JMC Media Festival – Communities, Cultures, and Connections

This Friday I attended the JMC media festival at CSU. The panel I attended was “Communities, Cultures, and Connections: Making Engaging Media.” It was moderated by Dr. Rosa Mikeal Martey (a CSU professor) and the panel was comprised of Cristal Silero-Dukes (a PR specialist), Ama Arthur-Asmah (a photojournalist), Izzy Abbass (a communications consultant), and Eugene Daniels (A digital content producer). A fifth speaker, Vanessa Nettingham, was unable to attend the panel.

The panel was largely informal, but it centered around how communicating with and creating content for different communities and cultures should be handled. The panel was racially diverse, and they were able to speak of personal experiences in their respective fields where either their own backgrounds were used to engage an audience, or when they had to engage audiences that were different from themselves.

I spoke to most of the speakers following the event, and even grabbed a couple of business cards. Though I don’t intend on working in Colorado after graduating, they all had unique and useful perspectives on how to handle covering different groups, whether they be divided by race, gender, sexuality, age, etc.

One thing that struck me about the panel is that it was racially diverse and had an even number of men and women, but the majority of the panelists were young, able, and presumably straight. They touched on diversity in age, ability, and sexuality, but they spent the majority of their time on the topic of race. Of course, this makes sense, as the panel was intended to be racially diverse, and finding a small panel that includes diversity in every regard is unrealistic.

The most important thing I learned is that you should do your research whenever you’re engaging a community different from your own. One of the speakers talked about how he was helping start a TV station in Hungary, and they were about to name the station something that sounded fine in English, but in Hungarian it sounded very similar to a Communist holiday – this, of course, would have been problematic, and they only had three weeks to change the name before the station launched.

There was also a focus on basic humanity when it comes to understanding different cultures and communities. “Humans are humans,” Eugene said. When it comes to journalism, everything is about telling stories, and the best way to tell any story is to focus on the human element in each story, regardless of race, gender, religion etc. Ultimately, we’re all the same, but our differences should still be embraced.

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Trying to Recognize my White Privilege in a Gay Relationship

After spending the better part of an hour reading and rereading Bell Hooks’ article “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” I felt myself actively trying to let my guard down and learn something new. All-in-all, I learned some things about post-colonialist lenses and overtly racist themes in the media. But after looking long and hard at my own system of beliefs and convictions, I still can’t get on board with her views on the white-male desire to “consume” the Other – or those of a different race.

To make my point, I’m going to have to relay a rather large portion of her writing, so buckle up. In the article, Hooks writes, “For white boys to openly discuss their desire for colored girls (or boys) publicly announces their break with a white supremacist past… They see their willingness to openly name their desire for the Other as affirmation of cultural plurality… Unlike racist white men who historically violated the bodies of black women/women of color to assert their position as colonizer/conquerer, these young men see themselves as non-racists, who choose to transgress racial boundaries within the sexual realm, not to dominate the Other… they believe that their desire for contact represents a progressive change in white attitudes towards non-whites… One dares – acts – on the assumption that the exploration into the world of difference, into the body of the Other, will provide a greater, more intense pleasure than any that exists in the ordinary world of one’s familiar racial group.”

I am a white man, and I am currently dating a man of mixed race. He isn’t some sort of exotic object to me that I’m consuming to feel better about historical aggressions of whites towards “the Other.” I’m not interested in him because our pairing represents a progressive change in race relations. We aren’t together to raise ourselves up as some sort of racism-defying trophy for the world to see. I’m, frankly, bewildered by Hooks’ reduction of any white man who is romantically/physically involved with anyone who isn’t white. For the record, she even goes out of her way to say that sexual orientation makes no difference in this matter.

As it turns out, I happen to like my partner because of his sense of humor, geniality, and intelligence. We, coincidentally, share a lot of the same interests and hobbies. We understand each other on a personal, intimate level. To suggest that his race is paramount to my desire to be with him, that I have this urge to right some past racial wrong, is abhorrent. I am physically attracted to him, and his genetic roots obviously gave him some combination of facial features and other visible qualities that I find pleasing. His race is obviously some part of the equation for my draw towards him, but it isn’t the whole picture. I recognize my own inherent racism as much as I can, but I simply cannot read her views and bob my head politely.

