Wednesday, March 07, 2007

OK, if we’re going to talk about race…
And hey, look, I get to talk about music too!
Remember those concerts I was babbling about going to a few posts down? Japanese metal/punk/industrial band, Dir en grey, two shows (that I went to – more like 20 shows total), Tempe and San Francisco.
I spotted a pretty clear case of race impacting how people perceive things. During the song Dead Tree (link below if you want to hear it) they were playing an old black and white film on the projection screen at the back of the stage behind the band. The film was footage of the atomic bomb falling on Hiroshima, interspersed with some artsy stuff like falling snow and some footage shot in the city afterwards. All black and white, the newer stuff shot in such a way that you probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the older film and the newer stuff unless you knew what you were looking at.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The crowd in Tempe was mostly white kids 12-18. The crowd in San Francisco was much more mixed, both racially and in terms of age. I’d say that 30 percent plus of the San Francisco crowd was Asian
When they played the film in Tempe most people didn’t seem to even notice (too busy staring at Toshiya’s ass and Kyo’s abs, I suspect). The few who did notice mostly seemed confused – there were mutterings of “what’s that on the screen? Wow, that’s kind of creepy”. Then there was the Japanese-American guy standing right in front of me, who looked at the screen and froze. I mean that literally – I had one arm looped around his shoulder, and was leaning on his back. The reaction was kind of hard to miss. I couldn’t see his face, but I could certainly feel the tension in his body. And this from a guy who wasn't still for more than a few seconds for the entire rest of the show.
Meanwhile the rest of the kids were completely oblivious.
Now let’s move to San Francisco. I ended up right in the middle of a crowd of Japanese and Korean American kids, with 2 Japanese girls (as in they actually flew over from Japan for the show) right next to me. When they showed the film to that crowd, the reaction was completely different. Obviously I couldn’t see the whole crowd (I was right at the front, I could barely move), but the people around me? Everyone went quiet and just looked at the screen. Apart from the one white girl in the front row, who was obliviously head-banging. The mood was – pensive, kind of sad, more than a little angry. Which was exactly the reaction the footage was intended to provoke, really – I have to admit that I was looking at head-banging girl and thinking “wow, you sure missed the point”.
So there you have it. The people at both venues were about the same age, all were raised in America, presumably exposed to the same curriculum, and yet one group didn’t even recognize what they were seeing while the other group? Every one of those kids knew what they were watching. What does that say about white America? Do we just not teach kids here about what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so that they only know if their parents tell them, or is the privilege so pervasive that it actually limits people’s ability to process what they’re looking at? Or is it just that white kids don’t care because they don’t have to care?
And on another note…damn were the (white, older) security guards at both shows freaked out by the outpouring of teenage hormones directed at the band. I noticed the same phenomenon at the Family Values tour last summer – a bunch of white guys looking disconcerted and more than a little pissed off at the sight of a bunch of white girls gazing in open lust at a group of Japanese men. On all these occasions there were all kinds of hostile, threatened-looking responses from the guys including everything from “don’t see what’s so great about them” muttering to open racism (“But Japanese men are blah blah” – insert standard racist stereotypes) and even a few “huh, I’m gonna beat that guy’s ass, that’ll show him” type comments in Sacramento. Charming. Anyway, it was very clear that a lot of white guys find the prospect of white girls lusting over non-white men a bit perturbing. Not that that’s a surprise, really, but it was interesting. Also interesting in that yep, that’s definitely racism, but it’s a slightly different flavor of racism than that directed at the idea of white women with black men (think the Terrell Owens Towelgate drama). I’m not going to get into the way that white America looks at Asian men (or women) here, because that’s a subject deserving of its own post, but if anyone wants to talk about it in the comments…
So yeah, next person who says that this country isn’t racist and that white privilege doesn’t exist gets smacked in the face with a frying pan.


Dir en grey – Dead Tree

PS Let's hope the link works, I haven't tried this in Blogger before.


Crankshaft said...

I know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki but as it isn't local history and thus somewhat impersonal, it may be lost on me.

Then again, maybe not. There's only one instance of a mushroom cloud so far isn't there?

The reactions are interesting though.

Cassandra Says said...

I wasn't so much surprised that it didn't have the same emotional impact on the generic white kids as that they didn't recognise what it was at all. This is especially odd since the band has been using the same visuals for about 4 years now, and every one of those kids has probably seen it before in DVDs etc. You would have thought they might have wondered what it was and tried to find out by now.
Of course San Francisco may just have better schools, too.
As gobsmackingly "damn the education system here sucks" as that was the pissed off/threatened white dudes were actually kind of funny.
"What do you mean girls don't find us sexier?"

The Scarlet Pervygirl said...

I can't imagine anyone with a soul seeing that footage without it totally ruining her evening. And I don't mean that in a bad way, or a way critical of the band; just . . . fuck, you know? I don't know what to say.

Cassandra Says said...

SP - Well, to be fair, pretty much everything about that particular band is designed to disturb people and make them think, so anyone at the show would already be expecting that. I can't lay my hands on their "mission statement" right now, but it's something along the lines of "bringing to light all the shallowness, violence and cruelty of humanity". The part I remember clearly was "As long as these things still exist in the world, the members of DEG will keep screaming". So, yeah, disturbing comes with the territory.
What floored me was...these are American kids, and this was an event in which America was directly involved, so why don't they know what they're looking at? Do they teach history classes and leave out all the parts that make America look bad? Or is it just "no one ever dropped bombs on us so we don't care"?
Also, as I said to crankshaft...they've been using that footage for years. You would think people would figure it out eventually. Unless the white kids see on some level but choose not to see because it does make them feel bad. A sort of semi-deliberate cognitive filtering if you will.

