The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Ayesha Sharma (Page 1 of 3)

Racism Is Embedded in Southern Food Culture

Most white folks who speak to me about Charleston, South Carolina tell me they’ve “heard so much about it!” “I’ve heard it’s really cosmopolitan, and the food is great, right?” they ask me. I’m not sure how to respond to that, in all honesty. I usually pause with hesitation, searching for a way to explain the racism that’s inextricable from its culture and atmosphere. Then I just laugh nervously and say “um…it’s an interesting place.” But what I really want to say is this: Charleston racism is similar to liberal racism–it’s built into the very structure of its institutions, and it’s steeped in respectability politics.

What’s respectability politics? I speak about the phrase in quite a few of my articles. In the context of this conversation, it’s the quiet nature of southern racism. It’s funneled through white southern expectations of civility–that is, chivalry, charm, and politeness. These expectations for civility are a tool that the white south ends up using to police and invalidate southerners of color. But, more than this, southern respectability politics permit white southerners to appropriate the POC (people of color) cultures. White southerners not only possess this financial power to enact appropriation, but also have the social power too. White culture rules the most (economically) highly valued areas of the city, and so this generally disempowers communities of color in accordance with the standard logics of white supremacy.

According to an article entitled “How Gullah Cuisine Has Transformed Charleston Dining” in Eater, “the rise of the Charleston restaurant scene in the last 20 years has coincided with a gentrification that’s brought with it higher residential and commercial rents, and changed the demographics of the city from being over 60 percent [B]lack in the ‘80s to being only roughly 30 percent black” as of 2014. In Charleston, white appropriation of Gullah food and culture has profited white businesses and accelerated gentrification. It has quite directly benefited white folks and not only disadvantaged but oppressed and exploited Black Gullah people. Gullah and Geechee people are the descendents of West African slaves who, according to historian Joseph Opala in an article published by the Freeman Institute, “worked on the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia.”

Charleston isn’t necessarily intent on repairing the injustices that it claims are isolated to the past. Its downtown area celebrates its colonial and racist past quite openly. The city has it all: streets called King, Queen, and George, horse carriage tours, and cobblestone roads. And to top it all off, Charleston hosts an appropriated food culture. It does so after already making open efforts to displace Gullah people while still attempting to utilize Gullah culture for the benefit of generating a cosmopolitan Gullah culture from which white southerners garner the majority of the profit. The town of Mount Pleasant is undergoing massive development, and one of the consequences of this is the displacement of Gullah people who live there and the businesses they run. Gullah people have historically constructed sweetgrass baskets and other grass-made objects. They have previously sold them in Mount Pleasant, but are now increasingly unable.

This displacement and structural oppression of Gullah people in many parts of the city cannot be ignored while white-owned restaurants are profiting off of Gullah Geechee heritage that, according to Afroculinaria, was nourished by the “skills, knowledge and blood” of Gullah ancestors.

 

Discerning Coloniality from Holistic Education

For a while, I have been meditating on the necessity for academic colonial ‘classics’ to be centered within social science curricula. I am an anthropology major, and so I have debated with my professors over this particular issue numerous times. Institutionally, the discipline of anthropology has prioritized and financed white cisgender (cis) male scholarship, whereas it has structurally excluded people of color, non-men, and LGBTQIA+ people. This is a real problem, of course. Institutions in ‘post-colonial’ countries tend to be oppressive due to the hierarchies that are built into their very structures.

However, while my anthropology professors tend to acknowledge this and put effort into interrogating the institutional history of the discipline, I still feel that they, and professors who teach in other departments, need to address this problem more impactfully. My argument is that professors should stop merely acknowledging the ‘oppressive roots’ of social science disciplines, while continuing to teach what the discipline has unspokenly accepted as its classics. Instead, they need to critique the continued reverence of classics as classics, and decolonize their curricula.

