Tag Archives Hunger Games

The Sneaky Privilege in Greeting Cards


Greeting cards on display at retail.

Earlier this year I was lounging at Starbuck’s with my friend V, who is Chinese-American. A friend of hers, also Chinese-American, was getting married to a half-white/half Japanese-American man.

She told me, with some sheepishness, “You’re going to kill me, but I bought a card for ___ and ____ with white people on it.”

I laughed.

“Why would I kill you? It’s not like I’m some militant “black power” chick. ‘You must only buy cards with people of color on them!'”

She chuckled and nodded.

“But, let me ask you this,” I continued, “would you give one of your white friends a wedding card with a happy Asian couple depicted?”

She thought for a beat and answered, “No. No, I wouldn’t.”

“That’s all I’m saying. You can do what you want. But, if you would think twice about giving your white friend a card with a non-white person on it, why wouldn’t you think twice about the reverse?”

The answer is pretty simple. In our country, the dominant culture is white, of European ancestry. White is considered “normal” or the “default.” To not be white is to be different, other, a minority.

*****

When The Hunger Games movie was released last year, a subset of moviegoers were less than thrilled to discover that two of the characters, Rue and Thresh, were played by black actors. One particularly warm-hearted malcontent tweeted, “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.”

Well, damn. To me, that comment suggests that this person doesn’t see a black life as valuable as a white life. Seems pretty racist to me.

Amandla Stenberg played Rue in "The Hunger Games" film. | photo cr: mockingjay.net
Amandla Stenberg played Rue in “The Hunger Games” film. | photo cr: mockingjay.net

As Anna Holmes rightly identified, in her article in The New Yorker on the “The Hunger Games” tweets, “…the heroes in our imaginations are white until proven otherwise.” Again, white is the default. Some people assumed Rue and Thresh were white. It should be noted, as people who read the books (including me) pointed out, the young adult novel explicitly mentions Rue “has dark brown skin and eyes” and Thresh has “the same dark skin as Rue.” Why shouldn’t there be black characters in The Hunger Games (or Asians or Latinos)? We exist too and we should also be represented, and not superfluously to fill an invisible quota or to simply play the sidekick propping up the white hero. Also notable about the book, is the fact that Rue and Thresh’s skin color was explicitly mentioned. Often when characters are white, their color isn’t addressed. It’s often only when a character is a person of color or otherwise “different” that their ethnicity or race is explicitly stated.

The fashion industry loves to use the words "nude" and "flesh" as colors.
The fashion industry loves to use the words “nude” and “flesh” as colors.

Many of my friends have heard me rant about the fashion industry’s use of the words “nude” and “flesh” as colors. Those colors are basically tan or beige, maybe peach. When I look at my flesh, it’s brown and decidedly not tan. When I am nude, I am still brown, not beige. Those color terms, as innocuous as they may seem, represent just a slice of how pervasive the dominant culture is in our country. “Nude” and “flesh” are normal. If I want an article of clothing or an undergarment that closely matches my skin tone, the color won’t be called “nude”, it’ll be “chocolate” or “deep brown” (and likely there will only be one dark shade, but many more lighter shades).

Concerning oneself with the lack of ethnic diversity in greeting cards, or taking umbrage at the terms used to describe colors in fashion may seem trivial to some. I very much disagree. It’s all too easy to internalize the idea that you are somehow inferior to the majority or the dominant culture, when you don’t readily see representations of people who look like you. When people who look like you are considered abnormal – outside of the norm.

I cannot count the number of friends of color who have shared with me stories of “the time they wanted to be white.” Their reasons varied from they “wanted to be like everyone else,” to they “wanted their family to be like the white families they saw on TV.” More harmfully, however, there were expressions of the desire to be more “conventionally attractive.” There were fears their nose was too wide, face too flat, butt too protruding, hair too nappy, skin too dark, eyes not large enough and so on. We, the “different ones”, should not have to live in a society where we feel excluded or somehow less than. The prevailing standard of beauty in this country is a European standard of beauty that more often than not, doesn’t include people of color. Yes, there are exceptions, exceptions some are all too quick to name when they want to avoid acknowledging potentially discomforting realities. However, these exceptions prove there’s an issue.

