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The ‘anti-racist’ crowd have resorted to the old politics of racism

7 March 2016

6:04 PM

7 March 2016

6:04 PM

The self-important slayers of ‘cultural appropriation’ have gone too far this time. Clearly they didn’t get a big-enough moral kick from chastising white people who do yoga (on the basis that yoga has ‘roots in Indian culture’), moaning about Beyonce donning a sari (‘how is this different from white folks wearing cornrows?’, the racial police demanded), and fuming about middle-class indie kids who wear Native American headdresses at music festivals (apparently this‘perpetuates damaging, archaic and racist stereotypes’).

So now they’re turning their fire on a black actress who, in their view, is not black enough to play Nina Simone. Yes, even black people can now be accused of being insufficiently black for certain cultural pursuits.

The actress in question is Zoe Saldana, a fine actress whose curious combination of vulnerability and steeliness has made her the darling of the modern Hollywood blockbuster. She’s one of the best things in the Star Trek reboot movies and she even managed to inject some humanity into James Cameron’s otherwise soulless, eco-miserabilist epic, Avatar. And next she will play Simone, in a big biopic, the trailer for which was released last week.

But the identity-politics mob isn’t happy. Why? Because Saldana is a light-skinned black person, a ‘half black’, as some have foully put it, and she used make-up to make herself as black as Simone.

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The internet went into meltdown over this revelation. Saldana, who is Afro-Latino, was accused of ‘blacking-up’. A writer for CNN said Saldana has resuscitated Hollywood’s ‘abhorrent history of blackface’. Simone’s own brother said Saldana’s turn as Nina is an ‘insult to our people’.

At the Telegraph, Emma Dabiri snootily decreed that Saldana is the ‘wrong black woman’ to play Simone. ‘With her long silky hair and brown tan skin, Zoe Saldana may well be black,’ Dabiri generously conceded, but apparently she isn’t ‘black enough’. On Twitter, meanwhile, where reprimanding cultural appropriation has become a favoured and feverish pastime, Saldana is being mauled, slammed as no better than a ‘white actress wearing blackface’.

It’s so ugly. The intensity with which Saldana has been slated in the press and defamed on Twitter, having her skin colour and identity pored over and policed by racially correct identitarians, is a reminder of how vicious the politics of identity can be. People who pose as progressive, as enlightened and anti-racist, are ‘calling out’ a black woman over her skin colour, effectively branding her a modern-day minstrel, a ‘blackface’, a not-real black person pretending to be black. They can’t seem to see the twisted irony of claiming to be anti-racist while obsessing over a black woman’s skin and shaming her for having the wrong racial make-up. This isn’t anti-racism; it’s the very definition of racialism; it’s racial thinking, and racial shaming.

The Saldana shamers don’t seem to understand that acting is all about empathising with and entering into the spirit of someone who is not you. And actors frequently use make-up and prosthetics to become that other person. Whether it’s straight actors pretending to be gay, able-bodied actors pretending to disabled, or perfectly nice gentlemen hunching their backs and going psychopathic to play Richard III, acting is a pretence — and one usually driven by a decent, humanist, cultural urge to embody a character and allow people to understand him or her.

The logic of the fuss over Saldana is that, in the words of movie director Judd Apatow, ‘actors should only be allowed to play themselves’. It is now ‘offensive to pretend to be other people’, Apatow quipped.

The reason identitarians are so obsessed with acting — whether it’s Eddie Redmayne having the temerity to play a trans person or able-bodied actors playing disabled people — is because their obsessive judgement of everyone according to their biological, racial and gender identities has made them blind to the fact that human beings can empathise with and depict other people. In their mind, everyone should stay in their racial and gender boxes, and never write about, talk about, study or borrow from the cultures of people in other racial and gender boxes. Saldana should stick with her Afro-Latinos and not presume that she can understand the blacker experience. What a foul, divisive and fundamentally anti-humanist worldview.

The shaming of Saldana shows that identity politics has horrendously re-racialised public and cultural life. These so-called progressives have replaced the old politics of racism with a new politics of racial etiquette, where everyone’s speech is policed for unwitting ‘racial microaggressions’, our cultural pastimes are checked for any over-borrowing from ‘other cultures’, and we’re implored to be racially aware all the time. It’s a PC version of race-baiting, where every issue and every piece of culture is turned into a racial minefield.