Since this discussion might make the most sense to those who are immediately invested in it, I will provide an example for those who aren’t. Clifford Geertz is an American anthropologist and a white cis man. His most widely read article is called “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight.” It describes, as you might expect, a cockfight that he observed while he was doing fieldwork in Bali. Now, Geertz wasn’t the type of guy to think that there is a code to understanding culture, and that you must crack it to uncover the deeper secrets to humanity–that was Claude Levi-Strauss. Geertz was the type of guy to think that one can use symbols to analyze culture, and that culture is the way that everyone imposes meaning and order onto their lives. He was interested more in meaning and interpretation than in rules and codes.

While this is well and good, Geertz was also someone who almost entirely excluded an analysis of structural power in his works. In his article on the Balinese cockfight, he also built his analysis of the fight on white (and settler colonial) cisgender male conceptions of power. With many other problems in addition to these, Geertz is an example of a scholar who is frequently regarded in the discipline of anthropology as foundational. Interpretive, or symbolic, anthropology is a school of thought commonly traced back to him as its influencer, and one that is also considered fundamental to the study of culture. While it may seem advantageous to include interpretive anthropology and Clifford Geertz in the anthropology curriculum, it also replicates a tendency for the discipline to favor convention and knowledge hierarchies as opposed to marginalized voices.

One of the most convincing counter-arguments that I’ve received to my argument about radically transforming social science curricula is that students need to know the scholarly classics of a field in order for them to be aptly prepared for a possible academic future in said field. So, since I might go to graduate school to get a PhD in anthropology, and there’s a chance I’ll need to know about Geertz for that, my undergraduate professors should be teaching me about his approach to culture. One professor has argued that it is possible to critique these classics while still teaching them, because doing so is most beneficial to the student (who might go on to graduate school).

My perspective, though, is first that most of us are definitely not going to get a PhD in anthropology for which we might need to know these colonial and neo-colonial classics. Second, it’s traumatizing for students who experience the negative consequences of colonization to reinforce that colonial and neo-colonial scholars remain the most intellectually gifted. Third, merely critiquing these scholars does not help to decolonize curricula. Decolonizing curricula would involve imagining the discipline’s future beyond its institutionally problematic history. Anthropology, for example, did not only occur through formal institutional scholarship by white, cis men. Trans people of color and indigenous people around the world “have always done political and theoretical work that centers on dynamics of imperialism, colonialism, and the multiple histories of racialization,” as the Transgender Studies Quarterly issue entitled “Decolonizing the Transgender Imaginary” argues more specifically about trans people.

The creation of social science curricula beyond convention is possible, but it requires nothing short of radical transformation.

 

Taking Risks with Online Privacy

Is there such a thing as smart social media use? A method for utilizing online resources without compromising one’s personal information? In 2018, it seems that the best way to assure privacy is to opt out from social media and internet use altogether. On March 21, 2018, Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook to address the political data firm Cambridge Analytica’s “alleged misuse of 50 million Facebook users’ data,” according to WIRED. Zuckerberg’s account of the situation reflects that the scandal stretches all the way back to 2013, when Cambridge University researcher and scientist named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app.

According to Zuckerberg, he and others at Facebook learned in 2015 that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg writes in his post that “It is against our policies for developers to share data without people’s consent, so we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data.” He then shares that in the week prior to his post, Facebook learned from The Guardian, The New York Times, and Channel 4 “that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified.”

Cambridge Analytica is not just any political data firm. According to WIRED, it was also “a vendor to President Trump’s 2016 campaign.” The company has offices in London, D.C., and New York, and its stated functions as a privately held LLC are, briefly, according to Wikipedia, to combine data mining, “data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process.” It was founded specifically to participate in American politics, as an offshoot of its British parent group, SCL.

According to Wikipedia, the family of Robert Mercer, “an American hedge-fund manager who supports many politically conservative causes” and investor in Breitbart News, partly owns the company. An article on Politico reports that Cambridge Analytica worked on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign as well. “Many companies compete in the market for political microtargeting, using huge data sets and sophisticated software to identify and persuade voters,” according to an article in The New York Times. This article goes on to discuss Cambridge Analytica’s claims to have developed “‘psychographic’ profiles that could predict the personality and hidden political leanings of every American adult.”

Could Zuckerberg be involved with facilitating data leaks to these external companies? Privacy advocates and Trump critics, according to this New York Times article, seem to think so. They warn of “a blizzard of high-tech, Facebook-optimized propaganda aimed at the American public, controlled by the people behind the alt-right hub Breitbart News.”

