Monday, December 5, 2016

Black Santa


Here is a news story about racists (predictably) getting pissed off about a black man playing Santa Claus.

I should first go on record saying I'm not surprised.

I'm just appalled, like I am just about every time I see people creating these situations. And what's gross is that among these racists are a ton of people who think they aren't racist by having a problem with this.

If you are upset about a man in a Santa costume being black, or you are upset that Santa is being portrayed as black, yes, that has its roots in racism. You don't have to hate black people or actively want them to suffer to have racist ideas, and one racist idea is that a fictional character can't be properly portrayed by someone who's not white.

It's not just about color or accuracy. Because I understand why people might be confused or might object to Santa being portrayed with traits they're not used to. Santa without a beard would probably be weird. Santa dressed in a green or purple outfit would probably be weird. But unlike clothing or facial hair, "being black" is a different thing from part of a costume. These people object because "black" is in violation of how they see Santa in a way that Santa being white with a deep tan would not be. Sure, the idea that he's a pale man with rosy cheeks from the north pole is pretty common, but people don't actually get this kind of upset when mall Santas have a tan. They get mad when he's black. It is not a question of aesthetics. And factual accuracy for an iconic fictional character is a funny idea to me. Santa Claus isn't a real person, so portraying him the way he "really is" doesn't apply. He's not a specific creation of a specific author who made him to look a certain way, and if your need for him to be white is strong enough to inspire outcry, I think you might need to examine why this is an issue for you.

Some may also try to sidestep accusations of racism by claiming Santa is based on a historical person and therefore should retain the physical qualities of that person. Well, Santa Claus as we know him today is more of an amalgam of various legends, but it's pretty indisputable that he's partially inspired by the real-life Saint Nicholas. Who, in some art of him, looks like this:

He also sometimes looks like this.

The man himself was from what is now Turkey. Like many historical figures involved in early Christianity, he was Middle Eastern. Many people from that area of the world would not be thought of as "white" by today's racists. Most of them are willing to imagine them as white for their own purposes, though--the same as they do with Jesus (who was, obviously, also Middle Eastern). 

Considering how many cultures fed into the modern version of Santa, I think it's actually incredibly appropriate to diversify presentations of Santa in media and among actors who play him. And furthermore, the race of the person playing Santa Claus should not play into how you feel about his character. What he represents is what's important, and there is nothing inherently white about this character.

I've seen similar discussions when people of color are selected to portray historically white comic book characters. Some people throw a fit and insist that a character's whiteness is integral to their character and that changing the character's race somehow distorts it. They then, almost like clockwork, claim that historically black comic book characters should be changeable if white comic book characters are, but that "PC Culture™" would lead to outcry and protest. Well, there are some characters for whom being black is necessary for their character to make sense. It is usually much more relevant to who a character is if they are from an oppressed minority of some kind. However, it is a lot easier in fiction--just like it is in life--for "white" to be used like a default. As if it's invisible, while non-white races don't get that treatment in this society. If, in fact, a white character's whiteness is a placeholder for "everyman," then there isn't a reason that character can't be portrayed as something else. If a character's whiteness is historically a point of pride (i.e., the character is racist) or they have a specific cultural identity that is tied to whiteness, yeah, it's not a good idea to change it if it literally wouldn't make sense. In most cases, you can't find a non-racist or non-privilege-related reason why a white character can't be presented as a person of color. "What if I made that black character white?" is not an analogous situation to "What if I made that white character black?" That's what I think a lot of people don't realize. 

There's nothing about Santa Claus that requires him to be white. Citing tradition is a bad choice here, because "it's always been that way" provides no argument for why it should always be that way. Sentimental notions of preferring what's familiar are valid, I will say that. But when you contrast the value of that with what you sacrifice in this situation, I feel like most reasonable and non-racist people would have to see that encouraging diversity should trump the need for familiar images. Especially--especially--because it's not like a black Santa existing prevents you from finding a white Santa if you prefer that. The existence of a black Santa option literally does not erase the white Santas. In fact, the white Santas overwhelmingly outnumber the non-white Santas in this country. But racists aren't even worried about what they find familiar, what they aesthetically prefer (without asking themselves why), or what constitutes "traditional" to them. They want their preferences to be given the power to take that choice away from others.

