a joyful girl getting loud (peri_peteia) wrote,
a joyful girl getting loud
peri_peteia

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now that we've got that clear, and you know that i'm not here...

It's International Blog Against Racism Week and sainfoin_fields made a post about mainstream feminism and its exclusion of women of color and their concerns! Which, as is the way of pdls, dovetailed quite nicely with something I have been thinking about a lot recently, but only talking about in scattered comments and in IM. So, in honor of IBARW, I have a few (more) things to say about Nyota Uhura.


Now, race and gender have been pretty huge talking points in the wake of STXI, mostly in regard to the Spock/Uhura relationship, Spock in his perennial role as the Other, and the disappearing and mistreatment of female characters in the film. I've discussed these things on multiple occasions myself, have linked to and engaged in many other discussions besides, and still spend a lot of time gazing lovingly at where_no_woman.

One of the first things I ever did in the course of this dialogue was to reject the knee-jerk judgment of the Spock/Uhura relationship as a sexist reduction of Uhura to The Girlfriend role, some sort of sad step backwards from her empowered position in TOS as a professional woman with no need for a romance.

Now, in general, I don't like the idea that because a female character has a love interest that is all she is and/or that she is automatically reduced by it. It's not that I don't want female characters to have as wide a range of roles in the story as male ones because I absolutely do. It's that, inkeeping with that, I don't feel the need to restrict or limit female characters any more than they already are. Saying that a female character can't be a strong character if she's in a romance is just as shitty as various alternatives. In my aforementioned posts, I expressed this. I also made sidebar references to the idea that race was another issue particular to this situation that should be considered, but didn't expand on it. Perhaps because I just wasn't in the mood to explain or perhaps because I felt it should be self-evident or perhaps because I was just in a hurry.

However, the Just A Girlfriend nugget and the assertion that she is made less by her romantic involvement with Spock continues unabated, so I figured I'd give full voice to what I hadn't before.

Simply put: Nyota Uhura is not a white girl.

While women of color are not necessarily embroiled in an entirely different feminist struggle than white women, they sure as fuck are not in the same place.

I have been a nerd my entire life. I have always loved sci-fi and fantasy and comic books and video games and pretty much every geeky genre thing you can think of. In the vast, vast majority of media relevant to my interests, as much as a I rail against these things happening and wish that they would stop, it's not actually me that's being marginalized and constricted to the role of hot love interest or prize to be won or someone's mom or miscellaneous fridged loved one. On the contrary: I'm a black girl. I just don't exist.

Further, if I branch out from my genre roots and into the mainstream I still barely exist. If I do, I am overwhelmingly a sassy best friend (absent a love interest; afterthought with an alsoran if not), someone's wise (sassy!) mama figure, Will Smith or Denzel Washington's wife, or starring in one of black Tyler Perry's exploitative minstrel shows black movies about black people.

This near total invisibility is perhaps the very first thing that I think needs to be understood in any feminist discourse about Uhura, but it seems to be the last thing most people talk about. As a result, they start off from a deeply flawed premise.

Uhura being single in TOS was not empowering.

She was single because the male leads were all white and as a black woman she was less of a person than them, she was less of a person than a white woman, and the fact that this serendipitously ended up meaning that she didn't have to spend all of her time mooning pathetically after dismissive men does not make that any more acceptable.

She got to sit in the back and rarely do anything and have her sexuality ignored not because they respected her so much as a colleague and a person, but because she was not a full, real human being and when you're not a full, real human being the idea that actual people would ever desire you or romance you or love you is ridiculous. The idea that you might have any kind of sexuality at all, regardless of what it is, is irrelevant. You are invisible.

I could go further with this and elaborate on what Nichelle Nichols was put through by the network, the infamous plea from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for her to stay on the show despite mistreatment, or even her recent acknowledgment that they actually wanted to do Spock/Uhura in TOS but it was made impossible by the times. But that's too much for this post and really the central point is the same as pretty much all discussions about race.

Namely, please consider the point of view from which you are approaching your analysis because experiences vary wildly and one size does not fit all.

Nyota Uhura is a black girl and there is no angle from which her actually being allowed to have consensual sexuality, being desired, and being loved (in addition to having her job and intellect, no less) is a fundamental downgrade from what she had before.

In TOS, her being there at all was a massive step forward. Her mere presence in STXI puts her on par with that, and that standard, as indicated earlier, is not one that is often met even now.

I've always found it really, really difficult to describe or articulate how this invisibility feels, how it affects you and the way that you view and experience media. I remember someone posted a one page article or somesuch wherein all of the actors in STXI had just one little soundbyte type quotation about their character and their feelings about the original version. John Cho's was him noting that his reaction to Sulu was essentially: "OMG AN ASIAN GUY IS ON TV."

The comments on that post were filled with people loling about how hilarious John Cho is, as if he were telling a fucking joke.

I don't know John Cho and am more than a decade younger than him, but I do very well know the immediate, gut reaction of OMG [A BLACK GIRL] IS ON TV because I have spent my entire life having that reaction. It's not an exaggeration or humorous aside, neither is it calculated or intentional or even entirely conscious. It is genuinely nothing but the authentic surprise and delight that comes on the occasion when I actually see someone like me in my entertainment media.