Some of us don’t want to be racially aware. We don’t want to judge people according to their skin colour. And when Nina comes out, we will see, not a ‘half-black person’ mimicking a ‘real black person’, but a good actress doing her very best to capture the soul and life of another human being. That’s what humans do — we reach across made-up racial and cultural boundaries in an effort to understand and feel what other people feel.

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Show comments
  • Sonia

    I don’t think it’s so much about policing identity in this instance, and it’s a shame that some people are personally attacking the actress who was cast for the role. I think the anger is more at Hollywood and society at large, at the fact that they could have actually cast a black woman who looks more like Nina Simone and other women who don’t meet US cultural beauty standards (due to their genes and historical racism) in this role.

    It’s really important to have stories ABOUT people who are like you, the scarcity of those in a story-saturated world feels alienating. This is something many white people don’t really realise, in the same way you stop noticing a background sound that is always there – the hero of the story is most often white, unless it’s a film about slavery or something else depressing. This is why many white people engaging in this kind of conversation never really think beyond ‘but a character is a character and we have empathy and can relaaaate to anyone playing anything, right??’ Sort of missing the point. but I digress).

    Nina Simone suffered a lot from being as black as she was, and I imagine it feels a little bit like “you still can’t really deal with casting one of us dark skinned, big-lipped, flat nosed African Americans in a leading role (because you don’t think that will sell) but you are happy to capitalise on our stories” I can understand the anger. But I absolutely don’t think it should be directed at the actress herself!

  • trobrianders

    Cultures are open to scrutiny. Only leftists dishonestly turn legitimate conversations about culture into illegitimate conversations about race. For this alone they should be summarily executed. Race, by the way is only important insofar as it provides a broad preliminary indicator of culture.

    • Sargon the bone crusher

      You have inverted truth. Misallocated blame to the left, and display PC ignorance. You are also insanely intolerant; I loathe the left, but execution for disagreement = an undeveloped personality.

      • trobrianders

        Summary execution would be against the law. Even the law I’d like to see gain majority consent. As for you, stick your head in a bucket of cold water if it helps.

  • P Observer

    Utter twaddle Mr ‘O’Neill I’m just glad we’re are not meant to take you seriously. Yet I do understand where you come from on this and the need to exude in ink. Those damn people can be so uppity Right!.
    This article is grey propaganda designed to allow a racist to feel better about themselves. Sorry to burst your bubble but the issues run deeper as any half decent (or less) journo knows. Got a view on the Oscars?

    • trobrianders

      The more you protest the less chance you’ll see what’s plain. That non-whites are the biggest racists on the planet. I know. I’m non-white. But nothing must interrupt your self-flagellation for being part of a race that finally brought some semblance of civilisation to the world. Go charge up your anti-racist credentials hanging out with your black friends. I promise they won’t let on what a fraud they think you are.

      • P Observer

        okay thanks I’ll do that then. Hope you don’t mind me asking but are you non white Klingon by any chance? I would like to hang out with your type too and I promise I wont let on what frauds you are changing form one type to another all in 20 years, that’s magic. I’ll now get on with self-flagellation. Ouch!

        • trobrianders

          You make lame jokes but have nothing to say about my assertion that non-whites are more racist than their white counterparts.

          • P Observer

            A mildly amusing joke I thought but there you are. You have answered your own question trollbrianders saving me a few seconds of my day, thanks for that.

            • trobrianders

              Again you avoid answering the straightforward question because it leaves your argument in tatters. You, by the way, will be one of the first casualties of the people you support should they continue gaining in power. They despise you.

              • P Observer

                A ridiculous question not worthy of reply. I must admit I’m intrigued as you sound a bit of trot with your thinly veiled reference to being put up against a wall when their revolution comes. Strange don’t you think? What with you being a black and all that?

                • trobrianders

                  Being put up against the wall is the language of people you support. Keep deflecting. Your refusal to answer charges speaks volumes. Everyone knows about you.

                • P Observer

                  I like the way you use your ‘ings’ deflecting, projectiting. Well who do I support? I’ll start you off..1) Millwall 2) over to you

  • Jonah Varlik

    Fortunately, these agonizing sagas do have a positive outcome. We can now easily identify racists. They are invariably the “anti racist” whiners.

