The "Scandal" of Race, Stereotyping, and Representation

I have seen Jose Antonio Vargas on weekend cable news shows, and no, I did not realize that he was Filipino. In fact, I didn’t give any thought to what his ethnic background might be because I was so focused on the conversation about immigration that it was the last thing on my mind. In any case, Vargas noted that he is an educated man—a Pulitzer Prize winner—that pays U.S. taxes, and I think that this brings up an important point; that a lot of undocumented workers contribute to the U.S. economy through taxes. But I think that he separates himself by class, which can be problematic. I think he mentions that he could be considered a “model minority,” which is definitely the case—he is the exception, and not the rule. Also, he is in a high-visibility position as a journalist. As a result, I am not sure if ICE would really pursue him as they would someone with a lower profile. I could be wrong, but I think it would bring a lot of unwanted press to an issue that politicians want to ignore.

I am not sure what the cultural touchstones, or signs are for Filipino culture, but he mentions that he is “adobo- cooking, TFC-watching, Sharon Cuneta-Vilma Santos listening (Filipino). I’m as Filipino as they come. I speak Tagalog fluently. I understand Sambal, which is the dialect of Zambales where my grandparents come from. So if you think I’m not Filipino that’s your problem. That’s not my problem” (The Filam “Jose Antonio Vargas: ‘If you think I’m not Filipino that’s your problem, that’s not my problem’”). Vargas uses these signs, and his mention of being fluent in specific languages, to connect with people from his culture. This brings to mind the Stuart Hall reading on representation. Specifically, that Vargas uses these symbols to connect to a certain group that would recognize these artifacts of Filipino culture. In other words, the things that he mentions represent something to the people that understand the message–what Hall calls a “conceptual map”(18).

I have visited, and read article on the Racialicious site before, and it appears to be a site that promotes current feminist discourse. I don’t have a problem with the site, or with the open letter to Tyler Perry. I have not seen his movie “Temptation,” but I was really tempted to see it. I am so glad that I didn’t because I didn’t know what the themes were until I read the letter—the advertising for the movie is kind of vague, or it just leaves the Christianity and vengeful HIV out . I absolutely agree with the person who wrote this letter. If in fact all of those things are going on in the movie, I am disappointed. I thought that he was eventually going to use all of that Madea money to create something valuable. But what can one expect from a person that pimps and parodies the image of Black women.

Black Actors as Black Women

It was completely irresponsible of Perry to use AIDS/HIV in the way that he did. Black women have the highest rates of HIV, and he should be focused on that—the reality of it, and not the morality. What’s more appalling is his connection of fidelity in marriage to HIV, which is very heteronormative. It sounds as if the movie is problematic in race and gender categories as well, but I won’t be sure until I see it (on video to study as a text). Lastly, it seems as if Tyler Perry communicates atavistic messages to his target audience—Black people—that sorely need a new message!

The bell hooks chapter, “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” brought up a lot of points that are relevant today. We don’t need to look far in popular culture to see examples of the Other changing the lives of white people. Hooks overhears a conversation between a group of white jocks and concludes that “To these young males and their buddies fucking was a way to confront the Other, as well as a way to make themselves over, to leave behind white “innocence,” and enter the world of “experience” (Hooks 368). There are plenty of examples of this scene in popular culture. I offer video clips from Napoleon Dynamite and Road Trip as examples:

Napoleon Dynamite-Kip and Lafawnda

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope

There is a huge online community and conversation dedicated to the ABC television show, Scandal. There are some problematic things in the show, but for the most part it shows the complexities that exist in the life of an African American professional woman (can you tell that I love this show?!). This show is doing some fresh things with race, gender, interracial love, homosexual love—it’s just really good. My point in mentioning Scandal is that the show has an African American female lead that is a different enough representation of an African American women that the show has become very popular.

6 artifacts contained in this post; 2 links in Scandal section, two videos, and two images.

Sources:

  • Hall, S. (2003). The Work of Representation,  In Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, edited by Stuart Hall, London: Sage Publications.
  • Dyer, R.. Stereotyping,” In Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, Ed. by Meenakshi Gigi Durnham and Douglas Kellner. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
  • hooks, b. (1993) `Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance’, in b. hooks Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End Press.
  • Smith-Shomade, B.. (2007). Target Market Black: BET and the Branding of African America, In Cable Visions: Television Beyond Broadcasting, Eds. Cynthia Chris, Anthony Freitas, and Sarah Banet-Weiser. New York: New York University Press.
  • Pastor, Cristina DC. “Jose Antonio Vargas: ‘If you think I’m not Filipino, that’s your problem, that’s not my problem’.” Accessed 8 Apr. 2013<http://thefilam.net/archives/10652&gt;
  • Dennis, Chris McDonald. “An Open Letter to Tyler Perry.” Accessed 8 Apr. 2013. <http://www.racialicious.com/2013/04/05/an-open-letter-to-tyler-perry/&gt;


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