BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Costumes

'Tis the season for a reminder...

There are plenty of articles about racially inappropriate costumes, yet every year folks perpetuate appropriationcaricature, and humiliation as Halloween sport. It is annual affliction, so I guess it's worth making the point yet again...

Using a culture, race, or ethnicity as a costume is not appropriate. Ever. 

On Halloween, we get the opportunity to disguise ourselves as something 'other,'something different from normal, something bizarre. That people of color might be one of these costume options is tragic and offensive.

As Lisa Wade notes, Halloween outfits basically come in three flavors: scary, funny, or fantasy. Real cultures shouldn't fit into any of these categories. By using people's identities as costumes, we imply that they are 'not one of us,' or not even fully human, belonging instead to the realm of ghouls and goblins.

In the U.S., we spend the entire year marginalizing people of color, maintaining low visibility on TV, in movies, and in the media, but then suddenly become hyper-interested in 'appreciating culture' for one offensive night (as though dressing as a Hollywood version of what you think a culture is has anything to do with appreciating it).

When we claim that it's all 'good harmless fun,' we reveal our privilege never to have to face the consequences of such stereotypes in our own lives. We reveal the power we hold to dictate who defines 'harmless' and 'fun.' We reveal how loudly our own voices are heard, even as we silence others. We reveal our capacity to imagine fantasy worlds for real cultures, while ignoring the historical baggage that makes us feel uncomfortable.

 Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) at Ohio University began a poster campaign to educate folks about the hurtful nature of racist costumes with the slogan "we're a culture, not a costume." All of the costumes they depict are real, and are perennially reprised. They get big props for concisely and clearly communicating what many of us have been frustrated with for years.

So, before dressing up this year, refer to Austin C. Brown’s guide to finding culture-appropriate costumes. And if you are looking for some clever alternatives, check out Take Back Halloween, and try some new themes this year.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Round Up (10/28/11)

On Fridays, we post a round up of the week's happenings.

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

Weekly Round Up:

Also, it's my birthday. That is all.

See Also:
Church for All People
Immigration: Stranger in a Strange Land
Model Minority

Monday, October 24, 2011

Immigration: Stranger in a strange land

Can a human being be 'illegal'? 

Image result for i was a stranger and you welcomed meThe Hebrew word ger, or 'stranger/alien/sojourner,' appears 92 times in scripture in reference to anyone coming from a foreign land. With this in mind, prominent Christian leaders have begun to advocate for "a high level conversation about immigration in a way that honors the example of Jesus Christ and the written Word of God."

Shane Claiborne, reminds us that we are all illegal residents of God's Kingdom. Yet we benefit from a Savior who helped us cross the border into God's land of prosperity, where we are welcomed in our brokenness as full citizens. Claiborne reminds us that the scripture doesn't say 'for God so loved America,' but rather 'for God so loved the world' and argued that by building walls (around hearts, churches, and country) we are locking ourselves in, more than keeping others out.

Jim Wallis expresses frustration at the hateful language used in talking about children of God as 'illegals.' He notes that in political debates, candidates must constantly portray themselves as tougher and harsher, lest they appear soft on the issues. And that all of this language is supposedly to appease their Christian Evangelical base. He said it made him embarrassed and ashamed that they spoke in this way in his name.

Wallis acknowledged that there is a pressing need for immigration reform, and that it is our responsibility to obey the laws of the land. But he also observed that those who come to the United States for work find themselves caught in a broken system that we created.

There are two signs on our border walls: one says 'no trespassing' and the other says 'help wanted.' And so 12 million people have become trapped between two contradictory messages. Wallis asks who will take responsibility for these 12 million? It seems it will not be the Republicans or the Democrats any time soon. It won't be Congress or the President. It must, therefore, be the body of Christ.

He invites us to examine some of the 92 references to ger in the bible:
  • "But the stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you also were once strangers" Leviticus 19:34
  • "Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor and let none devise evil against another in his heart." Zechariah 7:10
  • "I will be swift... against those who thrust aside the sojourners, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts." Malachi 3:5
There is no easy solution to the situation at hand. Recently, a group of prominent Church leaders published a document entitled 'An Evangelical Call for Bipartisan Immigration Reformthat offers the following objectives for successful immigration policy:
  • Respects the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protects the unity of the immediate family
  • Respects the rule of law
  • Guarantees secure national borders
  • Ensures fairness to taxpayers
  • Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

Keeping the above verses in mind, how do we treat the sojourners in our country? What solutions might there be that satisfy all of the guidelines listed above? Can such reform ever be achieved? 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Round Up (10/21/11)

On Fridays, we post a round up of the week's happenings.

