Some Timely Thoughts

1. I’d like to see more conversation about what we mean, exactly, by cultural/racial appropriation. I understand what it’s driving at on the margins—the Washington Redskins, Iggy Azalea, etc… that is, obviously ignorant and thoughtless people doing obviously ignorant and thoughtless shit. But I think one of the ingredients that makes the Rachel Dolezal story so uncomfortable for so many is that the person in question isn’t obviously ignorant or thoughtless.

As a side-note, and as a Jew, I’m naturally skeptical of any worldview that is so invested in demonizing both the idea and the reality of cultural/racial parasitism. I’m well aware of the moral and historical differences between the Nazi justification for “Juden raus!” and the understandable frustration with white pop stars enlisting black stereotypes for personal gain, but I’m still left wondering what we are to make of less grating scenarios.

2. Sticking with the Dolezal business for a moment, I’ve speculated what the reaction would have been had she “transitioned” at an earlier age, and in more explicitly trying conditions. I’m thinking of something like Eminem’s story here—at least as it was conveyed in 8 Mile—an alternative universe in which Rachel Dolezal was born and raised in the hood. I have to imagine the online response would have proven more sympathetic, and that this would have told us (and hypothetically, still can tell us) something worthwhile about how we treat, or how we ought to treat, the intersection of racial and class-based narratives.

3. Switching gears, I’ve been paying attention to the feminist backlash to Game of Thrones‘ portrayal of violence toward women. It’s hard not to conclude that the show is exploiting the mass (and male) appeal of such gruesome fare, so in that sense, I’m happy the backlash exists. Then again, there is considerable truth in the claim that under conditions of war or tyranny, women are subjected to unspeakable horrors. This might even imply something or other about sexual relations in contemporary America, particularly on our most fraternity-ridden campuses. To the extent that it does, shouldn’t we welcome the exposure instead of pooh-pooh it? And how does this question relate to the debates surrounding trigger warnings, safe spaces, and the Kipnis affair? Put another way, is there a contradiction or tension that has emerged between the demand to confront rape culture and an unwillingness to face its most sordid details? Or isn’t a certain level of discomfort or insecurity required—in our classrooms and on our television screens—in order to seriously challenge the injustices in question?

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