In other words, it's not even just that they prefer white Santa. It's that they don't want others to have access to seeing an incarnation of this character in a shade that matches themselves. They want their children and everyone else's children to have no choice in how they see Santa. They want Santa to just be one thing, and they want that thing to be a white guy.

When it doesn't matter what race a character is, it really shouldn't matter what race a character is. As in, if you're one of those people who claims they "don't see color" (not true, and essentially racist) or thinks race doesn't really matter, or thinks reports of inequality and oppression are greatly exaggerated on the part of people of color, then there should be no value judgment against a black portrayal of a historically white character, and there should be no outcry against it. Especially when it comes to what Santa represents as a symbol of the Christmas holiday and a spirit of giving. It should come in every color. And if that's a statement you can agree with, you can't just agree with it in theory but still foam at the mouth when you see an example of it in practice. If you need Santa to not be black, reevaluate whether you hold racist prejudices. (And keep in mind you do not have to be white to hold racist beliefs.)

This morning I had to send a holiday party bulletin to my co-workers and I punctuated it with this image:

Black Santa was the first that popped up when I searched for a cute Santa emoji to insert. I hope nobody thought "why would she choose black Santa?" because my first thought is "why wouldn't I?"

Until we stop assuming every choice that includes a non-white option is politically motivated and representative of "PC Culture," we don't have the choice as a society to claim we're post-racist. If every deviation from white is a specific choice assumed to carry ~liberal~ values while every representation of white is just standard, default, how-it-should-be, we have not moved away from racist assumptions at all.

When someone asks "why not?" and you have to phrase your answer very carefully to avoid sounding racist, you have some work to do.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Personal Digest Saturday: November 26 – December 2

Life news this week: 
  • Saturday I spent the day preparing a storyboard for a comic and getting my blogging done before Drink and Draw. Belle picked me up and we had a small gathering (since a lot of people were probably out of town for the holidays). I got to see Victor and Joy too. I doodled my comic and some fanart.
  • Sunday was a Lump Day. I did laundry, some video editing and subtitling, and made some music videos.
  • Monday it was back to work after a holiday (what a drag) and grocery shopping after. I bought like no food. Also did some online shopping.
  • Tuesday I got up early to go to the doctor. I got a referral to have an ultrasound next week. :/ Then went in to work. Then I got an idea for a fan comic and drew it entirely in one day. Except I only got the pencil and inks done.
  • Wednesday was Jeaux Day and we had some pizza at Ledo's. Then at my place we pretty much did nothing but tell each other things we were looking at on the computer. After he left I drew a picture to celebrate the new cartoon episode that would be coming the next day.
  • Thursday after work I picked up PDQ food and went to Jeaux's for cartoons. We also listened to Night Vale. The new Steven Universe episode "Three Gems and a Baby" was pretty good. Then I went home and talked to Victor on the phone while drawing.
  • Friday after work I posted my comic and did the rest of the fan comic I was thinking of too. Lots of coloring! And then I watched some cartoons to relax.

New reviews of my book:
  • Nothing apparently.
      Interviews, Features, Mentions:
        • Nobody apparently.
          Reading progress:
          • Finished this week: I mean I really will finish reading sometime soon but.
          • Currently reading: The Free Lunch by Spider Robinson.
            New singing performances:

            This week's performance was "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" by the Moody Blues.

            New drawings: 

            Super-sketchy Opal doodle from Drink and Draw

            And here's a link to the fan comic I made, "Your Thing," which is about Amethyst and aromanticism. It offers a perspective on that situation many of us find familiar where all our friends and family are coupling up and we're not. Please read it! It's cute!

            Webcomic Negative One Issue 0603: "Six Days."

            New videos:

            New writing video is about Writing to Gender. I like how the one comment I got on it says my belief that we should write more books with diversifying gender in mind and intentionally include representations of atypical gender roles is a "damn degenerate worldview." Haha. Inclusiveness is degenerate. Wow.