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

Weekly Round Up:
  • ReNew Partnerships: Helping Christians of Different Ethnicities to Share Life and Ministry Together

These are some of our favorite links this week. What are yours?

See Also:
How to Get to Sesame Street
Hidden in Plain Sight: Black Actors Missing in Action
Dichotomy of Racialized Stereotypes

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hidden in Plain Sight: Black Actors Missing in Action

Please welcome back guest blogger @Brotherfuture94! The article originally on his blog FilmSwag, and follows up on this week's post How to Get To Sesame Street by City Athena:

It appears even the most prominent of black actors have a hard time getting recognized for their roles in TV and film. Such was the case for Taraji P. Henson of the new CBS show Person of Interest, who took her beef to Facebook and let the world know what was up:
"WOW!!!! TV Guide is NOT including me on the cover with my cast members….....I am the female lead of a 3 member cast and I’m not included on the cover!!!!!! Do you see the shit I have to deal with in this business…..I cram to understand!!!!"
We cram to understand too, Taraji. The fact that Taraji P. Henson has not been prominently featured in the ad campaign for this show is puzzling indeed. Clearly it can't be her credentials. After all, Ms. Henson has been nominated for an Academy Award and an Emmy. Also, as she notes, she is the lead female actress in a show that revolves around three people. Take a look at some of the posters for Person of Interest::

While Taraji does appear in one of the posters, it's worth noting that the middle poster is the one CBS chose to promote the most. 

Here are two versions of the trailer. The 1 minute trailer and the 30 second trailer that was shortened for TV purposes:

In the first trailer we get a 'blink and you might miss her' glance at Taraji, and in the second/shorter trailer Taraji is nowhere to be found. People of color being left out of promos is nothing new, but the fact that it continues to happen -and to an Academy Award nominated actresses no less- is just a shame.

See Also:

Monday, October 17, 2011

How to Get To Sesame Street

Please welcome backMaxine Naawu, who among many other things, blogs about art, film and photography at Side Hustle Stories and hosts her own artistic work at her website.

Almost every kid the U.S. is familiar with Sesame Street. This children’s show, begun in 1966, is now a cultural staple. Elmo, Big Bird, and friends are instantly known the world over, and the show is still going strong today.

It is also a very diverse show, and not just because Muppets live among the humans on Sesame Street. Latin@, Black, White, and many other races are among both the main cast of adults and the rotating cast of children. In addition to the diversity of the cast, the songs, animation, and other segments draw from a variety of cultural sources. This was not done by mistake.

Actually, Sesame Street was originally created with a focus on educating inner city and low-income families. The creators wanted a show that children could relate to, but also expose them to images they may not experience in the city. Since its creation, Sesame Street has won awards for its conscientious treatment of sensitive subject matter and been lauded for handling topics such as poverty, HIV-AIDS, divorce, etc. in a thoughtful, inclusive and age appropriate way.

After the enormous success of Sesame Street, most pre-school children’s TV shows follow this same model. These shows tend to have truly “neutral” characters (such as animals or fantasy creatures) and often feature diverse casts. There are also more shows with minorities in major roles, or from cultures other than white, upper middle class suburban America. The PBS and Nick Jr. shows demonstrate this point well.

Contrast this with the lineup on network television. Currently, there are zero shows with a cast of all minorities on the major television networks, and a few shows with POCs at all. The few that do, are relegated to minor and/or stereotypical roles. 

Even Glee, which has been celebrated for having a cast that is diverse in gender, race, sexuality and ability, suffers from these problems: frequently,  in its marketing only the white, straight, and traditionally-abled characters are featured.

I don’t understand why POC are continually erased from network television. We can see from children’s programming that it is possible for The Powers That Be to produce diverse television that also makes money – even with shows that *gasp* only feature POCs. 

These kids shows are popular and watched by everyone, not just by POCs. I have seen children of all races wearing Dora The Explorer backpacks. Shows aimed at children (up to ~grade-school ages), come really close to the landscape of television that I would love to see in shows aimed at adults.

