Cut The Crap and Snap The Color Lines

Last Friday night (is the Katy Perry song stuck in your head? Well, it definitely is now) , I woke up feeling happy. I mean, duh, it was Friday, the end of a hectic academic week as well as the predecessor for two straight days of not discussing Aristodamus, Menelaus, and other figures of Greek history whose names make my tongue do gymnastics moves. More importantly, last Friday, I was off to the cinema to see Insidious: Chapter 2. Friday night, however, I went to bed feeling uneasy, and not because of fear instilled in me from the film, but because of a comment that was made toward me, one that opened up my closed eyes.

I bought my ticket, went to the concession stand, placed my order, and then waited. After I payed an astronomical  $800 $10.50 for some popcorn, Sourpatch Kids, and water, the attendant said to me, “Ya know, you’re pretty for a black girl.”

This sums it up concisely. Aside from the expletive, of course.

This sums it up concisely. Aside from the expletive, of course.


Geez. Seriously?  You’ve just basically robbed me blind, guy working at the concession stand. Now, you’re giving me a back-handed compliment to add racial insult to financial injury? Now, I’d been told that black women in the Americas face dual-ended antagonism. We’ve got one foot in two doors of mainstream oppression. Prior to this disrespectful  incident, I had never really felt that. Call me naive. It’s okay. That, I was. I grew up in a pretty affluent (contemporarily synonymous with “white American”) section of the 6-1-7, commonly known as Boston,MA. My parents sent me to private school and to this day pay my college tuition. Heck, my brother drives a friggin’ BMV. I was living on Easy Street—population:one. Racism was a concept of the past.  Didn’t you hear? Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela, they all eradicated it. Good riddance. ” Extra!Extra! Read all about it! RACISM DEAD: The beginning of time—1999  (year of Mandela’s release from prison).

The frightening truth is becoming all the more evident for me. As a black woman (I prefer this to “African-American,” which denotes a different cultural experience for me), I feel like everyone but Jessica is constructing the identity of Jessica. Hip-hop culture, which many interchange with black culture, is a prime example.  I have brown skin, so I must be up to, what I call, “hood-boogery” whenever  I walk into the store. I chemically straighten my hair, so I must have an inferiority complex. There’s a curvature to my hips and butt, so I obviously know how to twerk. I am by no means “prudish” in my choice of dress, or otherwise body-conscious, so I must have an absentee father whose absence has forced to seek male attention with my physical displays. Girls with my skin color are the “vixens” in the music videos, so I must encourage and welcome your unwanted, scathing sexual remarks and advances. I’m black and pretty, so I am an anomaly.

It’s as if before some people even try to get to know me in the slightest bit, my skin color and racial identity beat my mouth to the punch. In no spoken words, my appearance and racial classification equip certain close-minded individuals with “all” the information about me that needs to be known, regardless of how far from the truth they actually are.

So, I’m forced to ask myself this: how cognizant are we? Racially? How much does the concept of race structure our understandings of and relationships with people? Consider this: It’s the day before the semester starts. You log onto your school’s student site and check the class roster. The first name listed is “Keisha Jones.” What is her racial background?

I’m fervently opposed to stereotypes, but I understand their psychological basis. Let’s not forget that we’re animals (Kingdom Animalia!). We have that basic, intrinsic desire to protect ourselves. If someone is squeezing your windpipe, you’re going to fight back. If a certain individual offends or threatens you, you want to avoid him and all like him in order to avoid being hurt again. So, a black guy robbed your neighbor? Better be weary of that UPS delivery man of Ghanaian ancestry. Again, i don’t agree with it, but I understand it. It’s psychologically explained, and that is why i think that stereotypes thrive and are sometimes so freely uttered.

So, back to the concession-stand attendant. Yes, I am black. Yes, I am pretty. No, those categories are not mutually exclusive. I received a blatant wake-up call. Let’s get rid of racist, stereotypical thinking. We don’t need it. Food is essential to our lives, and as such, we will not survive if we remove it from our lives. Same with sleep and water. Not the case , however, with our concepts of race. Let’s cut the color lines, because they are honestly more divisive than informative. 

