Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

What if Spiderman Weren’t White?

There’s a Facebook group trying to cast Donald Glover as the new Spiderman.

Interesting proposition: is it essential that the next incarnation of Peter Parker/Spidey be white? It would be mildly subversive–and a shock to mainstream audiences, I think–to cast a person of color in this role. Under all that skintight superhero wear, it would be great to see a dark-skinned face as the superhero.

Glover himself is a fine actor and comedian. I’ve blogged about Glover and his hilariousness in the past; he’s done hilarious work in Community.

Hey, if it worked for Betty White on Saturday Night Live

Filed under: comedy, entertainment, race, , , , , , , ,

Spike Lee Meets The Family Slaveowners

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The heart of Texas. A century after his ancestors were freed from slavery, Spike Lee meets his relatives. And not all of his family were slaves.

We know that our American slave history included the horrendous abuse and rape of slaves; the possibility of white and black Americans being related today is not a surprise. In Lee’s ancestry, we learn that his great-great-great grandmother, Mathilde, was a mulatto in the 1860’s. Mathilde worked in the plantation house of her slaveowners as a cook. As a mulatto, history indicates that Lee’s slave ancestor may have been the daughter of the white slaveowner.

Witnessing Spike Lee’s journey from his New York home to the deep South, I could not help but admire his life work: chronicling the African American experience in film. Do the Right Thing may be one of my favorite movies, and as a teenager growing up in the Midwest with little experience with non-Asian or non-White heritage, Lee’s groundbreaking film opened my eyes to the racism in the rest of America. I’ve always been impressed by Lee’s artistry, integrity, and commitment to fighting racism. His appearance last night on the television show, Who Do You Think You Are?, again shows his thoughtfulness and curiosity.

Filed under: ancestry, entertainment, family, , , , , , , , ,

Adoption and Race: The Elephant in the Room

Martha Nichols deliberates  the perils and challenges in adopting a child of a different race in an excellent feature on Salon.com. Haitian children, of course, are in dire need of loving homes. But the obvious challenges facing these children in a non-color-blind world leaves Nichols–herself an adoptive mother–with concerns over the media’s avoidance of issues of race.

It’s a subject that has been on my mind recently with the success of movies like The Blind Side, in which a white Texan family adopts a black teenage football player. Ostensibly, a heartwarming movie about a family adopting a teenager in need. But how can anyone avoid the racial implications of the white family saving the black child?

Nichols states the issue directly:

Why is the white-savior storyline so entrenched? And why is it so hard for the “objective” journalistic voice to talk about race?

Perhaps because an open dialogue, mindful of the legacy of white colonialism, of polite conversation rather than tough questions, of the persistent, oftentimes subtle instances of institutionalized racism, isn’t what Americans want. We want uplifting stories of rescue, adoption, and reconciliation.

We don’t want to acknowledge that interracial adoptions may have a negative impact, both for the adoptees and families, but also in the context of reinforcing stereotypes of the “white savior” as identified by Nichols.

It’s not that all news outlets avoid the issue of race. In the mainstream media, however, dialogue is often polemic at best, left to alternative or scholarly outlets at worst (as in this article from the alt-weekly Illinois Times, providing facts on the different costs to adopt children of different races. The impact of major newspapers and broadcast networks can’t be discounted; when the Boston Globe trumpets headlines like “Joy, Frustration Brought Home” without a balanced coverage of adoptive issues, images of rosy blitheness, of those who rescue and those who are rescued, is subtly conveyed.

As I was traveling through Uganda in January, I’d often be stopped in my tracks by African children with straight-forward questions like: Why are Americans so rich? Africans so poor? How can I build self-confidence? The directness, the sincerity, of the Ugandan children that I met often surprised me. Not only because I rarely felt that I had an adequate response, but also because the depth of the question asked was not a level of inquiry in the American public domain.

What’s said and what’s lost. It’s a conundrum.

Filed under: family, media, race, , , , , , ,

CNN: Blacks & Gay Equality

CNN presents a special report on “Blacks and Gay Equality”. The “down low”, black churches, Obama’s promise of gay equality: CNN anchor Don Lemon poses the issues to a panel of prominent African American men, including authors, college seniors, and preachers, including Tyree ‘DJ Drama Simmons, Bishop Eddie Long, Tyrone McGowan, and Steve Perry.

imageDBMy favorite quote comes from author Farrah Gray, who says, “Many of us live in the 51st state of the United States: the state of Denial.” He admits the problem of African American homophobia did not come to his attention until the publication of J.L. King’s ground-breaking book, On the Down Low.

Citing a speech by President Obama at the recent Human Rights Campaign fundraiser, the newsclip presents sound bytes about the African American community and its issues with homophobia. Interesting fact: The leading cause of death for African American women, aged 25-34, is HIV/AIDS. Though the assumption by one of the guests is that this is linked directly to the down low, this health statistic is surprising–and worrisome–nonetheless.

Filed under: gay rights, homophobia, racism, , , , , , , , , , ,

Black? Gay? Blacks vs Gays?

081113_hn_gaypowerexMany in the media have pointed toward two groups of voters who defeated gay marriage in California: members of the Mormon church and African Americans.

This first group, Mormons, I agree with–the church encouraged its members to contribute to the campaign, resulting in $22 million to end gay marriage (the most spent on any social issue in the United States).

The second group, however–African Americans–I’m not so sure I agree with.

The thrust behind this antagonism toward African Americans largely comes from exit polls that cite statistics such as this one about Prop 8 in California:

Whites and Asian-Americans, comprising 69 percent of California’s electorate, opposed Proposition 8 by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent. Latinos favored it, 53-47. But blacks turned out in historically high numbers—10 percent of the electorate—and 70 percent of them voted for Proposition 8.

Drawing inferences from these numbers can be elusive. For example, African Americans are not a homogeneous group–they possess a variety of beliefs, morals, politics, and sexualities. Unlike Mormons, who possess a similar belief system, politics, and sexuality.

A surprising article in Slate this morning tries to break down why African Americans believe that homosexuality is a choice. Slate’s editors have chosen to analyze the loss of gay rights through the lens of African American prejudice. In his article, William Saletan cites the victory of Barack Obama and the confirmation of gay prejudice on election night. He then asks:

Why, then, are the people targeted by those laws supporting bans on same-sex marriage?The answer is: They think sexual orientation is different from race. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a nation in which individuals would be judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

This kind of rhetoric–the choice of discourse itself–attempts to divide both the African American community, as well as African Americans and other ethnic groups. It’s a topic that encourages blame toward one ethnic group rather than finding those African Americans who support civil rights for all. It’s the same kind of institutionalized racism that pits minority groups against one another instead of encouraging them to unify, to collaborate, to strengthen their power through caucus rather than division.

Filed under: politics, , , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
August 2017
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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