242), suggesting that Denver’s body is made up both of parts of her mother’s body, as any infant is, and parts of her sister’s body—her blood. Beloved begins, “I AM BELOVED and she is mine” (248). The capitalization is part of the formatting of the novel, indicating the first word or words of a chapter, but in this case, the capitalization masks a distinction that might be made in the use of the word “beloved.” If “Beloved” is capitalized, Beloved might merely be stating her own name. However, if “beloved” is lowercase, Beloved indicates that she is loved by Sethe, and this love is what makes Sethe belong to Beloved (“she is mine”), for by loving Beloved, Sethe attaches herself. The ambiguity of the capitalization suggests the possibility of both readings simultaneously. It also suggests that Beloved’s naming forces the action of Sethe loving her all along. As Beloved’s narrative continues, she doesn’t use any punctuation, which, to Schapiro, “[highlights] the fantasy of merging and oneness at the essence of her plaintive ramblings” (163). Beloved confirms this reading when she says, “I am not separate from her there is no place where I stop her face is my own and I want to be there in the place where her face is and to be looking at it too” (248). Beloved goes on to describe her experience of slavery in death, and the lack of punctuation seems, also, to express her lack of body, of 46


physical boundaries, as in death—or of self-ownership, as in slavery. Then, Beloved sees Sethe, somehow, which brings her back from the dead, as Beloved says, I am looking for the join I am loving my face so much my dark face is close to me I want to join she whispers to me she whispers I reach for her chewing and swallowing she touches me she knows I want to join she chews and swallows me I am gone now I am her face my own face has left me I see me swim away… I am alone I want to be the two of us I want the join. (251-2) Thus, when Beloved comes back from the dead, she has lost herself and become incorporated into Sethe and Sethe’s experiences of slavery—chewed and swallowed—though, of course, they have different bodies. The “chewing and swallowing,” the incorporation of Beloved in the body of Sethe is what brings Beloved back to life, forcing Beloved to attempt that joining when she returns, hence the mirroring of Sethe’s “chewing and swallowing” in Beloved’s hunger for Sethe. Perhaps Beloved was a part of Sethe all along, only independent in death, which explains the independent fury of the baby’s spirit at first in 124. Therefore, as Beloved was always a part of Sethe, Sethe not only sees her murder of Beloved as keeping Beloved from harm, but she also sees it not really as a murder at all because Beloved isn’t really her own person. Really, Sethe’s killing of Beloved might be construed as a suicide. According to Vincent Brown, it was common for newly enslaved Africans brought to Jamaica to slit their own throats. He writes, “If so many Africans were sanguine about suicide, it was probably because Africans believed they would return home to their ancestral lands after death, and there be reunited with lost kin and friends as spirits and ancestors” (Brown 25). In this context, one can read Sethe’s killing of Beloved as an act of care: it sends her to a better place where she could be safe and loved. Suicide also undermines the legal fact of the slave as property someone owns. In killing Beloved, Sethe undermines the property rights of the schoolteacher. Additionally, Sethe asserts her right as a parent to be the sole person in charge of her own body and those of her children. 47


