In this specific example, while making its comparison of India as a magical negro, the post fails to both note and appreciate the following bits of context:

That both the main white actress and the main desi actor in the film are British, with Dev Patel adopting an Indian accent and playing the part of a “native”. That all the featured Indian characters are coded as middle/upper class (the dress, able to speak fluent English, etc) and light skinned. That in many ways this is how India is actively marketed by its tourism sector (and also its government. Did a project once which involved collecting promo material from the Indian consul — I think in Chicago? — and it was quite hilariously illuminating), because they’ve judged that this type of pandering will bring in the tourist dollars.

And this exotification of India in the West has been happening since before the time of Columbus, and reducing said things to a “phenomenon in which a white character in a tv show or movie finds enlightenment…” seems rather glib. (Just because it appears in tvtropes does not mean TV created it!) And that’s not even getting into how most isms seem to inevitably become just like the racism that blacks (had) face(d) in the US.

I also thought it was telling how none of the links elaborating on the ‘magical negro’ trope went to one of the many black writers who’ve done the major work of deconstructing and dissecting it, much less linking to desi writers talking about colonialism and othering.

So what my disagreement boils down to, I think, is this: that this is a discussion about the Othering/exotification of India in mainstream Western culture that succeeds in further marginalizing/disenfranchising desis and other minorities. It doesn’t consider that we might be among the audience for this post (much less making room in the conversation for us, much less acknowledging all the times we’ve already discussed this), and in the way it takes something that rose out of certain contexts, misidentifies said contexts while applying it to different ones with no mention of the consequences of the differences, makes it, again, similar to what it’s aiming to critique.

And it brings home the point that, for all its social justice aims, this is a blog for a specific group of white people, by a specific group of white people, with all the marginalizations that entails.

Colorblue breaks it on down as to why Sociological Images’ analysis of “India As Magical Negro” fails on several levels at the R today. (via racialicious)

Anime and the Social Construction of Race

imageA common misconception about anime cartoons amongst uninitiated audiences in majority-English-speaking countries is that anime characters are drawn to look ‘White’ rather than ‘Asian’. First of all, neither of terms are factual fixed categories - they are social constructions. That is, the meaning attached to race, whether ‘White’, ‘Black’, ‘Asian’ and so on, and the groups classified under these labels, change from one society to another, depending upon culture, time and place.

In an excellent exploration of the social construction of race in popular culture, sociologist Julian Abagond shows that Japanese animators do not, in fact, draw anime characters to personify their aspiration to be ‘white’. Instead, these characters reflect the animators’ own cultural biases - which is that Japanese people are the prototype model of the ‘default human being’. Abagond writes in Sociological Images:


imageIf I draw a stick figure, most Americans will assume that it is a white man. Because to them that is the Default Human Being. For them to think it is a woman I have to add a dress or long hair; for Asian, I have to add slanted eyes; for black, I add kinky hair or brown skin. Etc.

The Other has to be marked. If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed.

Americans apply this thinking to Japanese drawings. But to the Japanese the Default Human Being is Japanese! So they feel no need to make their characters “look Asian”. They just have to make them look like people and everyone in Japan will assume they are Japanese – no matter how improbable their physical appearance.

You see the same thing in America: After all, why do people think Marge Simpson is white? Look at her skin: it is yellow. Look at her hair: it is a blue Afro. But the Default Human Being thing is so strong that lacking other clear, stereotyped signs of being either black or Asian she defaults to white…

When you think about it there is nothing particularly white about how anime characters look:huge round eyes – no one looks like that, not even white people (even though that style of drawing eyes does go back to Betty Boop).

  • yellow hair – but they also have blue hair and green hair and all the rest. Therefore hair colour is not about being true to life.
  • small noses – compared to the rest of the world whites have long noses that stick out.
  • white skin – but many Japanese have skin just as pale and white as most White Americans…

Some Americans, even some scholars, will argue against this view of anime. They want to think the Japanese worship America or worship whiteness and use anime to prove it.  But they seem to be driven more by their own racism and nationalism than anything else.

As Abagond’s analysis shows, perceptions of race and gender influence how people ‘read’, understand and draw meaning from animation. For Japanese animators, their characters reflect their view of normality - that everyone in their creation is Japanese (or Korean or Chinese or wherever the anime is produced). Audiences that have an uncritical view of race and Whiteness presume that ‘Asian’ drawings should look ‘Asian’. Yet this term - Asian - means different things to different groups. In Japan, the category of Asian is not very meaningful. Instead, mainstream Japanese culture portrays the Japanese people as the ‘default human being’. Gender and class also affect how this default human being is imagined (usually male, affluent and lean).

Just all art forms embody the biases and taken-for-granted cultural assumptions about the world, what audiences see in anime drawings are mediated by the ethnocentrism of the animators and audiences. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s group is superior to others. Viewers who think Japanese anime characters are trying to look ‘White’ are therefore viewing this artform through ethnocentrism.

Credit
Quotation originally from Abagond’s blog, via Sociological Images.

Image of Jubei from Ninja Scroll from Jinni.


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Chainsaw Suit comic ‘Biceps of Flavour’ via Sociological Images.
Read Gwen Sharp’s analysis of the ridiculous marketing practice where products are rebranded as ‘masculine’ on Sociological Images.

As a man I demand performance from my car. So why shouldn’t I demand performance from my salad dressing? Introducing man dressings, from Wishbone. Real flavour for real guys like you and me. Try our newest flavour, “dad died but I didn’t cry in front of my wife winning her respect”.

Chainsaw Suit comic ‘Biceps of Flavour’ via Sociological Images.

Read Gwen Sharp’s analysis of the ridiculous marketing practice where products are rebranded as ‘masculine’ on Sociological Images.