            My latest unlisted ukulele video is "Comet," which is a song from Steven Universe.


            New photos:

            Me at Drink and Draw with a funny poster.
            Eric at Drink and Draw.

            Social Media counts:
            YouTube subscribers: 5,338 for swankivy (1 new), 612 for JulieSondra (no change). Twitter followers: 861 for swankivy (lost 2), 1,321 for JulieSondra (2 new). Facebook: 294 friends (no change) and 205 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 644 likes for JulieSondra (lost 1), 57 likes for Negative One (no change), 127 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 2,492 (lost 3). Instagram followers: 94 (2 new).

            Wednesday, November 30, 2016

            Wednesday Factoid: Healthy Eating

            Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Are your eating habits healthy?

            I probably eat healthier than most people I know. I eat vegetables, don't end up with much saturated fat in my diet (you know, not eating meat helps with that), pretty much never have fast food, and don't drink alcohol at all. I also don't keep much junk food in the house. My "junk food" is popcorn and I guess cheese counts. Unless I baked the junk food myself, I probably don't have it in the house. Well, except for popsicles. But the ones I eat most of the time are low-calorie yogurt bars and they're very good but not particularly bad for you.

            But I don't eat enough greens lately, do sometimes eat stuff like french fries or deep-fried vegetables (from frozen), and tend to put a lot of salt on things. I don't have high blood pressure so I figure there's no reason not to season my food how I like it, and it doesn't seem to have affected me negatively. And I drink diet soda and consume a decent amount of coffee, so if it's your belief that caffeine or artificial sweetener is bad, I'm pretty bad.

            Man, this post makes me want a salad.

            Tuesday, November 29, 2016

            Out of love

            I was looking at the bulletin board above my desk and how it features several people I don't talk to anymore.

            A couple of them are folks I still exchange words with on Facebook once in a while. Most of them are not. This bulletin board is ten years old. It pictures seven people I really don't talk to anymore.

            One I don't talk to because it's my grandma and she has Alzheimer's and doesn't really hold conversations anymore, so that doesn't count. Another is my friend Mike and he died when he was twenty, so that doesn't count either.

            The others are just . . . people who aren't really in my life. One is someone I used to chat with online almost every day in college, and I don't know what she's doing now. One is an old classmate who remained close with me for years before she moved out of state and remained an extremely private person to those outside her inner circle (and I guess I am outside of it). One is a friend who was very invested in communicating with me until he got married and I guess I'm not filling that need for him anymore. One is someone whose opinions and thoughts I value but with whom I just don't have much in common. One dropped out of my life after being a fixture for years, but he tested me once too often and stopped coming around when I started deliberately failing his tests.

            If I'd made a similar billboard twenty years ago, I imagine the same thing would have happened--attrition for many, but surprising endurance of relationships that stood the test of time. I'm sure some of the people who were in my inner circle back then were people I considered lifelong friends, and I would have been shocked to learn they dropped out of my life in the future. In most cases I kinda don't care, though I still hold a candle for some of them. But even though I grew in a different direction from some of those people or we just lost track of each other, I don't really think I ever fell out of love with them.

            I still carry the warmth I felt for those people. I still treasure the memories, and there are only a few that feel bitter in my recollection of the past. If many of them came back into my life, I would most likely welcome their presence there, though in most of these cases I also don't feel a draw to deliberately seek them out and rekindle the flame.

            It's sort of like the hobbies I used to engage in. Did I fall out of love with them? Not really. There are just certain authors, certain musical artists, certain movies, certain shows, certain pastimes I don't find as compelling anymore. I've changed since those times, but I haven't changed fundamentally. So I still see what was very good about those things and why they deserved my attention, and why they contributed to who I became. I don't look back on who I was when I liked those things or those people and think I was silly. I'm not embarrassed of my tastes or my relationships from the past. I didn't stop loving them.

            We don't have to make a clean break from our past to continue forward. Even the painful things have surely been formative in some way, and I think it's damaging to suggest that the only healthy way into the future is to cut these pieces out of ourselves. We don't have to love them or want to return to them, but we have to acknowledge what they did for us. And if it was really awful, we can learn to counteract it. But burying it and being resentful of it and ignoring it and denying that it was important? That will not free you.