This scene conjures a tension between the loss of life through enslavement and the duty of a parent to prevent rather than foster the loss of a child’s life. In both instances, someone controls and potentially usurps the bodily autonomy of the child. Generally, a parent’s right to shape a child’s life is little questioned. For some people who believe that fetuses are already entities independent from their mothers, abortion is potentially one example of parents having the right to decide whether their children’s bodies exist at all. Most people would at least say that killing an already born child is an unacceptable way for a parent to usurp a child’s bodily autonomy. However, in the case of Beloved, it is an act that is measured against the alternative: slavery. Killing Beloved is an act that states that a mother’s right to her children’s bodies is greater than a slave master’s right to these bodies—that blood matters more than money. I would argue that Sethe’s murder of Beloved falls somewhere in between the abusive, violent, racialized love that would put her in the category of parents like Cholly and the assertion of bodily autonomy and kindness that would allow us to think about the murder as a radically powerful suicide. Certainly, this murder is an enactment of power, but it is not an act that gives Beloved power— except over Sethe. By killing her daughter, Sethe inverts a racialized social order that allows slave owners to rule through fear, and instead, creates fear in the slave owners based on their perceptions of Sethe’s instability. Sethe kills her daughter in an expression of power that allows her freedom, but traps Beloved in death and slavery. Unlike the first African slaves, Beloved’s soul doesn’t know its homeland—or its homeland is the slave ship and the slave-owning South of the United States. Beloved has no kin or friends in Africa. Death enslaves her. She gives up her freedom, her life, for Sethe’s. As Brown describes, according to Jamaican slave owner Bryan Edwards, “In countries where slavery is established, the leading principle on which the government is supported is fear: or a sense of that absolute coercive necessity which, leaving no choice of action, supersedes all questions of right” (24). The threat of extraordinary physical punishment—but also, according to Brown, the policing of slaves’ spiritual imaginations—instilled in slaves a sense of fear great enough to keep them in line. However, Sethe’s murders of her own 48


children switch these dynamics. When the schoolteacher comes to get Sethe and her children, Morrison calls them “the four horsemen” (174), but perhaps, it is really Sethe who brings apocalypse down on them. After all, Sweet Home falls apart not long after. The men know that “[u]nlike a snake or a bear, a dead nigger could not be skinned for profit and was not worth his own dead weight in coin” (174-5). Thus, Sethe’s killing Beloved firstly diminishes the slave owner’s profits. But further, on seeing Sethe trying to murder her children, Right off it was clear, to schoolteacher especially, that there was nothing there to claim. The three… pickaninnies they had hoped were alive and well enough to take back to Kentucky, take back and raise properly to do the work Sweet Home desperately needed, were not. Two were lying openeyed in sawdust; third pumped blood down the dress of the main one—the woman schoolteacher bragged about…. But now she’d gone wild, due to the mishandling of the nephew who’d overbeat her and made her cut and run…. The whole lot was lost now. Five. He could claim the baby struggling in the arms of the mewing old man, but who’d tend her? Because the woman—something was wrong with her. (175-6) More than simply destroying the property that was her children, Sethe instills fear of her wildness in the men such that they allow for her freedom after she is released from prison. Where slaves are kept in check out of fear, of “a sense of that absolute coercive necessity,” by killing Beloved, Sethe instills a fear of the lengths to which she will go in the schoolteacher and his nephew so that they will let her be free. The price for Sethe’s freedom is her children. She loses Beloved, of course, but in a sense, she loses all of her children to their fear of her. Just as slaves might watch their masters for signs of impending violence, so do Sethe’s children watch her for the signs that she will try to kill another one of them. Thus, Howard and Buglar don’t stop holding hands for a long time after their mother’s attack. Thus, they tell Denver “kill witch” stories to teach her to watch out for the signs from their mother. The children lack Sethe’s knowledge of slavery’s perils, but they are nonetheless shaped by the legacies of 49


slavery through her actions. They find their bodily autonomy already circumscribed. Works Cited Brown, Vincent. “Spiritual Terror and Sacred Authority in Jamaican Slave Society.” Slavery and Abolition, 24, 1, April 2003, 24-53. Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Vintage International, 1987. ---. Sula. Vintage International, 1973. Schapiro, Barbara. “The Bonds of Love and the Boundaries of Self in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Understanding Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Sula, edited by Solomon O. Iyasere and Marla W. Iyasere, Whitston Publishing Company, 2000, 155-172. Wyatt, Jean. “Giving Body to the Word: The Maternal Symbolic in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Understanding Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Sula, edited by Solomon O. Iyasere and Marla W. Iyasere, Whitston Publishing Company, 2000, 231-257.