Contrary to Zuckerberg’s statement, Aleksandr Kogan stated in a CNN Tech article that he believes that Facebook is using him as a scapegoat for the scandal. “Using users’ data for profit is their [Facebook’s] business model,” he claimed. He does not believe that he violated Facebook policy. Kogan did, however, reveal that he was working with Cambridge Analytica. These combined statements from Zuckerberg and Kogan, as well as the political affiliations in this data management, say a great deal about the security of personal information in the present. There are few ways, apart from going as far as encryption, to ascertain the security and privacy of personal information in the present day.

 

Surveying the Conditions and Consequences of Democracy

United States veterans are commended on their bravery in keeping American citizens safe from harm or danger. They are lauded for risking their lives to preserve the lives of Americans. But, with the United States’ huge military budget, are threats to national security and democracy really the country’s main concerns? With the death count of Vietnamese in the Vietnam War at an estimated 3.8 million according to Democracy Now!, were anti-communism and containment really the primary reasons for U.S. involvement in Vietnam? Or, are threats to national security and democracy constructed in public consciousness to defend these atrocities alongside United States imperialism? The United States is not the democratic bastion of international peace that many Americans think it is, and this narrative has caused more destruction than harmony or justice.

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. During this massacre on March 16, 1968, United States soldiers killed more than 500 Vietnamese people in the Southern Vietnamese village of My Lai. According to Democracy Now!, “The soldiers raped women. They burned their houses. They mutilated the villagers’ bodies. One U.S. soldier said he was ordered to ‘kill anything that breathed.’” Just a single soldier involved with this massacre was convicted: a lieutenant named William Calley. Although he was sentenced to a life in prison, he ended up serving only three and a half years of house arrest instead. Calley did not express remorse for his involvement in this massacre in his personal statement. According to his trial record on Famous Trials, he asserted, “Well, I was ordered to go in there and destroy the enemy. That was my job on that day. That was the mission I was given. I did not sit down and think in terms of men, women, and children. They were all classified the same, and that was the classification that we dealt with, just as enemy soldiers.”

This association of innocent civilians with enemies follows the United States military’s trend in targeting and attacking threats to democratic values and national security. While this government paternalism helps the United States to build its image as a benevolent protector of its people, it simultaneously instills fear in United States citizens as well. It propagates the idea that there is always some external force, ideology, or person to be feared, rather than revealing the reality–that many United States citizens are complicit in supporting governments that are hell-bent on building the nation’s global power.

The so-called War on Drugs, though concentrated nationally, was also part of an imperialist agenda and employed this scapegoating mechanism to construct the image of Black and Brown Americans as criminals. Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, is one of many to connect the dots between the criminalization of Black and Brown people in the War on Drugs and the demographic statistics of mass incarceration. In a PBS article entitled “Michelle Alexander: ‘A System of Racial and Social Control,’” Alexander claims that “President Ronald Reagan wanted to make good on campaign promises to get tough on that group of folks who had already been defined in the media as black and brown, the criminals, and he made good on that promise by declaring a drug war.”

She also discusses the consequences of incarceration–that formerly incarcerated people are “released into a permanent second-class status in which they are stripped of basic civil and human rights, like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to public benefits.” This process of mass incarceration not only disenfranchises Black and Brown people and strips them of their civil rights, but it establishes a structure of these people to be exploited for their labor within prisons. The United States military uses this cheap labor to their advantage. According to The New York Times article “U.S. Flouts Its Own Advice in Procuring Overseas Clothing,” federal inmates in 2013 “stitched more than $100 million worth of military uniforms.”

Although mass incarceration and foreign war initiatives are legitimized through threats manufactured to protect democratic ideals and U.S. citizens, they functionally obscure the oppressive conditions required for U.S. democracy to exist and those that the illusions of democracy create.

