Sat, Jul. 8th, 2006, 11:54 am || Race and Pirates

add to memories

I ended up buying Beverly Tatum's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?", despite already having borrowed it from the library because a) I wanted something to read in line while I waited to get a seat for Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and b) I want to financially support books like these and authors who tackle the subject of race.

I read a few chapters while standing in line, delighted by Tatum's definitions and her clear explanations and her compassion toward people of color and Whites alike.

Then I went in to watch Pirates.

And I watched, and I grew more and more uncomfortable. Jack Sparrow and crew run amok of cannibals. The cannibals, are, of course, Black. They have face paint and random piercings; they have made Jack Sparrow their king. He speaks to them in terms like, "Licka licka, savvy?" There are a few people of color in his pirate crew, but their speaking parts are small, and they all have very strong accents. Or they don't speak at all and lend their faces to the motley look of the crew. The main character of color is a Black woman, a voodoo witch or something, with eyeballs in jars, blackened teeth, and an accent so strong that I couldn't understand her half the time.

While I was noticing this and noticing the fact that there were no non-stereotyped portrayals of people of color, I was growing more and more uncomfortable with this awareness. I'm actually very ashamed to say this, but I kept thinking of things like, "Oh, is it really that bad?" and "It's just a movie" and "Really, it's about pirates, what can you expect?" and "It's all in good fun."

Except... it isn't.

And I can't get over the fact that even though I had been reading about race right before the movie, noticing the stereotypes and being critical of race in the movie made me incredibly uncomfortable and squirmy, so much so that I tried to rationalize it away. I spent the first half of the movie squirming and becoming more and more aware of the fact that my mind kept trying to slip away from the topic of race, kept trying to not confront it and come up with more and more reasons why it really wasn't that bad.

Except... it is that bad.

It is bad that I cannot think about race without this extreme uncomfortableness, that I cannot do it without attempting to rationalize and excuse, that I cannot do it even after reading about it and being fully committed to speaking out. And it is even worse, because I know if I had seen the movie without having read the Tatum beforehand, I would have noticed, but I would have let myself brush it off, let myself not post about it.

I didn't even post about this last night because it made me so uncomfortable.

Well, also, I wanted to make myself a "Not the magical minority fairy" icon.

But anyway. No more excuses from me, no rationalization. The movie is incredibly racist. I still had some fun watching it, but knowing that it was racist and knowing that most of the audience very likely wouldn't think so spoiled the majority of it for me.

I have difficulties just typing "The movie is incredibly racist," and I have to keep thinking about how I routinely notice the portrayal of women in nearly everything I read and watch (the movie is not as deeply sexist as it is racist; thankfully, Elizabeth gets to do stuff. But it is still very male). I have to keep thinking that for me, noticing sexism is ok, that pointing it out in my LJ is standard. And I have to keep thinking that I need to do the same about race, even though posting things like this frighten me because of the reaction to the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM.

Part of me doesn't even want to keep talking about this because it's so uncomfortable, because it causes such defensiveness in other people, because I am tired of being told that I am wrong for seeing these things. And that's the very reason I am making myself post this, making myself confront the nidginess and the squirminess, the problems that I have in just acknowledging that something that I am enjoying is racist.

ETA: Freezing some threads in which further discussion seems to be rather pointless.

ETA2: I'm now screening all anonymous comments to this entry, not because I don't welcome them, but because I've been getting stupid spam comments everyday. If you aren't a spambot, you should make it through the screening! This is for spam only, not opinion-filtering.