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Eye Spy With My Single-fold Eyes, A Career That Just Won’t Take Off: A Reaction to Julie Chen Career-Establishing and Eyelid Surgery

Many a similarity exists between CBS’ The Talk and ABC’s The View : both are daytime talk shows that feature all-female casts discussing current events in American politics and popular culture. This past week, however, The Talk really talked a critically incendiary, attention-grabbing game and snatched the daytime spotlight. Co-host Julie Chen, 43,  revealed that about twenty years ago, she underwent cosmetic surgery on her eyes to create what is known as a “double fold.” Reactions to her admission have fared from praise—both for her honesty and for “doing what she needed to do”—to indifference, and even to criticism for what some regard as conformity to Western (i.e.,”white”) beauty standards and, ultimately, as submission to the idea of Western superiority.Image

East Asian blepharoplasty. This is the technical term for the “elective” cosmetic procedure that Chen underwent. Well, let’s get technical about the  issue. I placed quotation marks around “elective,” because Chen’s surgery wasn’t the typical elective procedure, the  I-dislike-my-nose-because-it-is-too-long-for-my-face-and-therefore-I-shall-have-it-done type of cosmetic surgery. Note the authoritative language here—“I.” Granted, one might consider this type of thinking to be destructive, as it involves unnecessary physical critiques and modifications.  This is true; however, what is important here is that this surgery is elected for personal reasons. No external factors directly affect the decision. Julie Chen’s case—at least, as she tells it—does not appear to be so. Working as a news anchor in Dayton, Ohio, Chen, an American born to Chinese parents, was told by a potential agent, “ ‘Let’s face it, Julie, how relatable are you to our [white] community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton?’ ‘On top of that, because of your Asian eyes, sometimes I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera and you’re interviewing someone, you look disinterested. You look bored.’”  As with some East Asian descendants—from  The People’s Republic of China (mainland China), Japan, North and South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, and The Republic of China (Taiwan)—Chen had been born with  single-creased (“slanted”)  eyelids. Many Europeans and other non-East Asians tend to have double-creased eyelids. As Europeans are the originators of Western civilization (not to say that other forms of civilization aren’t recognized),  the double-creased eyelid is seen ( pun intended) as anatomically emblematic of the Western, especially Eurocentric, world.  Chen was faced with a tough decision: either undergo the surgery or possibly never attain professional success in her field.

Many a Chen critic regard East Asian blepharoplasty as an unnecessary and oppressive procedure that is insulting and racist to East Asians.  Many of their comments verge along the lines of  “ ‘ Way to give in to the Western standards of beauty!’ ”, “ ‘ You’re denying your heritage!’ ”,  and “ ‘You’re trying to look less Asian.’ ” Chen refutes these claims, as she “still look[s] Chinese” and does not view undergoing the procedure as a refusal of her heritage. However, New York-based writer and lecturer Patricia Park, also of East Asian descent, isn’t taking this incident lightly. Park believes that Chen’s case is a publicly revealed manifestation of a  large epidemic : “the enormous pressure young women face in meeting a certain standard of beauty. ”  Today, women are incessantly bombarded with both implicit and explicit messages that they are somehow flawed and need to “fix” themselves. Rather than fix ourselves, Park argues, we must fix the social concept of beauty.

Dr. Chase Law, a San Francisco Bay-based cosmetic surgeon, disagrees with Park. The motives of East Asians to undergo blepharoplasty, he believes, are simply misunderstood. Working in an area with an estimated 23.3 % Asian demographic and having traveled to Asia to educate fellow surgeons on the invasive procedure, Law argues that these patients do not undergo the procedure to abandon their Eastern look for an accepted Western look, but that they, like all other cosmetic surgery electors, do so in order to “feel more confident and have features that they feel are more attractive.” This statement, of course, is a generalization and therefore non-representative of  everyone who has, is going to, and will undergo the procedure. The same can be said about the electors of East Asian blepharoplasty who are stereotyped  as conforming to Western beauty ideals.

Brie Hiramine, a Chinese and Japanese American who serves as an editorial apprentice of news source Flavor Wire, echoes the same sentiment as Dr. Law: Chen’s race-based critics need to “step back from the race shame game” and acknowledge that electors of blepharoplasty are  like people of “all races” who are “altering their appearances to ‘fix’ something about themselves.”  She finds it unfair to single out Chen for her decision to go under the surgeon’s knife. This procedure does not make Chen, or anyone else who undergoes the procedure, “less Asian,” because possession of physical traits  should not be the sole criterion on which one is viewed as “ethnic enough” or “true” to his or her culture.

