Monday, January 14, 2013

Kimye, Girls and PostInterracial Obsessions

Not everyone knows this about me, but I'm mildly obsessed with most things interracial or mixed race or biracial. There was a time when I read all of the memoirish books that came out: Bulletproof Diva, Black, White, and Jewish, Caucasia, Dreams From My Father, Another Country (I know this isn't a memoir, but I just thought of it and its characters :). I wouldn't say that I like all of these books--Jones' Diva is burned in my brain--but I had  to read them. Just like I had to watch Who Is Black in America?, hosted by Soledad O'Brien, mostly because many of folks they focused on had a white parent--I don't know if that's how it started out, but how it ended, for sure. And, if you haven't figured it out by now, yes my obsession really lies in Black/white interracial relationships and usually those between men and women. Um, so this may turn into a post where I work out something from my childhood. Just kidding. But, I am a little obsessed with Kimye's pregnancy. You know, because no one is going to make a big deal of that child's mixed race heritage....

Ok. Obviously, some of this does lie in my own experience, as I realized when, the Tuesday after Who is Black aired, an older, African American man stopped me in the grocery store to ask me if I did spoken word. "No," I said quickly, a little confused but just as quickly realized where he was going with it at the same time that he said "Oh, no, but you look a lot like this girl (Noya Jones) that I saw doing spoken word last night on TV!" And then we talked about the show for a minute as my groceries were rung up.

And there's something about that interaction that I simultaneously love, hate, and am intimately familiar with. For decades, I've been asked about "being mixed," about my features, have had comparisons made to other, mixed race people, etc. Family members, students, strangers want to know "what I am," and "what it's like." And there's something I love about that curiosity, that trying to figure out something about race, Blackness, and interracial "something." At the same time, it is incredibly invasive and feels like some birth service I'm supposed to perform like, "Oh, you want to know the intimate details of my life and experience while I'm riding the elevator up to my doctor's office? Of course, and let me explain it all to you while you finger my hair." This has subsided some as I've gotten older, but the frequency of it still lay in my bones, which is why I get a little eye twitch when Kim Kardashian dates (Kardashian has Armenian heritage but/and is very much consumed as white, especially in relationship to her often Black partners) or when Lena Dunham decides to address her critics by adding a Black character, aka her character, Hannah Horvath's boyfriend, Sandy (Donald Glover) in the second season of her award winning show, Girls. *spoilers* below, so stop reading if you don't want to know what happens.

I've only seen a couple of episodes of Girls, as I don't have HBO, but, because of the premieres, we got a free run this week so I was able to watch it. And, while I certainly understood the criticism of the show when it debuted, I didn't share the same feelings--except for the whole bit about Lesley Arfin--I  wasn't really surprised that there was a show about white (middle class) people in NYC--Williamsburg, a white hipster haven, who don't have any friends or interactions with people of color. As, Dunham herself has said, she really based it on her life, her gut and, not surprisingly, that's what it looks like. Truth be told, I kind of like the show, mostly because I watched the smart, vulnerable Tiny Furniture, prior. Dunham is often sharp about her presentation, which is what I appreciate about Girls. But, it's mostly her and her character and Zosia Mamet (who plays Shoshanna) who interest me, I think the rest of the characters played by Alison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Andrew Rannells, are pretty flat (although last night's sex scene between Williams and Rannells might rattle that a little). And, I can't tell that the same won't be true of Sandy, who we were introduced to last night. On the one hand I liked the way that he was written in, their interaction in the record store, and, eventually, when they inevitably have an argument about their racial differences and she quotes Missy Elliot's line, saying "so why don't you lay this thing down, flip it and reverse it," which he calls her on. At the same time, it feels a little forced in that he's introduced in the first few minutes of the second season premiere through a pretty raw sex scene where he's telling her--playfully--to tell him she wants it and later they then have said argument (wonderfully written) about why they will never work. It's sort of like, "you want more people of color? Fine, I'm going to open with what much of the culture is really thinks about Black men and white women and then break up with my Black boyfriend so I can get back to the real focus of the show." Smart. Touches a nerve, I think, and pokes a little at a naive post-racial sentiment while also reinforcing it.

Which brings me to Kim and Kanye (affectionately known as Kimye, I wonder how Kimya Dawson feels about this?). I don't really care about these two, really--even though, yes, this is the 20th time Kanye West has been mentioned on this blog--these are not celebrities I'm invested in. So the news of their dating and, recently, her pregnancy, caused little stir. Still, because of my disclosed obsession, I perused Twitter right after the announcement. I wasn't surprised to find that most of the comments referenced a sex tape (hers with Ray J), whether or not the baby was Kris Humphries, and how Kim really did "let Kanye finish." I get it, she's an easy target, as one twitter line argued "on the one hand the baby will have great hip-hop genes and on the other--nope, nothing." However, I have to admit I was a bit shocked when someone posted a screen shot from the sex tape, showing Kardashian giving Ray J, who was only identified by his penis (for lack of a better phrase) a blow job. The tag line said, "This is who your mother was before she had you. BTW, this is not your father."

"Ouch" doesn't even begin to address how painful that felt.

I felt for Kardashian. I did. I felt for my parents, and for all of the ways that many interracial relationships between white people and people of color are read in this culture. That the women are whores. That the men are lost. Sounds extreme, maybe.  And I know that it's not like this in every single case, that not everyone has these feelings (immediately), etc. But, let's not pretend that the brutality of racism and white/nonwhite relationships don't shape the consumption of these relationships in popular culture (and everyday life) and that it doesn't shape our hopes and dreams about a "postracial" future. Where journalists like O'Brien--who is also mixed race--continue to get it wrong in questions  like, "Why don't you identify as Black" or "Why would you put white on your college application?" to Noya Jones and her friend Becca in Who is Black (and then feign surprise at answers) And people like Dr. Yaba Blay get it right in their questions, insistence, and acknowledgement of the legacy and reality of the one drop rule in the U.S.  And while I don't want to pit these two women against one another or other folks who do this work, I do want us to call this consumption what it is. And ultimately for us to stop hoping that the various Kimye babies will tell us something that we don't already know about race and racism in (the) America(s).


Mrs. Soler said...

I have a friend who follows your blog and I've stopped by a couple times but I don't often read regularly because your writing is so deep and intense, it needs time and attention to be digested. But I must say, though I indentify with white-r, straight, married, middle-middle-class, motherhood/working mom, I LOVE YOUR WRITING, and I love how down-to-earth and relatable your writing is. I LOVE what you say. I LOVE your perspective. I might even have a lil crushy-crush. Nevertheless, I just wanted you to know that you are being read, that there are people out there that appreciate your perspective, and that you should never stop being you. The world needs more voices with depth. Keep on blogging!

Mrs. Soler said...

Hi, I have a friend who follows your blog so I read up on it occasionally. I find your posts have a great degree of depth and thoughtfulness that requires they be carefully digested. Although I am guessing there is a cross-section of our identities that probably does not agree at all, I must say that I love your writing, I find your posts very relatable and I appreciate your voice. PLEASE KEEP WRITING AND DON'T EVER STOP. You are an amazing woman and the world needs your voice. <3

queerblackfeminist said...

Thank you! sweet comment.