Tag Archives: Religion

Race From The Top


It’s delicate to talk about race. It’s downright incendiary to do so about a race outside of one’s own. Of course it’s the 21st century and we should have matured beyond this point by now. We think nothing of discussing religion, politics or sex at the dinner table or loudly into our phones on public transport. But race? Well, that’s a horse of a different color.

Race matters, as does religion. Many people define themselves by, well by their people. When asked to describe themselves in three words, many will default to; race/religion, gender, politics (or romantic affiliation depending on context/election year.) How we define ourselves is based somewhat on our affinity to a minority group. If one is a white Christian male, he may define himself in terms of profession or hobby. For truth be told, the majority venture through life a bit differently than anyone in an underrepresented group. (It can be confusing to consider women, who are 51% of the population as “underrepresented” but when we do so, we are referencing their position in society.) In the broadest terms, a white Christian male experiences, on the whole, fewer incidents of exclusion. They likely don’t have shop owners looking at them askew, or taxi drivers refusing their fare. They don’t have people assuming they’re the nurse (versus the surgeon) or the flight attendant (versus the pilot.) They don’t look upon the White House Christmas/Easter celebrations, year after year after year, and think; “Where do I fit into this Christian country?”

Almost any minority narrative is peppered with “where do I fit in.” We look at the culture as represented in entertainment, commerce, and leadership. We seek something familiar, someone with whom we can identify. With each decade our popular culture becomes incrementally diverse. If we were to grab the television remote today, and try very very hard, we could probably find positive depictions of more than the majority race. We may even find gay and lesbian people/characters who weren’t playing the perennial punch line. Women are more prominent in serious roles on television. But without a lofty film career or British citizenship on their resume, they are still mostly (two packs-a-day, dabbling in harmful behaviors) underweight and equipped with perfectly symmetrical faces. But they do vary in shades (if not body type.) The lighter darker skinned woman is much more prevalent on the small and sometimes larger screen. Many primetime dramas have a principle cast that includes women of (near of far) eastern, Latina or African American background. Most (if not all) are quite light. You can’t say the same for men of color in television or film. We could all probably rattle off at least a dozen high-powered/profile big box-office actors who are on the darker side. Some of these accomplished actors also wear the mantle of sex symbol. Can we think of even one actress with dark skin who is a) big box-office or b) a sex symbol? (This question is not rhetorical, please post comments.)

Recently the casting of a (n unauthorized) film about Nina Simone was leaked. Ms. Simone was a breath-taking talent (and civil rights advocate) and a dark skinned woman. The actress selected is Dominican/Puerto Rican and quite light skinned. While color blind casting can work, it does not when the subject matter is inextricably linked to race. Most likely there is no grand conspiracy at work here. More likely it is a general industry consensus that lead actresses need to appeal to the majority white male. Walk into any hair salon in any neighborhood and ask the women of any race, religion, and ethnicity if they would throw Denzel Washington or Jamie Foxx out of the bedroom. Go ahead, I’ll wait. But women, to be considered desirable by popular culture, must look somewhat related to Barbie. She can be Barbie’s tanned cousin, but her features (i.e., hair, face) must still look as if they belong on the Mattel family tree.

The good(?) news is that we have made some progress in the area of dark skinned leading men (no doubt Sidney Poitier was getting very lonely.) But the much more disturbing news is that women must still conform to a perceived majority male ideal. Is there any market research to bear this ideal out? Or is it simply that there are just a handful of people in any real power in Hollywood and what we see is in fact their own personal preference? Dark skinned actors are fine, because these male producers (probably) don’t want to sleep with them. They want to hang out with them (because in their worldview of race, this will make them cooler.)

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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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The Pious Doth Protest Too Much

There’s an awful lot of talk about equal marriage being incompatible with religious beliefs.  The president has even been speaking with religious leaders to alleviate their (and his) fears.  I’m not entirely sure I buy it.

I believe that people have found comfort in defending their stance with their religious convictions.  I mean who would argue with someone’s religious convictions or even suggest that religion, by its definition, is a way to exclude people who are not like us?  Not I.  But does anyone, even the most pious of Americans, believe that legal civil rights have anything to do with religion?  I can’t begin to understand how.  I’ve heard people claim a fear that their religious institution will be “forced” to perform marriages.  How?  They are not forced to perform marriages now.  I can’t walk into a religious institution with a willing heterosexual accomplice and force clergy to perform a marriage ceremony.  Religious institutions, again by their very definition, are allowed to exclude whomever they please.  (If you don’t believe me, just try getting married in a conservative synagogue without paperwork verifying your worthiness.  Even then it will be up to the discretion of the rabbi whether to cue the chuppah.)  So no one is going to be forced to do anything.

Then does just the idea that people are doing something that you believe your religion does not celebrate send a person ’round the bend?  Maybe.  People are entitled to interpret their religious doctrine anyway they please.  Whether I think intolerance has never been the teaching of any religion is immaterial.  But ya know what?  It turns out that church and state are in fact separate. There are several religions that ban pork from the human diet.  Yet the U.S.D.A. gives legitimacy to pork producers, manufacturers and distributors.  What would help anyone feeling that the United States government is on the verge of offending his or her religious sensibilities is to cease from seeing marriage as a religious rite, and see it as a civil right and legal construct.

Consider that in many religions the birth of a child is celebrated in a house of worship.  Not all babies are welcomed into that house of worship.  They must be of proper lineage and deemed worthy.  Yet, our government issues all babies birth certificates.  Why?  Because we have chosen, as a people, to have a government that ensures basic rights and freedoms of every citizen.  It all starts with the birth certificate.  Having a birth certificate is not a ticket to the alter/bihma it is a ticket to; social security, public education, voting and, with any luck, a marriage license.


Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Marriage/Wedding


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Lines Are Drawn

Have you noticed a cultural aversion to boundaries?  It seems the very concept of boundaries, and hence the concept of “others” has taken on a verboten quality.  A very disingenuous verboten quality I may add.
Certainly the phenomenon of parent as “friend” and child as equal member of the family has been observed and critiqued.  Do parents still even have locks on their bedroom door?  Whatever boundaries existing there are pretty much invisible to the naked eye.
But what of larger more far reaching lack of boundary phenomenon?  I recently was on the bewildering end of a religion conversation.  My conversational partner insisting that lots of Jewish people celebrate Christmas, and advising me that I was being dogmatic in my view of religion.  Isn’t that the whole point of religion?  Doesn’t a great deal of religious identity depend on identifying what it is not?  Judaism is a whole lot of things, and one of them is that it is NOT celebrating Christian holidays.  Do I know of many people of Jewish origin who in attempts at either not denying their cherubs or in their own ambiguous identity have embraced Christmas?  Absolutely.  But why is it wrong or “rigid” to maintain or at least recognize, a boundary?  Haven’t we fought wars over such things?  Don’t we have an entire government based upon parties whose very existence is predicated on not being a member of the “other” party?
We are all equal as human beings, but it is dismissive and offensive to maintain that we are all the same.

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Cultural Critique


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