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Veiled Intimacies in the Colonial Home By Lilli Biltucci

The tendrils of modern colonial power stretch across oceans and continents, linking cotton fields in South Carolina to textile factories in Lancashire, poppy fields yielding raw materials for opium in the farmlands beyond Calcutta (Kolkata) to indentured laborers stowed away in vessels departing Canton, and silver mines in South America to afternoon tea in London (Lowe 89). Arteries of goods and bodies circuit the globe, fracturing out like capillaries across colonial territories to link intimate spaces to these broad channels of power. Scholar Lisa Lowe theorizes on the symbolism of these goods as materializing bourgeois tastes, proving that one can read within the bedposts dripping with the finest chintz fabrics and fragrant Assam tea leaves steeping in silver tea services the legacies of colonial power (Lowe 195-6). Thus, the home becomes evidentiary of colonial occupation. Using Lowe’s second definition of intimacy “…[as] privacy, often figured as conjugal and familial relations in the bourgeois home, distinguished from the public realm of work, society and politics…” established in her essay “The Intimacies of Four Continents” to evaluate the connection between colonial power and material conditions reveals the different layers of “privacy” in the home. Initially, the intimacy of domestic space is protected from public space by a veil of privacy, and even within the domestic space other veils exist between members of the home. Lowe continues on to assert that the home in Western-centric colonial-rule societies is a constructed “domestic” sphere involved in a dialectic with the “public” space of labor and civic life. The establishment of a privatized, both in the economic and social sense, domestic sphere allowed for white supremacist 51


patriarchal subjugation to silence colonial subjects by rendering their labor invisible to those both outside the private home and within it. So an intimacy that makes private the “conjugal or familial relations” in the bourgeois home, distinguished from the public sphere, draws up the veils to conceal the indentured laborer or enslaved person as domestic laborer (Lowe 195). These veils make possible the dislocation of global colonized labor from the bourgeois home., insulating it from the labor of African slaves and Asian indentured workers, subjects who by force traveled those global circuits. This domestic sphere conducted dual functions: for enslaved and indentured workers it was an oppressive unregulated workplace, for married European white women, it was a psychologically damning atmosphere of boredom. Both enslaved or indentured laborers along with white women existed behind these veils in respective states of subjugation—domestic servitude and marriage—under colonial occupation. In her book Women, Race and Class, Angela Davis deals directly with industrial capitalism’s relationship to racialized labor, arguing that industrialization delegitimized household labor for white women within patriarchal marital life by transferring work from the home to the factory (Davis 228). Middle and upper class white women henceforth became the fabled “housewife” figure, which Davis says, “reflected a partial reality, for she was really a symbol of the economic prosperity enjoyed by the emerging middle classes,” a prosperity bolstered by global circuits of colonial power (230). However, this rendered housework, already a duty of enslaved women in the era of legal American slavery, into a form of unregulated employment for newly freed slaves in American domestic settings after 1865. The fight on behalf of American white feminists for liberation from their domestic subjugation willfully ignored the suppression of raced and gendered bodies keeping those very homes clean (233). Similar ideological currents appear across post-emancipation societies. In “Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor” Evelynn Nakano Glenn problematizes a white feminist analysis of women’s oppression. She draws attention to colonial labor systems and other forms of racialized oppression to reveal how the differentiation between work and domestic spheres, private and public lives, and reproduction subjugate racial ethnic women into invisible and subhuman conditions. 52