Yet for adults, shows with all people of color either don't exist or are dismissed by whites as something they wouldn’t be interested in. All white casts are considered neutral and “normal”, anything else is taking a chance.

Why does this matter? Television influences how we think about people and the world. Television is depicted as a reflection of our society. It is hurtful to me as a person of color to be constantly ignored, or inaccurately portrayed in what is supposed to be “my” culture too. 

Our monochrome media landscape also impacts white people. It is harmful for those in the majority to be presented with a skewed perception of society that shows people of color as all the same, or as irrelevant and invisible. Yes, there are more white people than those of color in the U.S., and television executives are going to cater to that audience. But from looking at children’s television, shows that appeal to the majority do not have to eliminate people of color, or put them in one-dimensional roles.

There are a lot of actors, writers, and directors of color who are not getting work, and whose views are getting silenced due to the absence of these shows on TV. We all lose when only one point of view is shown on TV. I mean, how many shows about a quirky white couple in the suburbs do we need?

Lately, I don’t watch very much television. Thanks to the internet, I’m able to supplement the few network shows I watch with entertainment that makes it a point to include people like me, like Awkward Black Girl and the podcasts at BcCo Studios. I support network television that attempts to be inclusive, and turn off my TV for the rest. Will this help us get to Sesame Street? I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.

ps. This!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Friday Round Up (10/14/11)

On Fridays, we post a round up of the week's happenings.

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

Weekly Round Up:
These are some of our favorite links this week. What are yours?

See Also:
Dichotomy of Racialized Stereotypes
The Many Faces of Depression
Perpetual Foreigner

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Many Faces of Depression

Please welcome guest blogger Jacquelin M, from Help for Depression
Connect more at

Depression is a cross-cultural problem. Depressive symptoms are
the same for every ethnicity, but stigma, knowledge, availability of treatment options, and financial resources vary by race. For example, in the U.S. suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in people aged 18 - 25. For American Indian and Alaska Natives, suicide is the second leading cause of death in that same age group. 

October is designated Depression Awareness Month, to help the public understand the extent of this problem. Depression can make life seem unbearable and yet many people with unbearable symptoms struggle to do what is necessary each day. Spreading awareness about this mood disorder, and the location of treatment resources, means fewer people will suffer unnecessarily. 

Reasons To Spread Depression Awareness
Just 28% of Asian Americans who have a mental illness, seek out treatment. For an Asian individual, there is shame incurred by going to a psychiatrist or therapist, and anxiety that treatment will reflect poorly on the family. A study completed in 2005 showed that Asian psychological distress was higher than other groups because treatment was often put off as long as possible. 

Suicide rates of adolescent African Americans have been on the rise, and among African American men with depressive symptoms, it is believed 92% do not look for help. Another study showed Hispanic girls in the ninth through twelfth grades had a suicide rate 60% above the same age group of white female students.

Recently arrived immigrant families are generally uncomfortable going for counseling. They report feeling it is unlikely their cultural issues will be understood. However, their children may need help. There is evidence that children of immigrant families have an elevated risk of mental health problems. It is not easy moving to a new country and facing real and perceived discrimination. 

You Can Make a Difference
Two internet organizations, Help for Depression and 
To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), have joined forces to raise funds for depression awareness. Their goal is $15,000 and you can easily help. Take a few seconds to click the “like” button on Help for Depression’s Facebook page between October 1st through the 15th. Each new “like,” adds one dollar toward the $15,000 goal.

Give the gift of your time. One click assists Help for Depression and TWLOHA to educate people about depression. The hope is that with increased awareness, depression suffers will feel comfortable enough to get the help they need. Please go to the Help for Depression’s Facebook page to make a cost-free contribution.

Depression is highly treatable. That is why suffering with symptoms, or taking one’s life, is such a tragedy. To help the public develop a compassionate attitude toward depression, and to make mental health resources more available, is the reason for Depression Awareness Month. More people will get the help they need if you go to the link above and click “like.”

See Also:
Model Minority

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dichotomy of Racialized Stereotypes

The stereotypes about Asian-Americans act as foils to those about black folks. In whatever manner black folk are characterized, Asians tend to be seen as the exact opposite.