            I'm looking at some of these people on this board and I'm sad they aren't part of my life anymore. In a couple cases I am certainly thinking "thank goodness I don't have to deal with that anymore." I'm also looking at the ones who are still here and contemplating which photos of them I should use when I update this thing. But it's okay that some of these people aren't going to make it to the current billboard. I can love who they were then, and love that they contributed to my life. I can wish them well and still be content if I never see them again.

            Saturday, November 26, 2016

            Personal Digest Saturday: November 19 – November 25

            Life news this week: 
            • Saturday I submitted some short stories to magazines, relaxed, and didn't get anything done on my other projects until the late evening. I chatted to my sister on the phone and made biscuits, though.
            • Sunday I cleaned out my e-mail inbox a little bit, chatted to my friend Paul, and did my usual Sunday stuff which includes laundry and karaoke.
            • Monday I had to turn in a letter at work, and then I did some reading and e-mail cleanup. I went to the grocery store after work and spent most of the evening writing an e-mail to Jessie.
            • Tuesday was a slog at work. I did some blogging and had a low-key day because I felt like crap. My mom came over and brought me some cough medicine and hung out with me a little bit.
            • Wednesday I did some holiday wrap-up at the office. Then Jeaux came over and took me to Zaxby's in the car he rented for going out of town for Thanksgiving, so we got to go to a restaurant we don't get to eat at often. But they were closing early so we got our food to go and went back to my place to watch a funny program where voice actors from Steven Universe were watching their own show and reacting to it. I made some cookies after Jeaux went to work.
            • Thursday I had to get up early to go to Jeaux's Thanksgiving. We drove to Citra playing silly music in the car, and we ate with his family. We caught the end of the movie Shrek and had some nice chats with his sisters. On the way back Jeaux and I played the Steven Universe soundtrack until it started repeating. Man we're obsessed with that show. (He tried to evangelize it to his sister, too, and made her watch clips on his phone.) Then I went to my mom's and did some webcomic drawings while hanging out with her and eating her potatoes. And I fixed something on her computer. Woo!
            • Friday I mostly spent either drawing webcomics or doing online shopping for friends for Christmas. And a fair amount of slacking off 'cause I'm terrible.

            New reviews of my book:
                Interviews, Features, Mentions:
                  • Nobody's talking about me now. :o
                    Reading progress:
                    • Finished this week: I AM STILL A SLACKER SO NOTHING
                    • Currently reading: The Free Lunch by Spider Robinson.
                      New singing performances:

                      This week's performance was "Take My Breath Away" by Berlin.

                      And there is a bonus performance, because my friend Paul chimed in with his half of the Tangled duet that I recorded my part for last week. Here's the completed duet for "I See the Light."

                      New drawings:

                      Webcomic So You Write Issue 66: "I Already."

                      Webcomic Negative One Issue 0602: "Winter Coat."

                      New videos:

                      My latest unlisted ukulele video is "Galileo" by the Indigo Girls--the first song I ever heard by them.


                      New photos:

                      Didn't really take any pictures this week except this photo
                      of my ruby and amber jewel cookies for Thanksgiving.

                      And the haircut comparison photos:

                      Front, February 2014
                      Front, November 2016
                      Back, February 2014
                      Back, November 2016

                      Social Media counts:
                      YouTube subscribers: 5,337 for swankivy (lost 1), 612 for JulieSondra (1 new). Twitter followers: 863 for swankivy (2 new), 1,319 for JulieSondra (1 new). Facebook: 294 friends (no change) and 204 followers (no change) for swankivy, 645 likes for JulieSondra (2 new), 57 likes for Negative One (no change), 127 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 2,495 (4 new). Instagram followers: 92 (1 new).

                      Wednesday, November 23, 2016

                      Wednesday Factoid: Saver vs. Tosser

                      Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Are you a saver or a tosser?

                      Definitely a saver.

                      Also, this list obviously wasn't written by someone British.


