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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

March 18th, 2008 (12:32 pm)

current mood: thoughtful

You know, I've been following this story about Obama's pastor in only the most cursory of ways. I saw a bleeped-out clip of part of it on TV, and thought a.) that he had said "God fuck America" (who bleeps out "damn"?), b.) that that was inappropriate, and c.) that he was talking primarily about the war in Iraq. (I should note that even though I thought it was an inappropriate and un-nuanced thing to say, I was figuring that he had said more nuanced things in the rest of the speech that had been eliminated from the sound byte.) When I became aware that he had said "God damn America" and that he was talking primarily about race relations here in America, my opinion that it was inappropriate slipped quite a few notches. And now I don't really know what to think.

I appreciate Obama's remarks on the subject: his repeated assertion that you can respect someone and consider them an important part of your life without agreeing with everything they have to say; his remark that the problem with the reverend's remarks was not that he talked about racism in America, but that he implied that it was a static situation, that there had been no progress and could be no progress. Because there has been a great deal of progress, and there is still a great deal more to be made, and you just can't discount either of those facts. You can't discount the first because it shows that progress is in fact possible. You can't discount the second because you can't give up.

But I am beginning to get very, very edgy with the responses to this. I'm getting very edgy that the minister (whose name I can't even remember right now, isn't that awful?) is becoming so demonized in the media. I'm getting very edgy that the general consensus that the media is portraying is that there was nothing redeeming about his speech, that Obama needs to distance himself entirely from it all, that the nation as a whole is reacting in horror to the ideas presented and that it needs to be rejected in toto.

Because I have been reading a whole lot of books about the history of race relations in America recently. I just finished reading Mildred D. Taylor's whole series of books about the Logan family -- apart from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I'd never read any of them -- which are astonishingly nuanced and well-written and thought-provoking and are all the more astonishing for presenting such complex matters in a way that works so well in the YA format. I spent some time rereading Octavia Butler's Kindred. Reading stuff by Walter White, longtime secretary of the NAACP from its inception through the civil rights era. Right now I'm reading Randall Kennedy's Nigger: A Short History of a Troublesome Word. (And facing the issue of, if I read this in public, how do I hold the cover to obscure the title? Should I hold the cover to obscure the title? I haven't felt able to brandish that word for the world to see, somehow.)

I've been reading so much of this stuff and I have had the privilege, as a white girl, never to have had it impact my life directly -- at least, not in any way I could perceive. I have had the privilege of believing that all that was in the past, that when slavery ended it was over and no longer affected our country, that lynching was over and done with so long ago it didn't matter anymore. I thought we could live in the present, in terms of racial relations, without having the past matter.

And as I've been reading, I just can't... I can't see it that way anymore. It rocks me to learn about the realities of lynching, to realize that there was a time in the lifetime of many people who are still alive today that a black person could be killed by whites, for no reason other than that they felt like it, and nothing would be done. The law did not exist for blacks. President Roosevelt called lynching "a states' rights issue": he equivocated on passing anti-lynching laws because, apparently, states had the right to determine on their own whether blacks could be murdered with impunity.

And there are people alive today who lived through those times, and I cannot see how we can tell them it's over -- not just because the last lynching in this country is not nearly as long ago as we like to think it was, and not just because racism is very much alive and well in contemporary society (a subject I'm not addressing in this post because on account of what I've been reading, my current musings are on the subject of how the past affects the present; see the comments for further elucidation of my POV here) -- but also because that is the sort of thing that just... it lives on long after its physical presence has passed. The memories, the emotions, the ingrained fear and mistrust. It lives on, I am sure, even in those who weren't alive through that time, those whose parents or grandparents were alive in that time, because we are shaped by our families and by our families' lives as well as our own experiences. My mother still consciously and vocally mistrusts Russians because she lived through the Cold War and because one of them got in a car accident with her and then defrauded her insurance company. How can she argue that blacks need to get over the past history of racism in this country when she still hasn't gotten over some Russian guy raising her insurance premiums for a couple of years?