Still, I have to try not to be so reductive towards Hooks’ statements. In many ways, her rationale can be filtered through Baudrillard’s views on how referentials can combine with their discourses in an endless cycle, and often flip positions. He writes, “Not so long ago, sex and work were fiercely opposed terms; today both are dissolved in the same type of demand. Formerly the discourse on history derived its power from violently opposing itself to that of nature, the discourse of desire to that of power – today they exchange their signifiers and their scenarios.” In a sense, Hooks may see this conscious shift of white men (who once had power) now denouncing racism as an inevitable flip of the paradigm. It seems that she assumes this shift is predicated on guilt, self-riteousness, or both, but she recognizes that for some white men, the conscious shift has occurred. Whether she feels this is progress, I simply cannot tell.

Racism and Gay Culture

So. This is the inaugural post to this blog. As you may have assessed from the title, this blog is all about using my specific critical lens as a gay man to analyze and critique pieces of media that I come across. It’s a bit awkward for me to be doing this, in all honesty. I’ve written blogs before, but never anything quite like this. I’ve blogged about video games, creative writing, other hobbies of mine, but nothing that’s intrinsic to me. Like my sexuality, for instance. I’m white, upper middle class, male – pretty much all of the boxes I check on forms are privileged. But then there’s the combo breaker of sexuality that I’ve barely let myself explore in my 20+ years of life. So without further ado, let’s talk about racism. (Great segue, right?)

In the article “Racism Without Racists,” the author heavily discusses “abstract liberalism” in pertinence to racism. They write, “By framing race-related issues in the language of liberalism, whites can appear ‘reasonable’ and even ‘moral,’ while opposing almost all practical approaches to deal with de facto racial inequality.” This thought process can also be extended to sexuality, though of course the paradigms of race and sexual orientation are entirely different.

People of any sexual orientation other than “straight” know this line of thought all too well: you can marry now, you’re equal, you’ve gotten what you’ve wanted so now you can stop protesting. Yes, it’s wonderful that people in the LGBT community can now get married, but there’s still plenty of inequality out there. This abstract liberal notion of equality is a falsity, and every minority group knows it. Just because one thing has changed for the better doesn’t mean there isn’t mistreatment of gays in the workplace, it doesn’t mean that violence towards transgender people has disappeared. It’s destructive for anyone to assume one solution has suddenly fixed every problem, as it slows down the process of fixing the problems that still need fixed.

The article “Enlightened Racism,” which focuses on the effects that The Cosby Show had on American perceptions of the black population, made strikingly similar points. It suggests that the hyper clean-cut image of the Huxtable family skewed the image of what the average African American family was. In reality, the Huxtable’s wealth was a rarity for the African American community, and it possibly made white audiences think such disparity was nonexistent. I’d argue that it simply normalized the possibility for a black family to be wealthy and successful, just as shows like Modern Family normalize gay relationships.

I’ve begun reading Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, which I believe in many ways can apply to sexuality. There are various images in gay culture that attempt to encapsulate the solidarity of the LGBT community – the rainbow, in particular, stands out to me as a complex symbol, and perhaps even a simulacrum. In theory, the rainbow represents a diverse group of people (i.e., different colors) that coexist in harmony – just as the LGBT community hopes to do. It also references the very nature of rainbows, wherein they appear after rough storms as a beacon of hope, so to speak. Now, however, the image of a rainbow has been stripped of these meanings, and instead simply represents the idea idea of the gay/LGBT community wholly. You see a rainbow, you think gay. The two have become intrinsically linked, but perhaps at the cost of deeper meaning.

As a quick aside, Baudrillard (or at least the translation of Baudrillard) made a reference to homosexuality that I perceive as a poorly thought out slight. He wrote “Today it can discharge a very good simulator as exactly equivalent to a “real” homosexual, a heart patient, or a madman.” In this logic, he’s equating homosexuality with disease and insanity. I understand that the early 1980’s were a different time, but I find this comparison to be unnecessary and undercooked. Just thought I’d throw that out there.