Some people of color bleach their skin to achieve the lighter, brighter tone they think is more desirable. | photo cr: politics365.com
Some people of color bleach their skin to achieve the lighter, brighter tone they think is more desirable. | photo cr: politics365.com

The famous “doll experiment” from the early 20th century aptly demonstrated the internalization and implicit acceptance of a white standard of beauty. A group of black children were given two dolls: one brown with dark hair and one white with blonde hair. They were asked questions such as which doll they’d prefer to play with, which was nicer, which doll had a nice color. The kids showed a clear preference for the white dolls. When the study was repeated in the 21st century, obviously with a different set of children, the results were sadly, quite similar.

Dr. Kenneth B. Clark conducting the Doll Test (Harlem, New York, 1947) © Gordon Parks
Dr. Kenneth B. Clark conducting the Doll Test (Harlem, New York, 1947) © Gordon Parks

I remember being told once as a kid, by a black female relative, “Don’t stay out in the sun too long; you’ll get too dark!” The subtext of that warning was, of course, that being “too dark” would make me less attractive. Internalized racism is real.

I don’t want to take anything away from anyone. I want to be equal. I should be able to feel good about the body I was born into. I deserve to feel good about the body I was born into. It’s real work to feel secure in a society that tells you that you aren’t normal. As much as I’ve built up my self-esteem, I still find traces of that internalized racism lurking down deep from time to time. It horrifies and disgusts me. Even a black woman, who is aware these issues exist, I am not impervious to their power.

It’s not just about a card (or a doll, or birthday decorations, or “nude and “flesh” colors) to me. It’s so much more.

The idea that we’re living in a “post-racial nation” is a bad, bad joke. We are still not equal. As long as these minor, but cumulative signs and symbols of racial power and subversion continue to exist, we are not and will not be equal. In the same way that women fought and continue to fight for equality, including challenging existing male-centered, patriarchal language, we have to do the same for people of color. This is a call to everyone to examine the ways in which our society still doesn’t acknowledge and include all of its citizens and work to change it.

From Hallmark's Mahogany line | photo cr: hallmark.com
From Hallmark’s Mahogany line | photo cr: hallmark.com

You can find greeting cards for purchase online that encompass diversity. However, it would be nice to be able to walk into a standard drugstore or greeting card store and have a varied, diverse set of greeting cards to choose from. There are Spanish-language greeting cards. Further, Hallmark has a separate line of greeting cards specifically for African-Americans. This is progress. However, these “speciality lines” are segregated in store displays. There are the “normal” cards with images of inanimate objects and / or white people and then there are the “other cards.” Segregation, even among greeting card displays, doesn’t demonstrate inclusion. It should be considered “normal” to have diverse sets of people represented on greeting cards, whether those people are black, white, Asian, Latino, multi-racial, gay, disabled, etc. The faces of Americans are ever-changing and our societal artifacts should reflect as much.

*****

A few days after our greeting card conversation, V and I visited Papyrus. V wanted to find a more suitable card for her friends. I’d picked up some Christmas cards there, one batch of which featured a tall, thin, brown-skinned woman, with long-flowing hair in a fashionable outfit. She didn’t look anything like me other than the brown skin, but it was a close enough representation for my satisfaction. We weren’t able to find a card representative of her friends, unfortunately, so she ended up purchasing a card without people on the front flap. Problem solved…for now.

2012 in Review

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
Spotted in Los Angeles, January 2012

This is the time of year when people start making resolutions that many probably will not keep. The time of year that regular gym-goers like me hate. The gym is packed with resolutioners who don’t know what the hell they are doing, hitting themselves on the head, breaking shit, all up on my machines, sweaty after walking 30 seconds on the treadmill, and hogging the free weights. Sadly for them, but happily for me, their enthusiasm for their resolution will die down within a few weeks as they forget they want Jennifer Aniston’s body.