I don't know. This post is lengthy and wandering off-topic and just not making that much sense. I think what I am trying to say is that it makes me feel very, very icky when I hear white people telling black people they need to be less angry about racism in this country. That's what I see happening in the media in response to Obama's pastor's speech, and that's what I wish would stop. I wish we could listen not just to the words, but to the history and the emotions behind the words.

I guess, in the end, I wish that a whole lot of white people in this country would do a lot less talking and a lot more listening on the subject of race. I wish it, I guess, from my own experience. I had the privilege for a lot of years of not having to listen. I thought, moreover, that I could speak loudly and confidently without first having listened. I'm ashamed of that now. Now that I'm trying to do more listening, I'm ashamed.


Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 06:07 pm (UTC)

Can you say asshole now? I thought that one was verboten. I thought rectums were profane but donkeys, and comparisons to same, were OK.

I once heard "fuck" on The Practice, actually. Still don't really know how they got away with that one.

Posted by: epilimnion (epilimnion)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC)

I don't know what the exact rules are, but what you can say changes according to what time you say it. I'm pretty sure by 11 pm, more nasty words are allowed. Use of disclaimers also mitigate some of the allowances.

Posted by: LizMcK (mckennl)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC)

It changes according to time and according to who your sponsors are and whether or not you're a "network." USA and FX et al get away with a lot more than CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX. Also whether or not that douche they have at the FCC or whoever issues fines has a station in his crosshairs.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)

Ah! FX! Where it was showing! I get it.

USA still censors movies, doesn't it? I know TNT can't get away with much, as their censorings of movies are absolutely hilarious. I'll never get ove the crucial scene in Girl, Interrupted: "And everybody knows your father loves you. What they don't know is that you like it."

Posted by: LizMcK (mckennl)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)

Hahahahah. Yeah, those channels still censor, they're just not as strict as the networks.

I feel as if there are different rules for the channels that are "free" as opposed to everything else. If something comes into your home just because you have a TV, I think the FCC is harder on it. (Hence the SuperBowl Nipple Apoplexy) If you have to buy-in -- even if only by having cable and thus MTV and USA -- it's a little looser, but I don't know if that's really the rule that applies, it's mostly my impression.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC)

Wow. I mean, I knew that later-night some things were OK, but I didn't know that the F-word was ever OK, except on some of the pay cable stations. I knew that after 2 am most anything was allowed on some cable stations, and The Practice was for awhile an FX show, I believe, rather than a network one, but still, surprising.

Posted by: LizMcK (mckennl)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC)

You know, it's a balancing act. And the censoring starts at the bottom and writers will throw in more curses than they know they can get away with and in-house censors will take the curses out and the writers will be glad they got away with an off-color joke.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)

Yeah. I remember the writers of The Office saying in the DVD commentary on the episode "Sexual Harassment", "We fought for boner." I always thought that was such a funny line. Apparently the in-house censors decided that "schwing" was less profane, but they fought to use "boner" in a line instead. Honestly, I don't get why "schwing" is less profane, just less specific and less descriptive of, well, of a boner.

Posted by: LizMcK (mckennl)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 08:05 pm (UTC)

It's obviously a continuum, and I wouldn't be surprised if the censors actually had a list of euphemisms for various curses and sexual acts, from better to worse:

schwing > boner > raging hard-on > enormous erection


> blurry picture of a doggie that looks like a blowjob

Edited at 2008-03-18 08:06 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: March 18th, 2008 06:58 pm (UTC)

I have no idea what the various restrictions in America are, apart from that they're stricter than some countries - Britain, for example. I've watched both the British and the American airings of Torchwood, and the American version was significantly censored (I mean, they left the m/m kissing and the partial nudity, but cut a lot of the swearing - they did a good job of it, though, you could hardly tell where a word was missing).

So apparently you can say "fuck" on British broadcast television, at least after certain hours, but not on American cable, at least in this case (it was on SciFi, though I'm not sure what time of day it aired).

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