  • Terry Field

    It is all bollo*ks – I am racist, everyone else is racist, and a bloody good thing too.
    SO stuff that in your PC pipe and smoke it.

    • Leon Wolfeson

      No, your choice to be racist and to celebrate violence is yours, as you are the one being PC and demanding people act like you.

      Your bigoted hate is yours, plain and simple.

      • trobrianders

        Unbelievable racist you are!

        • Leon Wolfeson

          “UR RACIST, NON-RACIST”

          Right.

  • Mack

    I blame the Catholics. And the public schools. And the patriarchy.

  • enoch arden

    I never met a Chinese complaining about racism. A wrong race?

  • Walfgang Unkmadeus

    All white people should wear T-shirts that say: “I’m white – sorry.”

    • trobrianders

      They do

    • Frank Marker

      It’s made out of horse hair.

  • Hippograd

    How could the old totalitarian politics have returned when we have so many libertarians from the Third World in the UK?

  • Dave Cockayne

    Yawn.
    A few years ago I went to the cinema and watched Thor.
    I love Idris Elba to bits, if his name is on it, I’ll part with some coin and buy the popcorn, but could someone please explain, in this ‘cultural sensitive’ age that we live why a black man is playing a Viking god?

    • David Beard

      Kenneth Brannagh. Emma Thompson. Might be a connection there somewhere.

    • trobrianders

      He’s not black. You’re projecting

  • Tom Cullem

    Of course, these are the same people who didn’t complain about Patterson Joseph playing the Duke of York in the BBC’s “Hollow Crown-Henry V” – despite the fact that York is a verifiably white historical personage, the highest ranking Englishman to die at the Battle of Agincourt . . .

    “Oh, but that’s different! Shakespeare is for “everyone” – no reason a black man shouldn’t play a medieval Danish prince, or Henry V or a black woman play Margaret of Anjoyu in Richard III!”

    Because . . . “art is universal” – until it is inconvenient for it to be “universal” and it serves someone’s purpose to be quite personal.

  • Chris Bartelt

    There’s a lot to be said for a blow to the head….

  • David Beard

    Corn row hair used to be worn by some of the ancient British tribes BC.

    • trobrianders

      How progressive!

  • SutureSelf

    Once the sluice of identity politics has been opened, no one should be surprised at its effluence.

  • jim jones

    Anyone who uses my language, English, is guilty of cultural appropriation

  • logdon

    Not quite this. In fact, quite the opposite.

    “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

    Martin Luther King ‘I have a dream’.

    • Jonah Varlik

      How dare you mention the elephant in the room!

  • Maureen Fisher

    This is a comment that is “pending” in the weird subterranean world of “disqus” as it has some kind of “verboten” word, so I’ll just re-post it with asteriks > “Brendan, we are subjected to this even in the more esoteric world of art history. A film at the end of the Delacroix exhibition in the National Gallery has an art historian pronouncing that his “Orientalist” paintings were the product of his r@cist c*lonialism… By the way, I have just learned something new in recent days, that the old fashioned saying ” sp** and span” has racist connotations.”

  • trobrianders

    The anti-racist crowd are developing the new fascistic language of human rights.

  • Randal

    Some of us don’t want to be racially aware.

    Any other aspects of reality you want to determinedly pretend aren’t there in order to make yourself feel good about respecting the elite taboos you’ve internalised?

    Honestly, it’s hard to know what to make of this kind of thing – the absurd criticising the ridiculous. Do we agree approvingly with the highlighting of the undoubted nastiness and absurdity that O’Neill happens to be targeting? Or do we point and laugh at the silly dogma he himself desperately clings to in order to signal his own virtue?

    Both, perhaps?

  • Snipkokken Balsov

    Soon they will be resurrecting terms like Mulatto, Quadroon, Octoroon and Quintroon to describe a persons unsuitability due to the degree of the taint of Whiteness.

  • Neil

    Colorism.

  • amoorhouse

    Hmm. Looks like the identity mob are creating their own Nuremberg laws. Gosh.

  • lift_the_toilet_seat

    Brendan always strikes me as a lapsed Irish Catholic who knows that being a lapsed Irish Catholic ain’t all that it is cracked up to be.