I gave up on resolutions years ago when I realized I was ignoring them and not meeting them. Instead I decided to set goals for things I’d like to accomplish for the year. Here’s how I fared in 2012.

2012 Goals

Goal 1:  Read 12 Books (or a book a month)

Status: Overachieved.

I read 18 books last year. According to this study, the average American read six books in 2012. According this related post on Gawker, more than a few, er…Gawkerians, found time to read 50+ books, be snooty about it and in pearl-clutching shock that others haven’t matched their stunning achievement. Look, I have other things to do with my time, as well. The Real Housewives of Atlanta beckons. Nene is on fire again. I had to see what all the fuss over Homeland is about. I kinda like to hang out with other humans. I also like to take time with my books, bond with them, read discussions about them, love on them (or resist the urge to hurl them at the wall in some cases); not speed read through them and move on to the next like I’m running through big-bootied strippers.

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
The books I read last year

Book I Had the Most Fun Reading Last Year: 

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games would be first, but I read it in 2011) by Suzanne Collins

Most Thought-Provoking Book I Read Last Year: 

It’s a tie!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Best Page-Turner Book I Read Last Year: Another Tie!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Biggest Waste of My Time

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Goal 2: Get the hell out of Los Angeles.

Status: Achieved.

Yep, that was the actual goal, emphasis on hell. I wasn’t happy there. I hadn’t been happy for years. Traffic had me all road-ragey and daydreaming about driving myself off overpasses. I set a goal to be out by mid-2013. I was gone by Mid-October. Booyah! Goodbye bitchass bitches in BMWs, people so flakey Corn Flakes are jealous and mockable obsessions with looks and status (speed dating a few years ago, a dude spent his intro telling me what labels he was wearing: Prada belt and pants, Gucci something or other. Funnily enough, he didn’t mention wearing Eau de Douche).  I miss my fave ramen place though. And the palm trees were pretty to look at. Oh and friends! I miss you guys!

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
I had some good times in this city…
2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges
but, it’s on to the next.

Goal 3: Get into bike riding.

Status: Kinda achieved.

Erm… On Memorial Day a friend and I rented beach cruisers and rode on the paths in Venice and Santa Monica beaches. With the wind blowing through my weave, it was a beautiful occasion. I loved it. I have confirmed this is something I WANT to do. I just need to do it more. Perhaps buy a bike in 2013? And put it where? On my fire escape? Damn sure ain’t room for anything else in my boxpartment.

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
At the bike rental place, the attendant told me that I was “an in-between size” (she meant short) and asked if I’d be okay with a bike that looked like it was for a 12-year old. It was the right height, so I took it.

Goal 4: Improve Spanish speaking

Status: Uh…si.

I got this one in under the wire.  I enrolled in a Spanish course in November. Yo soy Keisha. Yo estoy en San Francisco. Kim Kardashian es antipatico. To be continued.

Goal 5: Get into art – take a painting or drawing class

Status: In Progress

I get bored. A lot. So, I’m always on the lookout for things to do in my spare time that will also help me further myself as a person. I’ve always wanted to learn to paint. One fine Saturday my friend Laura joined me for crafts & 80’s movie watching at my apartment. At the art store she appeared dubious as I followed an employee around picking up supply after supply. I grabbed a 16” x 20” canvas. “You might want to get something smaller. It’s a lot of work,” Laura warned. I bought it and two smaller canvases. I imagined being a hot new underground artist who discovered her brilliant artistic talent later in life.

Supplies acquired and a Heathers DVD playing, I began painting my 8” by 10” masterpiece. Amused, Laura commented, “I’ll be interested to see if you finish that.” I didn’t finish my masterpiece that day and months later, it’s still not finished. She was right. Gah! Now, I have all these painting supplies and two blank canvases and I’m not sure if and when I’ll take them out for a spin again. Look, I tried.

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
My unfinished “masterpiece”

Goal 6: Run a 5k

Status: Rejected!