Dare I mention stereotypes about penis size?
The tightly correlated dichotomy illustrates how contrived all of these stereotypes actually are. 
Check out the chart complied by Abagond -->

Striking, isn't it?
Surely we don't believe that such descriptions just happen to perfectly parallel each other. These characterizations have been constructed by years of conditioning and prejudice. 

Polarized stereotypes allow us to suppose that if Asian-Americans meet with success, racism must not actually be a big deal. They allow us to assume that there is something wrong with those that don't succeed, and that we can feel secure in supporting the status quo. 

Often termed the
 'Three Bears Effect'
Artificial polarization helps to pit people of color against each other, leading to division where we should have unity. The 'divide-and-conquer' strategy fuels modern racism. It also allows white folks to sit comfortably in the middle, further normalizing their culture relative to the 'extremes' around them.

By allowing such dichotomies, we belittle the fact that Asian-Americans do indeed encounter a great deal of racism. Even 'good' racial stereotype are never actually as beneficial as they may seem (see post: Model Minority). Despite a supposed 'model minority' work ethic, Asian-Americans still experience higher levels of poverty per capita than white folks do, and must constantly battle perceptions of being perpetual foreigners

What do you think readers? Does this model of stereotype polarization hold? 
What about other POC groups: how do they fit into this paradigm? 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Round Up (10/07/11)

On Fridays, we post a round up of the week's happenings.

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of our favorite links this week. What are yours?

See Also:
Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Derrick BellPerpetual Foreigner
Model Minority
Bush, and being called a 'Racist'

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Derrick Bell

In honor of Rev Fred L. Shuttlesworth (1922-2011), check out these videos,. The first summarizes facts of his life, the second is of his own reflections. Derrick Bell also died yesterday (1930-2011). He was the first tenured black law professors at Harvard and has written a large body of insightful works for racial advocacy. Below is a video adaptation of his story Space Traders, but read the original here (much better than the video).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Perpetual Foreigner

When was the last time you heard the term 'White-American'? What about 'European-American'? 'Caucasian-American'?

We often hear identifiers such as Asian-American, African-American, Native American. In the United States, 'whiteness' is considered the default (see: Growing Up White and 'Normal') and so saying 'White-American' seems redundant. White people are presumed to be American, while others must reaffirm their citizenship against perpetual questioning.

Asian Americans actors must often
pretend to have poor English
One of the most prolific targets of this distinction is Asian-Americans, whose 'perpetual foreigner' status remains immutable. Having grown up in the USA, many Asian-Americans will nevertheless still routinely receive misguided complements like "your English is so good..." And many generations of living in the USA does not grant immunity from the inevitable questions: "So, where are you from? No, originally? I mean, where's your family from?" It seems answering 'St. Louis' is never a satisfactory response.

As is so often the case, these sorts of comments come from well-intentioned people trying to spark conversation and show their interest (see post: 'Does Intent Matter?'). But such words betray the underlying otherization, and reveals our tendency to consider 'white' to be the American default. When we ask 'where are you from?' we imply 'because we know you couldn't be from here,' or worse 'you certainly don't belong here.'

Of course, it isn't just Asian-Americans that struggle against the 'perpetual foreigner' stereotype. It's because of our tenancy to grant assumed-citizenship only to white folks that the demands for Obama's birth certificate were so particularly hurtful (see post: Birthers, Trump, and Obama). As immigration debates escalate, those in the Latino community are constantly subject to assaults on their American identity, and are even required to carry proof! Indeed, Native Americans' history with the US government is almost entirely about this tension in one way or another.

The 'perpetual foreigner' meme can become physically dangerous when taken to its extreme (See post: Japanese American Internment). Beyond not being considered fully American, people of color can be otherized to the point of being not fully human. We see the manifestations of this tendency is their use as props in advertisements (links NSFW), as caricatured sports mascots, and as Halloween costumes (see posts: That Mascot Doesn't Honor Anyone and Halloween Costumes). When we lose our compassion for each other as fellow human beings, objectification and dehumanization facilitate violence and the devaluation of life.

We like to say the United States is a melting pot (or, a bit better, as a salad bowl), but in reality we do a poor job of embracing our neighbors as part of this American identity. 

What would it look like, if we were to take Ephesians 2:19 seriously?: 
"You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household"

What does this verse mean to you? Do you have to reaffirm your 'Americaness' because of repeated assumptions to the contrary? Or when people look at you, do they assume that you are a legal citizen?
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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