                      Uhmm, so, anyway, saver here. There are people who might disagree with me, but I don't feel like my saving habits are even anywhere close to hoarding; I just prefer to keep things rather than throw them away, and am not eager to replace things if they're fine the way they are.

                      I'm not obsessive about this, but I am definitely of the opinion that I'd rather keep something and not use it than throw it away and worry that I might need it again.

                      Most of the stuff I "keep" is of sentimental value. First-draft manuscripts, keepsakes, old drawings, cards from friends and family, ticket stubs. One thing that's unusual about my keeping behaviors is that they are very organized. I keep a lot of junk, but every "keep-forever" box has a list of what's in it on the outside, and I have an entire shelf of folders that keep certain papers, including friends' notes from my school years, drawings, class assignments, and stuff that's actually really fun to go through from time to time.

                      My family knows I'm the archivist so if they ever need a certain photograph or need information about something, I probably kept track of it. Not only do I have it somewhere, but I can put my hands on it. And I've always been a keeper--as a child I loved organizing and collecting information, and it doesn't surprise me that it became something I did as a grown-up too. I'm more sentimental than most, but I don't think it extends into impracticality. Keeping lots of stuff doesn't stop me from doing anything and doesn't impede my lifestyle. I also keep books after I read them, especially if I really like a book, partly because it's nice to be able to lend books to people and partly because books sort of display a sense of taste when they're on your shelves. 

                      I also keep a lot of stuff digitally. I save conversations and e-mails sometimes, and I will usually keep a photo someone sends me as an attachment or whatever. I save phone numbers. I always have people's addresses and birthdays if they give them to me. It's a state of mind, not a habit. And I think those folks who are tossers (lol) wouldn't be as cavalier about tossing if there weren't keepers around to find them that thing or remind them of that other thing if they didn't keep something. :)

                      Tuesday, November 22, 2016

                      Who's queer?

                      This may not be news for some of you, but did you know many asexual people consider themselves queer?

                      It's possible that that sounds very weird to some of you. But especially for those of us who either spend a lot of time in queer spaces or have an identity besides asexuality that is also on the queer spectrum, it seems pretty natural. And even some of us who are heteroromantic and cisgender still feel that "queer" fits us. Why is that?

                      Believe me, the pushback is astronomical sometimes. If you're an asexual person whose partner is a different gender and you're perceived by society as a straight man and a straight woman, exactly how is that queer, you might ask? Well, I think asking that question assumes that queerness requires visibility and negativity to "count." And if you're aromantic (like me) and/or you're not actively partnering with anyone the non-queer world would interpret as a same-sex partner, some folks will say you have no right to use the label "queer."

                      For those people who have been labeled queer as an insult or against their will, it certainly sounds bizarre for anyone to embrace it voluntarily. I can understand that. But since it is also becoming an umbrella term (and has been for years) for community, especially for those who fit under several rainbow stripes or whose identity is complicated, I think it's not ultimately helpful to interrogate and exclude people whose identity isn't one of the more traditional four letters of the LGBT. Not to mention that the B and the T are not universally accepted in the LGBT community either, considering how frequently bi folks are accused of not being queer enough if they are less visibly queer or have a partner who is or is perceived to be cross-sex and considering how frequently straight trans people who are commonly mistaken for cisgender are told they no longer have a reason to be supported by their community if they're "stealth." It doesn't make sense to base need for support or community on other people's perception of whether they can experience violence or oppression. (And in my experience, if we say we DO experience it along axes they haven't thought of, we are often told that it isn't painful enough or that we are lying about it.)

                      If you want my opinion, asexuality is inherently queer. We're raised in a society that tells us our sexuality should look a certain way, and when it doesn't, we can and often do experience shaming, coercing, harassment, and subjection to rejection that mirrors homophobia. We're told we're unnatural and we're treated like we won't be fixed/happy/normal/satisfied unless we learn to be properly straight. And the actual experiences of aces in our society are not what they're often portrayed to be; sometimes people react with bafflement at this, saying "nobody cares" if we "don't have sex," but the act of abstinence is not what people are reacting to, and "not having sex" is not the definitive aspect of most asexual people's orientation. We are NOT, by and large, regarded as virtuous or pure for not having sex (which again is not necessarily what defines us as asexual), and if anyone thinks we're just pretty much left alone or ignored over our sexuality, they are not listening to us.