 

The Virtues of Being Reflexive

So many of the same people who espouse liberal gender politics (i.e. mainstream, now branded “intersectional” feminism) respond with polite tolerance toward progressive gender politics (i.e. ideals for transnational gender revolution). The latter politics acknowledge the western constructed-ness of the male-female gender binary, whereas the former doesn’t normalize that knowledge into its everyday ideology. Instead, mainstream gender politics have tended to be “trans-inclusive,” doing things like inviting non-binary people into spaces which are intended for “women and non-binary people.” The sort of polite tolerance exercised by mainstream feminism is passive and complicit and implies the belief that, if we don’t have someone else’s struggle, then we should stay in our lanes and not get involved with it.

But, really, a much different approach to transnational organizing is possible. Instead of considering ourselves to be distinct from others, we can acknowledge our roles in the broader political systems which tie us together. That way, it is possible to discern the roles we need to fill in the present. This sort of exercise in locating oneself requires introspection.

It involves asking ourselves: How are our families in the financial space that they are in now? Did our parents inherit anything from their parents? What social roles did our ancestors have? Were they entrepreneurs, merchants, farmers or slaves? What were their privileges or oppressions? How did the way they looked impact the way others characterized them?

If we start to ask ourselves these questions, we can do what I think should be the most basic, introductory anthropologic practice: autoethnography–literally, studying yourself. Our cultural traditions are not without meaning. They are rich in historical and political significance, and learning about them can make us much more informed in our politics if we internally and externally acknowledge that context to our existences. The perspective of my argument for comprehending and communicating how we came to be where and who we are is rooted in the concept of reflexivity.

Reflexivity basically just means self-awareness and transparency. It was introduced into anthropology to shift the discipline from its more oppressive, colonial origins. But it’s also a valuable practice for everyday politics. One situation in which somebody might use reflexivity would be if they find themselves speaking over other people, who happen to have marginalized identities, in a public setting. If somebody does introspection around why they might have done this, they might find that their privileges granted them the entitlement to do so. If somebody were to reflect in this way, with acknowledgment of their historical and present political context, they might also be able to connect themselves with others who are marginalized.

And what’s important to acknowledge is that connecting doesn’t necessarily mean having to find points of similarity. In fact, I think this mentality is quite dangerous. In order to meaningfully connect, transnationally, we need to form bonds in the direction of responsibility.

For example, if we are aware that structural privileges brought us to our present comforts, we need to mobilize the resources and wealth that we have access to for people and collectives that do not share our privileges. If we are aware that we are settlers on colonized land, we can center Native people in our organizing rather than erasing them further. I am not perfect at exercising reflexivity and so I do not claim a position of authority on this topic, but I do argue that it is a virtue worth developing for all types of political engagement.

 

RuPaul Excludes Trans Women

In RuPaul’s recent interview with The Guardian, “RuPaul: ‘Drag is a big f-you to male-dominated culture,” he claims that “drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture.” He goes on to say, “so for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.” The media platform INTO, actually launched by Grindr, reported on his commentary from this interview, as did The Independent. In more words, both platforms basically said that RuPaul was pretty wrong for this.

The platforms were most concerned with RuPaul’s exclusion of trans women. In an article entitled, “No, Rupaul, the drag queen world does not only belong to men — everyone can explore femininity,” Amrou Al-Kadhi with The Independent remarks that RuPaul’s Drag Race has “limited conceptions on what drag can be” and that cisgender men should not be the only ones able to parody and explore their gender using drag. The author of this piece, Al-Kadhi, is a British-Iraqi drag performer who finds RuPaul’s commentary and Decca Aitkenhead’s coverage in The Guardian “enraging.” They argue, “the idea that the social critique of male patriarchy can only really work when it is enacted by men is nonsensical and offensive. Does RuPaul believe that counter-culture, as well as mass-culture, should privilege male voices?”

Al-Kadhi makes a strong point here. It is immensely narrow to claim that cisgender men should be privileged in spaces that center acts of gender transgression. As Al-Khadi asserts, drag performance and culture exists as a critique of mainstream binary gender under patriarchy. So, the notion that cisgender men, people who occupy a status of utmost privilege in that structure, should be the only ones ‘allowed’ to do drag in RuPaul’s Drag Race while trans people transgress gender in their lived realities everyday is trans-antagonistic. It undermines the violence that trans feminine people face everyday to argue that “drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it.”