So, where do I, a twenty-year-old non-white American, stand on this issue? I believe that, in part, it is oppressive. Julie Chen was told straight to her face that her East Asian physical attributes were hindering her chances of prosperity in American journalism. I do not hold a degree in psychology, but I am certain that my knowledge of basic psychology nonetheless allows me to comment. When faced with such as dilemma as Chen’s alleged, we feel, in a way, threatened emotionally. Our dreams, our aspirations are some of the fiber’s of our being are the incentives that drive most of our actions. They’re an essential part of us. Anything that threatens them therefore threatens us. It’s basic instinct for all living creatures to try to escape any perceived danger. Her dreams threatened, Chen did what she needed to do. East Asian blepharoplasty was her way of warding off her attacker. I don’t necessarily believe that Chen’s career definitely would not have prospered had she not undergone the procedure. Maybe it would have; maybe it wouldn’t have. The point is that Chen’s choice was understandable.

I myself have contemplated cosmetic surgery—specifically rhinoplasty, colloquially known as a “nose job. ”  No one ever explicitly said to me, “Jessica, your nose is too wide.” However, this message was spread to me implicitly. On television, in magazines, I rarely encounter women who do not have slim noses. Whether their nasal visages have been bestowed by genetics, cosmetic surgery, make-up (in a process known as “contouring”), or Photoshop, or whether these slim-nosed women are consciously chosen or just so happen to be,  is not so much relevant here. The point is that I rarely see anyone who looks like me in mass media. If I do, she is often mocked for her “ape-like” appearance.

We live in a social and  aesthetic world. Being told that one is pleasing in appearance instills feelings of acceptance.  Being aesthetically pleasing makes one, to some degree, socially pleasing as well. Therefore, being aesthetically displeasing often brings feelings of social disapproval. One cannot deny the racist nature of Chen’s case because race was made an issue immediately—she was told that her “Asian eyes” make her appear bored and  unrelatable to a white American audience. I was never  explicitly told that my nose (which isn’t even that wide) made me ugly and therefore socially unacceptable. However, a belief in one normative type of beauty is universally damaging. Whether it’s an East Asian person undergoing blepharoplasty to look more acceptable—because of Western ideals of beauty or homegrown, non-contaminated notions of beauty—or me undergoing rhinoplasty to look like the women whose faces dominate the media that I access, the diversity of beauty needs to be re-examined. As late American cartoonist Charles Addams stated, normalcy is illusory, as what a spider considers “normal”—trapping  prey in a web—is considered  “chaotic” by the preyed-upon fly. Beauty is subject to a beholder’s eye—whether single- or double-creased. The only beholder whose opinion we should consider sacrosanct, is our own.

Post scriptum: It is also important for us to acknowledge that women are not the only people undergoing cosmetic surgery. Men do so, too.

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Mind Your Effing Business—Literally

In a day and age when privacy is highly valued (Edward “The Hero” Snowden, anyone?), some  private activity remains up for public dispute, and by “some private activity,” I’m talking about the rights of homosexuals in the United States. Many protestors against homosexuality argue that the “orientation” (the protestors’ quotation marks, not mine) defies the laws of legality, theology, and family. Well, I’m going to shatter these defenses. I’m going to get aggressive with the aggressors. Yes, Westboro Baptist Church, I am talking to you and your like.

“The Bible told me so.” Author of Catholicism in the Third Millennium and a Jesuit doctor of theology, Thomas P. Raush has stated that Christianity  has an “official inability” to recognize homosexual relationships because God Himself has said that He hates gays. Raush cites Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament and Hebrew Bible, which warns, “If a man lies with a male” as he does with a female (i.e., sexually) “both of them shall be put to death; since they have committed an abhorrent deed, they have forfeited their lives” (20:13). Note that male homosexuality is condemned here; lesbians are exempt from this punishment. I bet that lesbians everywhere are saying, “Thank you, patriarchy, for always excluding us!” All good humor aside, I understand that in a patriarchal society, if men are prohibited from doing something, then women are definitely  prohibited from doing it as well.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Homosexuality, the passage establishes, is a sin. Well, according to Christianity, Adam and Eve, the biblical ancestors of humanity, sinned, and as a result, they cursed us all in the Garden of Eden. Because of their disobedience to God—“The Fall of Man”—all humans are born with original sin. That’s right—once we have been expelled from the womb (or surgically removed, in the case of myself and fellow c-sectioners), we already are marked.