Yes, even in 2009 with a black president, it grabs my attention and sticks in my mind and I remember because it is made memorable by the overwhelming dearth that still exists.

OMG A BLACK GIRL! Gabrielle Union is guest starring on Life. OMG A BLACK GIRL! Dana Davis is playing the evil popular girl on 10 Things I Hate About You. OMG A BLACK GIRL! Rutina Wesley is doing what she can on the world's weirdest and skankiest vampire show. OMG A BLACK GIRL! No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency exists.

OMG A BLACK GIRL! Zoe Saldana is a major character in a summer action sci-fi blockbuster. OMG A BLACK GIRL! She is ambitious and intelligent and clever without being a caricature. OMG A BLACK GIRL! She is not inexplicably denied any exploration of her sexuality by the narrative. OMG A BLACK GIRL! She is one half of the principle romance. OMG A BLACK GIRL! She is in love with and desired, romanced, and loved by one of the most iconic figures, not just in all of nerdom, but in all of popular culture.

OMG.

A black girl is fucking Spock.

Nyota Uhura is not a white girl. Her just being there is still worthy of a fuckton of notice. This, right here, is one of the biggest coups in media representation that I've seen in my entire lifetime.

Goggle adjustments may be in order. Just saying.





ETA: Okay, I didn't want to have to do this because I am truly just so overwhelmed by and appreciative of how this appears to have resonated with people, but I have to give up the ghost on replying to every comment! We are at nearly 400 comments at this point and still rolling along, so don't think that I do not cherish and love and eyeheart at your comment if I do not directly reply to it. BELIEVE ME I DO.

And to answer the two most common questions:

Yes, you can link this to your heart's content whereever you want.

AND

Yes, you can friend me. You never have to ask! I welcome all new friends. <3
Tags: don't test me, high polarity failmagnetism, lolrace, my lady business and yours, star trek!!, things i'll probably regret
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Wow. I...I don't really even know what to say about this. Just...wow.

You have put in eloquent writing exactly what I wanted to explain to my friends after seeing STXI but felt that I could not because I have a friend who would use the fact that I am not female or black to take away the validity of what I was saying.

I understand if you don't want to do this, but I think that you should spread this as far and wide as possible, because I think that people need to understand this.

Thank you very much.
I am planning on some crossposting a little later. RIGHT NOW I AM TOO LAZY THOUGH.

But I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)
Thank you.

Thank you so much.

Thank you so much for making this post, and reminding all of us what the real reality of the situation is.

Thank you.

PS. Nyota Uhura can be hot, awesome, love, and be loved all at the same time. Truest facts ever.
You're very welcome!

I just got tired of repeating it in a billion comments all over LJ. NOW I CAN JUST LINK BACK. CONVENIENT.
Oh my poodle. You have articulated so much more intelligence re: Star Trek and race, both human and alien, than I AM SURE has been put into it by JJ/Kurtzman/Orci (such inexplicable love) whereas I have felt rather cavalier about a lot of it because, in part, I can. And I can burrow down in my fanon for Amanda to project onto her what I want my representation to be. And somewhere along the way it clicked that, even in this tiny WNW-requiring palette of ladies, I was able to take my pick -- a sort of click I've felt before but there it was all over again. And still my goggles have blind spots.

But anyway. This is truly a beautiful post and I am glad that I and everyone else gets to read it. ALSO, *\o/* that Uhura is indeed OMG A BLACK GIRL and super awesome, you know, 'cause it can't be said enough really? ALSO ALSO, THANKS. You do my honor great honor in poodling me. Y-you know. <3


FANDOM, HE'S FUCKING UHURA/HE'S NOT IMAGINING IT'S YOU
Hahaha. Oh pdl. Our inexplicable loooove. :D:

But then what is fandom for but to give waaaay more thought to things than is probably being given to them by the peeps in charge? I AM ALWAYS WILLING TO BE PROVEN WRONG, THOUGH. Indeed, I often hope for it.

Anyway YAY I AM GLAD YOU LIKED IT. I will have to crosspost but lolol lazy. So, uh, later. MY HONOR IS SIMILARLY FLATTERED BY THE HONOR OF YOUR POODLING. <33


ON THE BRIDGE, ON THE 'LIFT, UP AGAINST THE CAPTAIN'S CHAIR/HE'S FUCKING UHURA/SORRY BUT IT'S TRUE
So I just said this to Hobbes, but it bears here as well, just that this is a really good post! And I am always wary of my usual quote-and-share style of commenting in situations like this because making things About Me is in some ways the antithesis of this dialogue, but at the same time then how much dialogue am I really engaging in? Not that any of that should be your responsibility, obviously, I am just positing at you. And, in what small way I can really understand this, I must note a similar immediate understanding of John Cho, because I have very strongly internalized the OMG DESIS ARE ON TV reaction. So, uh. Thank you for this.
I don't mind being posited at and I understand your hesitance about QUOTE&SHARE in this situation!