                      But the harassment and potential violence we can and sometimes do experience is not what defines queerness, even if it's one of the reasons many of us want the support of community. Queerness would have a meaning even if homophobia and transphobia disappeared tomorrow. I believe it marks a sometimes transgressive search for identity, and that it calls into question assumptions that many straight cis people have never had to think about, and that it necessarily requires self-examination of a flavor that doesn't compute for cishets. That's not to say queer people are enlightened in a way non-queer people are not--that's not at all what I'm suggesting--but when we have seen the Way Things Are in expected sex and relationships and it seems wrong or exclusive of us somehow, we are forced to either find another place to fit in or create it ourselves. Well, that or hide and pretend. 

                      When the picture of a happy future painted in nearly every piece of media and demonstrated by nearly every relationship around you fits what yours looks like, when it resonates with you, that is not a question you ever even have to ask yourself. Though you might. You might question whether you're queer and determine that you're not. But if you're cisgender and straight, I'm saying you probably did not have to do this and it was easy to skip that step during whatever your journey is/was. It doesn't mean it was therefore easy for you, or that you were guaranteed to succeed. It just means that was never an aspect of your search for happiness that you had to resolve, because the default answer fit you already. 

                      It's like if your body is sized and shaped for common clothes on the rack, and you've always been able to find a variety of items in your size that also appeal to your taste and style. You may have never thought about friends or family of yours who find very few items off the rack that fit them, or those who have to get everything they buy altered, or those who cannot buy off the rack at all and must go to specialty stores that cost more or have little variety. And you may have never thought what it does to a person to have them think, every time they have to buy clothes, that they must be unacceptable in some way if they have to go to unusual amounts of trouble or cost to get clothes when other people don't have to think about it. And then you'll still see conversations that sound like "well my life isn't easy either, I have to roll up or hem every pair of pants I buy because I'm short!" "oh yeah? I can't buy off the rack at all, so miss me with your whining about hemming." You see people trying to avoid acknowledging greater struggles by drawing attention to their own lesser struggles, and you see people denying that lesser struggles are worth discussing or supporting at all because some people suffer greater clothes-related indignities. And you might even see tall people claiming they can't help being tall but fat people can help being fat so the big-and-tall stores shouldn't extend their support to fat people sizes since it takes resources away from outfitting the tall people. Welp. Or we could acknowledge that in general it sucks to struggle with clothes shopping, and we can stop putting moral value on struggle. We will probably have more luck changing the system if we lobby for clothing companies to acknowledge and design for body diversity, period. Though that is not to say we can't talk about these things within our communities--about why being too slim for common clothes is a different kind of message and has a different kind of effect than being too fat for common clothes, and how not fitting in clothes off the rack easily is not the same for everyone.

                      There are absolutely people within the queer community who experience, overall, less hostility, and some of that is always going to be intersectional with their other gender and sexual identities, their class, their race, their ability/disability/illness, and where they live. I don't believe it's useful to single out any subgroup of queer identity and say "YOU--you do not experience oppression along this axis, so you do not belong here." And some people who are asexual may feel that the queer community is not the place for them and do not feel asexuality is inherently queer. Or maybe they have no use at all for that term and don't personally have enough connection to LGBT spaces or individuals to feel that the label has any meaning to them. (Just like, you know, there are trans people and same-sex-attracted people who aren't out or aren't loud and proud and don't join queer organizations.) 

                      In my opinion, nobody should be gatekeeping who relates to such a broad term and who can be present in broadly defined spaces. In more specific subgroups, I think it's fine for someone leading an organization or group to call the shots on who they accept, but there shouldn't be a blanket block on cisgender asexual people who don't have same-sex partners, any more than there should be a block on bisexual people with a cross-sex partner or straight trans people who are primarily read as cis. Inclusion will generally result in better, safer spaces, and though there are exceptions to this, they should be made on an individual basis. Certainly not as a shaming technique to banish people whose queerness isn't enough like someone else's.