Lisa Lowe too references exclusion of colonial subjects from public European-American capitalist society, stating that “native-descendant peoples, African slaves, and indentured Chinese could be said to be...differentiated from yet subordinate to...notions of privacy and publicity” (Lowe 195). Despite being relegated outside the privileges of white society, colonial subjects are affected by these sites of public and private because of their forced role in building and maintaining them. But it is amongst the veils of privacy that their labor is made invisible. In Lowe’s analysis, the indentured or enslaved body in the colonial Caribbean was fundamental to the construction and maintenance of the home, which in Glenn’s work proves to be a gendered body. Glenn presents occupational distributions in 1930 in the United States for black women, white women, Chinese women, and Mexican women, which demonstrate that American women of color continue to significantly populate agriculture and domestic labor industries (Glenn 93). In 1930, as decolonization efforts gain strength across Asia and Africa, these conditions for America’s women of color exemplify durable colonial legacy of placing these women, formerly subjects, in subordinate, exhaustive, and invisible work in the domestic sphere. Being that this labor was racialized and gendered in colonial societies, Lowe problematizes Enlightenment ideas of a universal “freedom” applied in legitimizing colonial rule. This freedom was inherent for the “individual” in Western society, a state of being constructed and upheld by Enlightenment philosophy that was reserved for white patriarchal slave masters and plantation owners. Colonial subjects did not access “freedom” as these “individuals” did due to their exteriority to full humanity (Lowe 197). This shapes the life of the enslaved or indentured body even in the domestic sphere, where Enlightenment individualism under the guise of “freedom” emboldened rich, white colonizers to own and dominate not just the labor of colonized bodies but their sexuality as well. The traumatic sexual lives of colonial subjects at the hands of their colonizers were often concealed due to bourgeois ideals of what did or did not constitute private matters. Ann Laura Stoler’s “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies” implements a Foucauldian analy53


sis to understand colonial state apparatuses and their management of bodies and how it controls a colonial subject’s sexuality. To Stoler, observing biopolitics and colonial ideologies reveals the convergences of North America with other global empires in their treatment of the colonial subject. The management of colonies required not just general policy, but also interfacing with subjects in the most private of spaces, namely our established site of the domestic, amongst the veils of privacy (Stoler 832). A way for managing the sexuality of colonial subjects was to enforce Western bourgeois ideals of marriage and family life through the subject’s direct participation. Beyond coerced participation in marital life, there exists the trauma of sexual encounter between colonizer and subject. The genealogical result of these encounters, children of mixed parentage, are forever marked as dangerous bodies according to dominant white colonial society and thus often strategically forgotten in the culturally essentializing pages of colonial histories. But analyzing sexual intimacies in the domestic sphere do not just reveal the children of these encounters, but the encounters themselves, in all their perversion, mystique, and violence. That veils of privacy kept these encounters from narratives of history demonstrates the hegemonic power of the “free individual” and the domestic secrecy he enjoyed. Lisa Lowe’s analysis of the sexual dimension of domestic intimacy identifies an absense in historical narratives of indentured labor in the British colonial Caribbean, where the raced and gendered body of the Chinese woman is dealt with. This figure was paradoxically desexualized and fetishized in the eye of the colonizer through literatures, information archiving, law and policy. Moreover, the Chinese woman was barred from entry to the British Caribbean for fear of Chinese or mixed racial progeny but also seen as an exotic body for sexual conquest (Lowe 198). European orientalisms were fundamental to the constructing an idea of the Chinese woman, and in the service of this idea the British colonial archive devotes ink to denying the existence and humanity of these bodies, similar to their treatment of masculinized enslaved African or indentured Asian laboring bodies (206). This evaluation of the colonial subject’s life amongst the veils of privacy, of sexual activities and domestic labor, reveals the occupation 54