Al-Kadhi observes that RuPaul creates a dichotomy between “trans and drag identities…effectively arguing that whilst drag is gender-subversive, trans is gender-conforming.” They go on to critique RuPaul, asserting that “whilst trans women are women, who’s to say that they couldn’t also be involved in the parodying and exploration of femininity?” In this piece, Al-Kadhi acknowledges the variance in trans identities and trans people’s, more specifically trans women’s, centrism in doing gender transgression.

Instead of insisting on this trans exclusion, RuPaul needs to reevaluate his understanding of gender altogether. However, a large part of me knows that his trans exclusionary attitude is rooted deeply in his own investment in the gender binary and gay cis-ness. Al-Kadhi’s recognition of the centrism of trans people in matters that most disproportionately impact them is vital in the media, and really anywhere. Trans people of color, especially, often do not have the power or resources to represent themselves or host their own cultural spaces in the mainstream. So, I’m glad that one trans person of color, who is also a drag performer, spoke up about it.

Suffering Industry Disproportionately Impacts Immigrants of Color

On Monday, February 5, a New York City cab driver named Douglas Schifter shot himself to death outside of New York City Hall. Just hours before his death, he posted a Facebook status in which he claims that politicians drove him to his suffering. In his status, he states the following: “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” There has been a negative relationship between the New York cab industry and so-called “startups” like Uber and Lyft for a while now, as there has been between taxi drivers, and Uber in particular, during the taxi strike against the Muslim immigration ban around this time last year.

I assume it’s pretty well-known that many of New York City taxi drivers are immigrants of color. The New York Times reported in 2004 that 84 percent of taxi and livery drivers in the city are immigrants. This number has only risen over the years, from 38 percent in 1980 to 64 percent in 1990. The majority of taxi and livery drivers come from the West Indies (Dominican Republic or Haiti), followed closely by drivers from South Asia (Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India). The majority of yellow cab drivers, specifically, are South Asian immigrants.

So, why is this relevant? Let’s trace back the timeline. In January of last year, there was a taxi strike at the John F. Kennedy International Airport. I remember the energy of this entire weekend being heavy and urgent. Donald Trump had issued an executive order on that Friday as part of what he called an “extreme vetting plan” to keep out whom he Islamophobically calls “radical Islamic terrorists.” So, lawyers were stationed at international airports across the country working to release people who were denied entry and detained. The taxi drivers were protesting outside of JFK airport between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.. That afternoon, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance Facebook page posted the following statement: “by sanctioning bigotry with his unconstitutional and inhumane executive order banning Muslim refugees from seven countries, the president is putting professional drivers in more danger than they have been in any time since 9/11 when hate crimes against immigrants skyrocketed.”

While the organization was standing by (Muslim) immigrants of color, Uber had decided to continue operating with service to the airport and lower its rates as well. This difference in response between New York City taxi drivers and companies like Uber (and Lyft, which capitalized on the public’s outcry at Uber’s continued service as its rival) reflects a much larger issue under the surface: over the years, Uber and Lyft have used their “political might,” as executive directer and co-founder of NYTWA Bhairavi Desai claims on Democracy Now!, to win deregulation bills and outcompete the existing taxi industry.

Still known to many as startups, Uber and Lyft combined “ironically spent more on lobbying than Amazon and Walmart combined, and Microsoft, as well.” Desai claims that these companies are operating in a “gig economy,” which she describes as “destroying what has been a full-time profession, turning it into part-time, poverty-pay work,” and they’re using Wall Street money to do it.

Douglas Schifter, according to Desai, was the third taxi driver to commit suicide in just the past few months. Desai states, “I have never seen drivers in more deeper despair and crisis.” This situation runs deep, and it is highly political.

 

Situating Race in Gun Control Debates

On Thursday morning, there was another school shooting in the United States–this time, at a Los Angeles middle school. The count for school shootings this year has climbed to twelve and it’s barely been over a month since the year started. Conversations around the time of school shootings are generally varied and contextual, but they rarely end in a consensus for gun control measures. This sparse follow-through is a product of different politics: those who favor ‘comprehensive gun control’ are liberals or progressives and those who are averse to it are conservatives and ‘traditionalists.’