Crankshaft said...

That's strange if they'd seen it before in the videoclips. I wonder if the constant special effects and graphics that the movie industry generates (and a lot of them are REALLY GOOD) has gotten them desensitized to what they see.

Maybe they just classify it under science fiction or war drama without thinking too much about it.

ACM said...

1) I'd bet that most people's world history classes don't really succeed in getting all the way to World War II, let alone making sure that everybody has had discussions about The Bomb. I feel like I would recognize the footage from later self-/immersion education. So I guess that response wouldn't surprise me in a crowd that young.

2) I would speculate that the guards' response to the lusting wasn't as simple as "white girls lusting after nonwhite guys" but also tinged with the whole tragic narrow view of masculinity, how it should be about a kind of overmuscled swaggering that is common among bouncers and nearly unachievable (physically speaking) among most Asian men...

Just my two cents.

Cassandra Says said...

crankshaft - People here are pretty desensitised to violence but even if they thought it was a fictionalised portrayal I would still have thought they might figure out what it was a protrayal of. Eh, maybe I'm underestimating the extent to which people here are just lacking in curiosity about the world in general. It could be as much intellectual laziness as lack of empathy.

Cassandra Says said...

1 . Could be, I suppose. I took my history classes in the UK, so I'm not sure what they do and don't cover here. Do you really think they skip all the twentieth century stuff - 2 world wars, treaty of Versailles, Russian Revolution, chinese Cultural Revolution etc? I'll have to ask the SO since he went to high school here - from what he's said in the past I think they do focus mostly on American history (although I would argue that Hiroshima falls under that umbrella anyway).
2. There is the American ideal of swaggering machismo, isn't there? The most striking cases were in Sacramento (regular concert-goers, not bouncers), where there's a lot of that. And of the guys being lusted over the heaviest of the lot is probably still under 140 pounds, so that could be part of it. I still think it had a lot to do with America's wierd ideas about race and sex, though.

FoolishOwl said...

How people learn things like history is complicated. There's official curricula, and then there's what teachers actually teach. There's the influence of parents, and the larger community, and then there's what kids learn and encourage their friends to learn.

About half the people I know in my socialist group are school teachers (I gather that other socialist groups also tend to have a high proportion of school teachers as members as well.) Anyway, I occasionally hear stories about their conflicts with the official curriculum, their occasional efforts to go beyond it, and the surprising reactions they get from students.

One friend of mine talked about how much she enjoyed teaching in a school in Oakland, where several students had Black Panthers in their family, and were very politically sophisticated for their age. Another friend of mine teaches in Hayward (a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area) and complains that he often has to confiscate "white power" paraphernalia from his students.

Even as a child, I knew there were political debates about the content of public education, and that what community you lived in made a big difference in what you were taught.

In general, I think ACM is right. Most of the history classes I remember seemed to start with the American Revolution and sort of ran out of steam after the American Civil War. Most of what I learned about history, I did on my own, with some encouragement from parents, and some note-comparing with friends of mine.

I'm also amused by the security guards. Did they think that people paid $50 to see them?

Cassandra Says said...

FO - That is truly wierd, to pretty much ignore everything post Civil War. I liked the story about teaching the kids of Black Panthers, though. The idea that kids in Hayward are carting white power crap to school, not so much. How are they even allowed to get that stuff onto school grounds? I was under the impression that most kids basically had to pass through a security cordon to get onto the campus post-Columbine.
I pretty much missed all the debates about public education, first because I was in the Middle East and then because I was at boarding school - private, they can teach whatever they want, basically. I knew that there were differences between schools caused by economic factors, obviously, but it never occured to me that it might effect the curriculum as such. Maybe that was part of the difference between Tempe and San Francisco - Tempe's a whole lot more conservative.
The security guard reaction really was hilarious. They were so very offended. "What do you mean girls don't all love big muscly dudes? Some girls like skinny guys? How can this be!". It's always amusing to watch someone's assumptions about how things work being up-ended. The guys who were just members of the crowd in Sacramento were even funnier - apparently they assumed that all the women at the show were by rights their personal property or something.

plain(s)feminist said...

Hey Cassandra,
Off-topic for this post, but: thanks for your comments over at my place, and sorry to cut off the discussion. It was a case of troll-feeding that was getting out of hand!

Cassandra Says said...

PF - Understood, and sorry for feeding your troll. She was just so annoying I couldn't help myself!

FoolishOwl said...

One of the problems with the push for standardized testing and compulsory educational standards is that it limits the creativity of teachers -- and limits the ability of teachers to work around the increasingly bizarre limitations of the textbooks on hand.

The most familiar of the political debates in public education is whether Darwin's theory of natural selection can be taught or discussed. I remember my teachers being nervous about that. Then there are the policies on sex education, in which teachers are basically required to lie to students. When I was in high school, it was the height of "culture wars," in which conservatives campaigned to stop teachers from using literature written by people of color in the classroom. And so on.

The textbooks I recall did cover US history after the American Civil War. What I meant is that classes typically rushed over more recent history, which would necessarily involve discussing "controversial" material. I believe that whether public school teachers are willing and able to cover that sort of material depends upon whether they work in a community that supports their doing so.