of history by agents of empire. Simultaneously, it reveals encounters between colonizer and colonized nearly invisible in the colonial archive. Ann Laura Stoler describes these agents of empire as mobile figures, utilizing their power and resources to move themselves and their wealth through global circuits into different colonial sites. But what of their wives, mistresses, children, slaves and laborers? Strands of post-colonial scholarship to understand queering, theorized by José Esteban Muñoz as the deliberate disruption and reimagining of pasts, presents, and futures, as a tool or device for reclamation of these histories (Muñoz 171). Lisa Lowe’s “The Intimacies of Four Continents” performs this act, grappling with the logics and absurdities of the colonial archive. To queer bodies of hegemonic knowledge is always an act of autonomous narrativity, to tell a history outside the exceptionally lit halls of power in the dimmer spaces of myth. One that occurs behind cracked doors of dusty storage closets and modest bedrooms, under taffeta canopies and stiffly starched skirts. The implications of queering the histories of the domestic sphere, reckoning with those encounters and people concealed behind the veils of privacy, could be in their total disintegration. Works Cited Davis, Angela Yvonne. Women, Race, and Class. Random House, 1981, New York. Print. Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. “Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor: The Intersection Of Race, Gender And Class Oppression.” Review Of Radical Political Economics 17.3 (1985): 86-108. America: History and Life with Full Text. Web. 21 Feb. 2017. Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York, US: NYU Press, 2009. Print. Lowe, Lisa. The Intimacies of Four Continents. Duke University Press, 2015, Durham. Print. ---. “The Intimacies of Four Continents.” Haunted by Empire, edited by Ann Laura Stoler, Duke University Press, 2006, pg. 191-212. Stoler, Ann Laura. “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies.” The Journal of American History 2001: 829. JSTOR Journals. Web. 21 Feb. 2017. 55


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thank you to Bridget McCurtis, Assistant Vice Provost of Diversity Initiatives and Senior Director of the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program. Thank you to Betts Brown for her support and encouragement.

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Contributor Bios Debora Bang, born and raised in Koreatown, Los Angeles, is a classically trained violinist and writer whose main interests lie in the social examination of the Asian-American diaspora in relation to its cultural products, particularly that of music and food, and its political undercurrents. She has travelled extensively as a musician, performing in venues like the Pálffy Palác in Prague, Czech Republic, and the Teatro degli Unanimi in Arcidosso, Italy, to the Zipper Hall in Los Angeles, California. In addition to her musical pursuits, she hopes to shed light on the voiceless by creating conversations around the underrepresented communities we encounter throughout our daily lives. My name is Linda Duverné and I am a freshman in NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. My concentrations as of right now are Black Feminism and Haitian Development. My passion for these concentrations stem from my love for my parents’ home country, Haiti, and enthusiasm for empowering black girls and women. In my first year at NYU, I became involved in clubs/organizations such as the Academic Achievement Program and Haitian American Students’ Association. Lastly, what has contributed to my success here and helped me get to NYU is the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program. Without this program I wouldn’t be able to share this profound perspective with all of you. Isabella León-Chambers is a junior who transferred to NYU Gallatin after studying at Skidmore College for two years. She is in the process of developing a concentration regarding systemic oppression which will cover topics from four different fields: American Studies, Urban Studies, Gender Studies, and History. In her free time, she can be found trying to make memes from photographs of her dogs, who live back home, and eating Puerto Rican food in an attempt to get back in touch with her Nuyorican roots. She plans on moving back to Los Angeles after graduating. Sarah Shaddock is a graduating senior studying Journalism and Social & Cultural Analysis. She combines her experience in both 57


disciplines to concentrate on feminist media criticism. Upon graduation, she hopes to continue her career in international education and exchange in New York City. In her free time, Sarah enjoys living vicariously through dog owners at the park, annotating lyrics on Rap Genius, and creating hand embroidery projects. Nancy Uddin is a writer, activist, and storyteller from Queens, New York. She is studying Journalism and Social & Cultural Analysis at New York University. Nancy is deeply committed to social justice with experience in youth advocacy and community organizing. She has had the privilege to work with Sadie Nash Leadership Program, the Arab American Association of NY, the Youth-Activists Youth Allies Network, and Justice Now. Nancy hopes to integrate her passion for arts and culture to activism in the landscape of journalism. Lawrence Wu is a graduating senior majoring in Social & Cultural Analysis. After being on a This American Life episode, he has dedicated himself to telling the stories of misrepresented and underrepresented people through multimedia. He thanks Chinatown for not only allowing him to capture and document the everyday happenings of the community, but for also feeding him countless dim sum dishes and helping to foster his personal identity. More of his work can be found on social media @lawrencioguapo.

