CM Thoughts #2

Great ideas there, so I'll respond to them as the answers present themselves to me. "Minstrelsy" is indeed a negative term that, in no uncertain ways, Lindh reproduced. Through his "identity tourism" and racial appropriation, he was simply unable to imagine a complex (or dignified) black or Arabic subject beyond the hypermasculine Thug. The argument at hand is that his "racial transvestism" reproduced a stereotypical trope of an essentialized blackness as gangsta! Alexander Saxton has a nice description of Minstrelsy in "The Rise and Fall of the White Republic".

Part of what intrigues me about Lindh is his ability to play multiple sides of "race", so to speak. While he sits from his privileged white, middle-class abode, he adopts a superficial Otherness that is always detached from a certain offline i.e., "real" socio-economic oppression. That is, Lindh's appropriation of a mythical "blackness" is never a liability since he can always return to whiteness at any given time.

The sports videogame idea is interesting and certainly screams for some "representation" work. I would argue it is a form of surrogate minstrelsy: the trope is "predigested" by software engineers rather than the actual user (or perhaps I'm incorrect with this). With "minstrelsy", the (online) user actually has a hand in creating an essentialized "Other" that typically reproduces what Nakamura calls a "cybertype" (an online stereotype of sorts). The difficulty, of course, is methodological insofar as it remains difficult to conduct a "chatroom ethnography" but also to learn the "real" identities of users. Much literature makes guesses as to the predominantly white, middle-class male usership, but all estimations are speculative.

As per Michael Jackson, I'll start with a mildly entertaining anecdote. I was in Brian Wilson's class and for some reason refered to Dave Andrews' paper titled, "The Facts of Michael Jackson's Blackness"…I laughed as soon as I said it. Of course, the "real" title is "The Facts of Michael Jordan's Blackness".

There is an interesting article by Johnson & Roediger that explains the racial transcendance, and eventual return to blackness vis-a-vis OJ Simpson. It's a rich article that makes some provocative suggestions about what hooks famously calls, "the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy". What is interesting about Jackson, is that he is (in my opinion) irrevocably linked to "blackness" through his signature dancing. Jackson's ostensible "whitening", I think, has less to do with "bleaching" (urban mythology?) than an actual medicalized condition (not sure, perhaps I'll check out the links). What is more, both Jackson and Lindh, through their attempt to transcend their own ideas of race, actually work to reproduce an essentialized understanding of racial stereotypes. For Lindh, his escape from the perceived banalities of "whiteness" was facilitated by his own fetishized notion of "blackness" (I need more time to develop this one).

In the postmodern era (as trite as this is becoming), "race" is often reduced to a performance, or a set of cultural commodities. While this has the potentially transformative affect of nullifying eugenics and theories of biologically superior "races", there is a certain peculiarity that presents itself. Through the process, the Other has been the dish that is served up for appropriation rather than "whiteness". There is a certain white privilege granted to those who endulge in consuming, say, "blackness". hooks refers to this as "eating the Other", or the process by which "white youth enhance the blank palate of whiteness" with a bit of the Other.

This could explain why (white) culture finds Carlton Banks (Alfonso Robiero) of "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" so comically successful. There is a certian incommensurable idiosyncracy presented by Carlton's "whiteness". Some might say that Carlton is the "'whitest' black man in the world" (sort of a fictive Bryant Gumbel per se). Of course, critical race scholars would (and should) find this troubling. The expression relies upon and reproduces an essentialized understanding of both "whiteness" and "blackness". It constructs Carlton as a racial anomoly of sorts since he does not (indeed can not) perform a "proper fiction of blackness", which, evidently, is often a white fantasy parlayed by the likes of MTV, "White Men Can't Jump", and so forth.

That's where I'm at right now. I'm reading a book called "Space Invaders" (something about race, gender, and space. The Lindh paper will be done by next Wednesday…It is a rather schizophrenic work in progress that seems to have a lot going on. I'll send it to you regardless.

Talk soon,

S.

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