SO <333 I'm glad it worked for you. A-as a discussion. IDEK. That sounds like a thank you for fic feedback, but whatever.

GOOD TIMES WERE HAD BY ALL.

bossymarmalade

8 years ago

Deleted comment

<3 the Romeo Must Die comment :)

wolfy_writing

8 years ago

peri_peteia

8 years ago

Thank you for writing this. I clearly needed saying, even in these postracial (ahem) times, where maybe you're supposed to pretend that race isn't a factor at all?

And yes, yes, yes to "OMG, A BLACK GIRL!" It's a little sad, because I remember that a few years after the surprise and delight, in my teenage years, I started feeling disgust at the, er, abject gratitude I used to feel the first times I saw OMG black girls in minor, narratively subservient roles, to the point where I sometimes almost prefered it when they weren't there. Well, not prefered it, but at least, I didn't have this...thing needling me and depressing me.

So to have not only OMG A BLACK GIRL, but one who isn't reduced by the narrative, and acknowledged as smart and desirable while being in control of her sexuality and her private decisions (therefore, not a prize or an object of contention between the two male leads): it just makes me happy. I'm not talking about a half-hearted "Well, that's progress, I suppose", reaction, I'm talking about a genuine delighted OMG, untainted by shame at being grateful for crumbs.

I will quote and link to this in the future. If someone still refuses to see what it means to see such a character, fuck them.
There was at one point an entire section in here about the moment after OMG A BLACK GIRL [OR GUY] when it immediately becomes a DEATHWATCH or OTHER!FAILWATCH, but I decided to nix it because it ended up being sort of tangential and also made the thing too long. And I wanted to focus on what you said right here: I'm talking about a genuine delighted OMG, untainted by shame at being grateful for crumbs. because that's the crux, you know. It's why I love her so much, it's why she's important, and why people really just need to shut their faces with the vast majority of complaints about her treatment.

If someone still refuses to see what it means to see such a character, fuck them.

Fuck them, indeed.
OH RAWLES

I CAN'T ARTICULATE HOW GREAT YOUR POST IS

BUT IT IS GREAT

THANK YOU PENNIFER <3
Ohhh, this is so good. I can't really say anything else other than thank you.
<3
hot damn. HOT. DAMN. and thank you for noting Gabrielle Union and Rutina Wesley. Life was one of my favoritest shows and she had been an intriguing development.
I really liked her on there too! She was pretty adorable with her OLYMPIC RELAY and FIFTEEN YEAR PLAN TO BE MAYOR. <3

And Tara is 50% of why I watch True Blood (the other 50% being LaFayette), though recently I've been really loving Jessica the Vampire Good Girl, so she might get in a bit of the MARKET SHARE. But mostly yeah.

recumbentgoat

8 years ago

shoepixie

8 years ago

sageautumn

8 years ago

Deleted comment

Thank you!
This is a fantastic post. Thank you for making it, and making me reconsider particular characters from other fandoms, too.
I'm here to help! :D
So much win here. I really do love your entries like this because you just explain things so much better than I ever possibly could.

Love love love~

The treatment of black women in media truly does astound me. The other day I saw pictures of Disney's new Rapunzel movie and the first thought that popped into my head was, "OMG I am SO sick of blonde princesses right now." It's really unbelievable how we still get confused when making a black female character that doesn't snap her fingers and shake her head.
It's really unbelievable how we still get confused when making a black female character that doesn't snap her fingers and shake her head.

Word.

I just...I'm so glad that this is something other people were thinking too! Because I knew it intellectually, but it was driving me up the wall because wandering around in fandom I kept FEELING like there was nothing but a tiny pocket of people who Got It, you know, who understood what it means to see Uhura, for instance, take people to task throughout the movie without doing a z-shaped snap and going "Don't get it twisted!"

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with those things (I SAY THAT ALL THE TIME MYSELF) but her getting to display another FACET just another KIND of person and still be a black girl is so meaningful! I just...BAH.

SHE IS THE GREATEST OKAY.

shoepixie

8 years ago

a_white_rain

July 29 2009, 14:24:32 UTC 8 years ago Edited:  July 29 2009, 14:25:13 UTC

I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING YOU SAID.

THE KISSING PIC WAS ALSO GRATE.

Also do you mind if I rec this on my journal?
*goggles adjusting*

I try to think of media in terms of race and in terms of feminism both. I'm not perfect yet, as I'm a lot more used to looking at things through the feminism glasses. Thank you.

As much as I loved the romance, it did grate on me that the one female with a name had to be a love interest. But now I have new perspective. And I feel ashamed that I couldn't've figured it out myself. Thank you for writing this.
Don't be ashamed! Shame doesn't do anyone any good. Just keep it in mind for next time and it's all copacetic. :)

clodia_risa

8 years ago

YES!!!

I really can't say anything else except that I agree with you one hundred and ten percent. Very well said!
I am mesmerized by your icon. OH YOU GUYS <3

I'm also glad you liked the post!
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