    The main problem is “logos” and how to make sense of a world which rejects it? Evelyn Waugh is very good on this.

  • Ingmar Blessing

    Shouldn’t we be more concerned about Saldanas thin voice? The magic about Nine Simone was her voice which was pure oil coming out of her mouth and still is not met by anyone. A movie that cannot offer this (the trailer implies it doesn’t) is not a real movie about Nina Simone.

    On the “black role model front” I also miss a biopic about George Washington Carver. One of my personal heros: A man born a slave and dying as one of the most respected individuals of his time. A pure genius and by far more accomplished than the creation of peanut butter. You cannot make a bigger and more impressive journey in your life.

    Why doesn’t he have his own statue? Does he not fit into the current convention of “hero”? Were his owners too nice to him?

    • James

      Nina was overrated. Ella Fitzgerald and Amy Winehouse are the two greatest female jazz artists.

      • Ingmar Blessing

        hm it’s a taste thing I guess.

        Nina Simone had a far deeper (and imho fuller) voice than Ella Fitzgerald and was more melancholic than Amy Winehouse. Not that I would switch off the radio when their songs come on…

        • James

          Nothing to do with taste. Amy was an artist – Nina was a Jazzy-pop singer who benefited from singing George Gershwin’s Porgy and Walter Donaldson’s My baby cares for me. It’s like comparing Olly Murs to David Bowie. Amy is up there with Miles Davis,

          • Ingmar Blessing

            okokok I give up. You win.

            • James

              There was only going to be 1 winner!!!

        • David Beard

          Melancholic. That’s the word.

      • David Beard

        Strange, Ella strikes me as very easy ‘white sounding’, while Amy sounds so sassy black.

        • Gilbert White

          The white handkerchief was a bit of a give away?

    • Bill

      George Washington Carver was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1977 and his bust stands with the others in the Bronx, New York. Sadly, the Hall ceased active operation for lack of funds shortly thereafter but the statues remain.

      Carver received a number of other public honors around the middle of the 20th century such as appearing on postage stamps but his popularity seems to have faded, though. Improved agriculture isn’t glamorous enough?

  • SonOfaGun

    Do many white folks know enough about Nina Simone to want to watch a dramatisation of her life story?

    • chatnoir50

      I’m sure I’d prefer her music … that’s timeless

  • TrulyDisqusted

    So what about the millions of black women swapping food stamps for skin whitening products?

    Is there a hashtag for them?

    • trobrianders

      #LookTheOtherWay

  • TrulyDisqusted

    Wait are these the same black supremacists who demand that historically white roles be turned over to bleck persons?

    Yawn, I say.

    If, black persons have such a rich cultural heritage and identity, why aren’t they telling their own black stories, with black actors playing all of the roles? Why aren’t they producing them in their own black studios with black directors and black lighting crews, black sound recordings, black costume designers, set builders etc and distributing them to black cinemas via their own black distribution channels?

    Whites can do it, Indians can do it, Asians can do it, why can’t black people do it?

    Who is stopping them?

    Maybe blaming everyone else for the failure of some black people to create the world they think they deserve is easier than actually easier than getting on with building it?

    Either way, I don’t care. I’m white and proud to blame the rich for all of my life’s ills… :o)

  • chatnoir50

    I try to run a carbon-neutral home, minimal coal and petroleum products … does this make me a racist?

    And:

    http://thepeoplescube.com/peoples-blog/new-black-panthers-purge-transracial-members-cause-outcry-t17579.html

  • Freddy Bin Yusuf

    Anti-mixed race bigotry has been common in US black communities since slavery when mixed/lighter skinned slaves were favoured for “easy” house work over labour in the fields.

    Outside of the US, non-white majority countries favour “colourism”, the preference for lighter skin over dark.

    Both examples show what a farce the socjus idiots are when they bundle all non-whites into the “POC” category and then attempt to address all so called “equality” by massively stereotyping all non-whites into a single identity.

  • FrankS2

    Not black enough? Surely that should be “not of color enough”.

  • weirdvisions

    They’ll be telling us next that coal is too black to burn.

  • The Patriarchy

    The absurd ramifications are endless.