Well, Doctor Raush, I raise this point—Yes, we are all sinners. I am, you are, and even Ann Coulter is. However, Jesus himself, the prophet whom both you and I follow, instructed his followers—both present and future—“ Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone” (John 8:7). Hopefully, no stones are hurled your way, Dr. Rausch. If you want to consider homosexuality a sin, then fine. But, then I ask you—who are sinners to condemn fellow sinners?

R.I.P., Family? Prior to becoming the head of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio (Buenos Aires ) decried same-sex parents—not in the name of Catholicism itself, not in the name of science, and not in the name of legality. Same-sex parents, he said, threaten the family dynamic.  “The Argentine people,” the archbishop speicifies, “will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother, and children”(as quoted by Sieczkowski). Now, unless I have missed some anthropological memo, regardless whether Argentine or American; Jew or Gentile; dog-lover or cat lady; we humans require the same things—love, food, drink, and an episode of Family Guy here and there. So, if the Argentine people are threatened, then it’s safe to assume that we all are.

Bergoglio’s arguement runs on the basis that the family is comprised of a mother, a father, and a child (or more). If this is so, then single-parent families aren’t really “families” either. It also carries the assumption that biological parents are the real parents of a family. Jesus was raised by his biological mother, Mary, and Joseph, his stepfather, for lack of a more appropriate term. So Jesus was not raised in a “traditional family,” but should Christ’s whole legacy and Christianity itself  be disregarded due to his family’s deviation from the standard? Well, if so, then some millions of fathers and sisters are out of a vocation.

“Kill ‘em before they lay eggs!”  American Family Association (AFA) member Bryan Fischer believes that homosexuality is the source of many of our problems. So that’s how we’ve ended up in a financial crisis—because some people with similar genitalia roll together. Who knew? Fischer cautions against legalizing unions between homosexuals, two people,who,  “when the union is forged specifically to engage in felony behavior.” A felony is a crime of high seriousness, such as rape, murder, and kidnapping. How are the sexual acts of consenting adults “ of high seriousness” or affecting anyone else in any way? Remind me to alert Boston Police to arrest  my roommate when eats a steak in front of me; her carnivorous activity clearly infringes upon my vegetarianism.

Now, I am a straight, Catholic female, but don’t get me wrong—I am a fervent supporter of civil rights, regardless of sexual orientation. Does this mean that I want to encourage members of the same sex to get together, or members of the opposite sex together? No.  It means that I understand that what goes on between a couple—especially their sex life— is none of my business. I’m minding my own“effing” (sexual) business. We all should.

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Hola! Bonjour!Salve!Ello!

Hello there and thank you for stopping by my blog. I’m Jessica. I’m exactly sixty-three inches (5’3”) tall, and do not use the pejorative (in my mind, at least)  “short.” I prefer “vertically challenged.” I’m a lover of William Shakespeare, and I make no apologies for it.

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I’ve recently converted to extroversion (which ties into a bigger point) and study English (which also ties into a bigger point). Here is said “bigger point”: I grew up in a relatively privileged section of Boston and, up until high school, was surrounded by people similar to myself. I understood “suffering” and injustice” as concepts—I could define them if asked—but I had never experienced either or been a first-hand witness. In my Shakespeare-obsessed utopia, everything, as the term implies, was perfect. I attended Boston Latin School, a school that carries prestige and has a standardized exam as part of its admissions process. There, i encountered diversity on the levels of race, creed, gender, literary preferences (I met someone who truly dislike Shakespeare. weird. It refreshing and new to encounter diversity, and this encounter turned me from “taciturn” to “talkative” in an instant. It also instilled in me a passion for writing, which I am currently pursuing at the collegiate level. Activism—spreading awareness and helping improve others’ qualities of life, whether it be by making someone laugh/smile or by giving words of encouragement—is my literary objective. So,please, join me, a self-proclaimed (but not big-time) orator and scribe, in making this world a better place, one smile, cackle, or revamped attitude at a time.