Ideals for ‘comprehensive gun control’ appear to be compelling to liberals and progressives, but its proponents also often differ in their political stance toward the position itself. These political differences distinguish the two groups: the liberals and the progressives. Where liberals lean toward reform, trust in the criminal legal system (credit to writer and activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha for the phrase), and ‘love not hate’ slogans, progressives lean in the direction of revolution, community and restorative justice, and explicit race consciousness.

So, looking back on the incident on Thursday morning, gun control advocates could have a range of responses. The shooting was in an area that is reported by news outlets to have had a gang presence. The Los Angeles Times shares interviews with students’ parents who claim, though, that the school itself doesn’t have problems with safety. The February 1 article reports that the Los Angeles Unified School district “is the only district its size that requires every middle- and high-school campus to conduct daily random searches for weapons using metal-detecting wands.” However, an internal district audit of twenty schools released in April of 2017 found inconsistencies in the way these random searches were conducted.

Although the random searches are a part of the district’s safety plan, there have been debates by locals as to whether or not they are useful and necessary. Another Los Angeles Times article entitled “Amid middle school shooting, a debate rages over random weapons searches on L.A. campuses” reports that interviews with teachers, students, and administrators in the district reveal that “elements of the searches–from who gets picked to be searched and how the search is done–are not uniform across the school system.” During these searches, school officials did not only search for and confiscate weapons but school supplies and other materials. According to the article, on April 20, 2015, “a day in which many people celebrate marijuana,” North Hollywood High School randomly searched 100 students and did not find any drugs but simply several permanent markers and a lighter. Some school faculty and students claim that these searches are less common in advanced placement, honors, and magnet classrooms, which “have more white students, which means nonwhite students in other classes could be targeted more frequently.”

Some advocates of gun control, especially those who are liberal leaning, may read the district’s safety plan as one prong to a two-pronged approach to achieving increases in student safety (the safety plan along with gun control). But others may be critical of rises in surveillance on campuses which could result in increases in criminalization, especially for Black and brown youth. The differences in these two stances has become pivotal in present politics with a divide between relative allegiance to the state, and critique of the state’s base structure and foundation. To me, it’s ludicrous to claim that so-called political ‘divides’ like this one are unproductive and dangerous. It’s the urgency of the present climate that should be regarded with such conviction as opposed to the perceived polarity in people’s responses to it.

 

Can Vice Media Improve?

When I was in highschool, the platform, Vice, was considered cool, alternative, and explorative. For those who don’t know, Vice is a platform for original reporting and documentaries. They brand themselves as “the counterculture,” as they state on the About page of their website. Most people might know about Vice as a platform that features stories about far-off cultures and places that Vice has construed as interesting and weird. For example, I watched one of their documentaries about Japan’s cuddle cafes. This Vice investigative reporting involved a white guy by the name of Ryan Duffy (who studied journalism at New York University) going to Japan to check out a strange and far-flung part of Japanese culture, and then filming a short documentary depicting him reacting to immersion into it.

Duffy begins the documentary discussing Japan’s role as a rising “world power” and other aspects of its evolving nationhood, including the ‘dilemma’ that the population had become stagnant in growth. He cites the reason for this plateau in population growth to be that Japanese people are no longer engaging in intimacy with one another. The Vice documentary attempts to explore what they call the “Japanese Love Industry” to investigate the ways in which this ‘phenomenon’ materializes.

If you’ll watch the documentary for yourself, you might understand the fuller picture of what I am trying to get at here: the Vice platform brands itself on an edgy, explorative, and alternative approach to journalistic reporting, but underlying its approach is a stark Eurocentrism–or, the bias toward white, western culture as superior–that is clear in the stories it chooses to report and the way that it reports them. As I suggested earlier, this Eurocentrism is also at times apparent in the dynamics between the reporter and the community or culture of the reporter’s story.