Editor-in-Chief Bio Maya Singhal is a senior in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and a masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s student in the Draper Interdisciplinary Masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Program. She studies women of color feminism and literature, focusing on race, trauma, and the body, and she hopes to continue these studies in a PhD program.

Editor Bios Lilli Biltucci is usually nervous, always non-binary, forever queer, a true Virgo on the Libra cusp (Cancer rising, Sagittarius moon), 58


and currently a member of the Class of 2018 majoring in Social and Cultural Analysis and Studio Art. They plan to enter a Human Geography or Sociocultural Anthropology PhD program soon after graduating to focus their artwork and academic research on questions of spatial/temporal organization and imagination, race, ability and queerness, global circuits of materials and labor, and the politics of architecture and cartography. They enjoy the company of their beautiful friends, their bike, their book collection, and vegetables. Gabbi Lee is a CAS junior studying Anthropology and Linguistics. Her studies focus on the history and modern-day consequences of colonialism, as well as the experience of Indigenous peoples after contact. Gabbi is currently studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, where she also volunteers with an educational outreach and prevention program for young kids in a low-income community where 85% of participants identify as Aboriginal. Gabbi is also the Secretary of the Native American and Indigenous Student Group at NYU and spends her free time planning events and programming to increase Indigenous visibility and self-representation on campus. Jailene Peralta is a Freshman in CAS majoring in Social and Cultural Analysis and minoring in Peace and Conflict Studies. She is an aspiring Human Rights lawyer. She loves journalism and has been doing journalistic work since sophomore year of high school. Sophie Sandberg is a sophomore at New York University majoring in Social Cultural Analysis. She has a particular interest in the politics of women’s fashion, sexual assault on college campus, and the intricacies of street harassment.  In her free time she enjoys using visual arts as a vehicle for activism and writing poetry. Hannah Shulman is a junior majoring in Metropolitan Studies and minoring in Business of Entertainment, Media, and Technology. She is currently abroad in Berlin and spent last semester in Washington DC. While she is not sure what she is going to do after graduation, she hopes to figure it out soon. She is a fan of all things Houston, and the proud owner of a mutt, Coco, who is undoubtedly the best dog in the world. When not at school, she spends most of her time photographing concerts, fashion, and protests.  59


Ernest Tjia is currently a double major in American Studies and Anthropology. His academic interests include the history, historiography, and geographies of neoliberalism; queer theory, queer kinship, and queerness in East Asia; and art and aesthetics. He has a background in Theatre and Performance Studies, having studied at the School of the Arts in Singapore, but decided that a rigorous academic program would make him a better artist (should he choose to be one in the future). Currently, he is examining the role that political and economic atmospheres play in shaping cultural production while also contemplating how grief is turned into praxis. His favorite food is hot pot, and thinks that pre-packaged Rice Krispies treats taste better than homemade ones. Katerina Voegtle is a photographer and visual artist currently double-majoring in Photography & Imaging and Social & Cultural Analysis at NYU. Her work centers around themes of gender, violence, and U.S. and Latin American politics. Sean Waxman is a senior in the College of Arts and Science completing his degree in Gender & Sexuality Studies and French. Characterized by a wandering mind, Sean’s most recent research pursuits have involved examining how state-sponsored violence is depicted in the media and exploring the role of objects in literature as they relate to the actualization of desire. When he isn’t fantasizing about the end of capitalism, he’s often binge-watching a show on Netflix or writing. After graduation, Sean plans to bask in some South Florida sunshine and will most likely head back to school, true to his nerdy M.O.

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Profile for NYU Journal of Social and Cultural Analysis

Journal of SCA: Spring 2017  

Journal of SCA: Spring 2017