I decided I don’t want to do this. I hate running. Runners claim you reach a point when running starts to feel good, your mind clears and you see Jesus or some shit. None of these things have happened for me. All I feel is pain, suffering and a death wish. I decided it’s all bullshit some liar came up with to get people to beat themselves up, buy a bunch of expensive gear and speed up the aging process with all the face bouncing. Also, sometimes the things runners say get on my nerves. Here’s an example:

Woman: I am not sure how long it will take me to run this 5k.

Me: The average healthy person should be able to run a mile in 15 minutes or less. So, I’d give yourself 45 minutes on the high end.

Runner: 15 minutes?! That’s so slow!

Me: [Glaring] Uh okay, Speedy Gonzales (I promise you this person was not of Latin descent). I run a mile in a little over 14 minutes and I am proud of myself.

Runner: Oh, er….10-11 minutes is average. That’s what I run and I feel like I’m slow.

Me: Excuuuse me Usain Bolt, if I run at a 10-minute pace, I’ll fall out by the first quarter-mile. Face on trail. [Why don’t you go run into a bush!]

Runner: [Judgment face]

Me: [Fuck this running crap.]

A 2011 goal was to condition myself to the point where I could run 3-miles,

Asics
I did buy new running shoes

uninterrupted, for the first time ever in life. I made it and I was damned proud of myself! I don’t care how FAST I’m going, I care that I can do it without feeling like my heart is reaching for the heavens.  But, runners man, with their, “Don’t you want to increase your speed?” “You should get these awesome shoes that make you feel like you’re running on air and were tested on roadrunners in Botswana!” “Don’t you want to run on the moon?” Save it. Y’all can have your running, I’m going to find an activity where the people who partake don’t make me want to smack them or push them into traffic.

Goal 7: Be able to run six miles continuously.

Status: Double rejected.  

See #6.

Goal 8: Visit two new countries & three states.

Status: Not achieved. 

I’m overly ambitious with my travel goals. I want to go everywhere, but I am not rich and I do not have all kinds of free time. I have a job and I live in America. America doesn’t believe in vacation. “Here worker bees, take two days off a year and consider yourself lucky, ya whiny bastards. In my day, we worked seven days a week with dynamite strapped to our backs! Vacation is for the weak!”

I visited one new country, one new continent and two new states. While I didn’t hit all three new states, I did visit two repeat states, for a total of four.

2012 was a good year for me. I accomplished a lot, more than I expected. I made some new friends (not in SF, unfortunately), spent time with old friends, I discovered and developed a huge crush on Channing Tatum and saw three of his movies, petted a giant pig, saw Jon Cusack, finally got on base playing kickball and helped kick in a runner, volunteered some, got to go on an amazing trip and even created the blog I’d talked about doing for so many years.

——

2013 goals are under construction, but here are a few ideas:

  • Stop being so judgy. Judgy people bother me because I am judgy. Don’t you love how that works? Sometimes the traits that bug you most in OTHER people are those you possess yourself. I am acutely aware of people’s actions. I love trying to understand how people work. Thus, I notice things. Then I have opinions on these things. But, girl, just because someone types in text speak doesn’t mean they are incapable of using proper grammar and/or lack intelligence and should be tossed into a fire. It is also okay for people to use an excessive number of question marks on a single sentence, and do so repeatedly in a paragraph. And just because a co-worker takes the last slice of pizza and doesn’t throw the empty box away doesn’t mean they lack proper home training. Repeat and internalize.
  • Figure out what and who I want to be when I grow up. That ‘4’ number followed by a ‘0’  is getting closer than I care for. I gotta figure out who I want to be by then so I don’t reach the age and have some sort of early mid-life crisis.
  • Stop wasting money. I overcompensate for the times when I couldn’t buy what I wanted when I wanted. Now I buy too much. I’m 75% YOLO (do it now, worry about how to pay for it later) and 25% responsible. How do I walk into the drugstore to get a prescription and leave with a dog bed (I don’t have dogs), a pound of candy, an “As Seen on TV” product and five colors of nail polish that I will use once and forget about? Do better!
  • Make some friends.

Happy New Year!

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black

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