It is problematic that Vice brands itself as a “counterculture” because that image prevents them from being associated with the harms of what are considered more ‘traditional’ aspects of dominant white and western culture. This branding as alternative which can operate to deflect accountability is not just a company matter–it occurs with people and smaller communities as well. I am not the only person to note the falsity of image that Vice presents, however, of claiming edginess and simultaneously their tolerance presented as political liberalism.

The Independent also reported on the matter, specifically with regards to issues of sexual misconduct and a patriarchal office culture at Vice. The article, entitled “Vice Media Apologises for ‘Boy’s Club’ Culture that Fostered Sexual Harassment: ‘We Let Far Too Many People Down,’” discusses the way that the company is famed for “its hipster style and digital savvy,” while it has “failed to protect women staff from sexual harassment and misconduct.” This article itself fails to interrogate its own patriarchal framing of the matter, in its insinuation that it’s on the male co-founders to “protect women” rather than to challenge the broader structure of gender norms and rape culture (and, with that, cis-ness). However, it presents the perspectives of a number of people at the company who share their experiences with its problematic culture.

And, this past week, I have realized the products of Vice’s false, dangerous image for myself. I do not necessarily believe that a platform like Vice can grow or improve in the hands of the same people who have filled its positions over the years. I believe that it has the potential to transform, if it starts to uplift and employ more marginalized writers and artists, and relinquish for themselves the power to propagate Eurocentric narratives branding themselves as different than the rest.

 

Reaching for Visibility with Inherent Politicism

Tyler Ford is a writer, activist and social media personality with 86,100 followers on Instagram. Known on the platform as @tywrent, Ford’s biography also states that they use the pronouns they and them. Tyler Ford is an agender person of color (POC), who openly advocates for trans and gender non-conforming people. But, how? How has a person of color, whose identity is constructed as fictive in the mainstream, garnered this much fame and power?

I did some research to find out. Apparently, Ford is best friends with Ariana Grande. Upon seeing this, I thought: Okay, well, now their fame makes more sense. Generally, though, it’s not POC who have those sort of high-up connections, unless their family is deep within an industry already. After some more digging, I found that Ford and Grande both grew up in Boca Raton, Florida. Though this fact is not accessible online, I speculate that they also grew close as kids in Boca Raton, before Grande moved to Los Angeles at around age thirteen.

Ariana Grande introduced Ford to Miley Cyrus in 2015. Cyrus brought Ford as her date to the amFAR Inspiration Gala and posted photos on her Instagram of them on her arm and of her kissing them on the cheek at the event. Cyrus’ public display of their relationship is complicated. On one hand, Ford speaks about Cyrus as a truly supportive friend who “really wants to share our stories” with “such a huge audience.” She posted on Instagram about Ford being “a queer, biracial, agender person, whose pronouns are they/them/theirs,” and even includes a quote by Ford discussing their experience with feeling restricted by the gender binary (of male and female).

At the same time, though, Cyrus has been critiqued by large swaths of people for appropriating Black culture on numerous occasions and for using Black people as accessories for her own public image. Ford knew what they were doing by accepting Cyrus’ invitation for a date and Instagram feature, by explicitly acknowledging the exposure that they would gain from Cyrus sharing her platform. Their decision was their own, and entirely valid without me or anybody else having anything to say about it.

So, more than that, I am interested in the matter of how people with what I call “inherent politicism”–meaning, having identities that are inextricable from politics, confrontation, and disruption–achieve different degrees of mobility. My main question is: do we have to compromise? In order for us to exist, we are often expected to deny ourselves by what a friend of mine, who is also trans, calls “going rogue.” In her context, this means hiding our most comfortable, truest expression and self in order to ensure personal safety. If we want to wear dresses, we wear pants. If we like looking gender non-conforming, we take hormones or cover parts of ourselves to appear cis-passing.

In a world where we are always expected to hide some part of ourselves, for physical or emotional security, should we expect ourselves to do this in in-person interactions that permit us mobility as well? When do we allow ourselves to exist without the immediacy of our own expectations for ourselves to survive? How much should we expect this of ourselves, when we are already expected to grow desensitized to the discomfort of restrictions placed on our humanity?

These are the reasons why trans community is vital: so that we can assure one another that these choices are tricky, but they’re also our own.

 

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