    Does the concept of cultural appropriation mean that black people shouldn’t drive cars, own fridges, or wear watches? Indeed, since no woman designed a car, should all women be forbidden to drive? Apple computers are made in the Far East – so should Islington Lefties be forbidden their use?

    Finally there’s dopey Olivia Coleman playing a male character (Burr) in the idiot BBC’s
    dramatization of The Night Manager? Guilty of serious misappropriation?

  • http://www.CaerphillyPreserves.co.uk/ No Good Boyo

    Clearly they didn’t get a big-enough moral kick from chastising white people who do yoga (on the basis that yoga has ‘roots in Indian culture’)

    So Indians have found a thing of virtue to teach the world, but we mustn’t learn from their wisdom, simply because they’re Indians, and they’ve got brown faces. Isn’t that kind of — you know — racist?

  • JSC

    That crack-pots can go on spouting this kind of racialist nonsense unchallenged… Well, it explains why the left went to bed preaching tolerance and woke up infested with anti-semites and misogynistic Islamists.

  • MC

    The same people suggest a Spy with Scottish heritage should be played by Idris E.
    Not Black enough should not be a thing! Then again, I watched the B&W minstrels when Lenny Henry was with them and didn’t think there was an issue, so who I am to judge.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Should white people be ‘outraged’ at this cultural appropriation?:-

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/shakespearean-black-and-ethnic-minority-actors-still-only-getting-minor-roles-a6816941.html

    The ‘outrage’ only ever seems to work one way. Chuka can apparently see nothing wrong in his demand for the cultural appropriation of mediaeval English kings. I look forward to Phil Glenister starring in a re-make of Shaft.

  • TrippingDwarves

    Anyone been watching Beowulf on ITV? Truly baffling in racial terms.

  • Mhjames

    Yet it’s apparently OK for a black actor to play the Prince of Denmark at Stratford on Avon this year.

  • TrippingDwarves

    Progressive politics = command and control. When an activist, politician or a party label themselves as Progressive, what they really mean is authoritarian. We need to reject ‘progressivism’ outright and stick with good, old-fashioned pragmatism.

    • MikeF

      Yes – ‘progressive’ politics also tend to fixate on specific objectives which are deemed to represent the practical application of perfect principle and which once achieved cannot be questioned or subject to change. Hence ‘progressive’ politics inevitably lead to stasis and stagnation.

      • TrippingDwarves

        As we can clearly see has happened to the EU.

  • Neil2

    They haven’t “Resorted” to racism – that was their first point of call. They have ALWAYS tried to make EVERYTHING about race. They are and always have been the real racists.

    • TrippingDwarves

      However, could their defence not be that they have a positive view of race, rather than a negative one?

      • Mr B J Mann

        Yeah, they were positive that all whites were evil.

        Just look at the way even white kids sent down t’pit or up t’chimney had their own slave to wash the dirt off them after 18 hours hard labour!

  • Q46

    Where does that leave President Obama?

    Elsewhere: Africans in African Countries use skin lightening make-up because it equates with professional/Middle Class aspirations. Working Class toil in the outdoors exposed to sunshine so have darker skin, whereas The Middle Class tends to work indoors out of the sunshine and have lighter skin.

    I wonder how the self-apointed guardians of the Book of Correctness regard that?

    • Mr B J Mann

      Don’t the Japanese and Chinese do the same?!

      Whereas the Indians have the caste system, so the darker skinned sub-groups in the population are stuck in the working classes and the lighter skinned ones are guaranteed the professional/middle class positions?!

  • Ralph

    Zoe Saldana is not black enough to play Nina Simone but a man with one white parent and one black parent is the first black President of the United States.

  • The Patriarchy

    Let me get this right …. Miss Saldana shouldn’t play Miss Simone, but it’s alright for Mr Bruce Jenner to pretend to be a woman?

  • The Patriarchy

    Perhaps they should have asked Diane Abbott instead. She isn’t doing anything useful with her time, and is always interested in extra publicity. She may have absolutely no talent, but hey, we’re talking identity politics here.

    And the money would be handy – fees at a private school don’t come cheap.

    • Snipkokken Balsov

      Only if Michael Portillo can play Miles Davis.
      But you are right about the money. Abbott junior deserves only the very, very best Britain has to offer.

  • greencoat

    The sheer nastiness of the Left. Unbelievable.

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