fictive kinship

when the identity of the shooter in the virginia tech killings was revealed, a couple of the young men who are enrolled in a digital media class i co-teach made the following statements:
"i'm glad he wasn't black."
"the new york times probably wouldn't have printed it if he had been, anyway."
both young men are african american and had just made claims about the ny times being a newspaper for white people, unlike the daily news, which, in their opinion, had stories that mattered to them: "to black people."

elaine richardson, during a colloquium delivered at teacher's college this week, spoke of fictive kinship when responding to a question about her talk, in which she explored african american young women's engagement with hip hop lyrics and video imagery. she noted that despite diverse opinions that may exist within a minority or marginalized group of people, there tends to be, in some of those communities, a sense of wanting to protect someone who looks like you from those who don't look like you; similarly, when someone who looks like you does something you wish they didn't, you feel the pain on behalf of everyone who looks like you. thus, the young women that richardson talked about expressed critique in response to the images represented nelly's "tip drill" song and video, while at the same time finding messages of empowerment and accommodating this text.

the limits of my own fictive kinship were tested this past week when the country in which i was born and where many of my relatives still live made me cringe with a mix of embarrassment and frustration. should people be displaying awkward public affection in the manner that richard gere performed on stage at a fundraiser last week? probably not - i say this not for reasons of "morality," but rather because the whole mess looked more like a poorly choreographed sequence from dancing with the stars than a playful "star"-to-"star" kiss on the order of brody-on-berry at the '03 oscars.

these are moments of self-definition borne out of public performances in which ethnicity and race take center stage. as an adolescent, i don't recall feeling excluded from the literature i was reading or the television i was watching - a claim i sometimes i take up in my classes in response to how young people engage with such texts. however, i was keenly aware of when "people who looked like me" did something that mortified and disappointed me:
- watching the funeral of indira gandhi and knowing that she was gunned down by her own bodyguards
- watching earth, a film by deepa mehta
- reading the karma of brown folk, by vijay prashad


recently in class we listened to a youth radio podcast by ayesha walker, a young woman reflecting on the v-tech shootings. the last lines of her piece are as follows:
"Here, our tragedy is so embedded in the city that it doesn't make the headlines. It's just what we're known for."

is there room to change what "we" are known for? and what informs the ways in which young people make sense of themselves? what leaves lasting impressions? and which are the moments, words, images, and interactions that last a lifetime?

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Hi Lalitha,
I heard a very similar comment from a colleague of mine who said she felt uncomfortable to admit that she was relieved to hear the shooter wasn't Muslim. She expressed a concern for the kind of backlash against Muslims that followed 9-11.

On that note, I worry about how the youth I work with position themselves in relation to mass media representations. One of my students recently claimed that she "doesn't speak ignorance also known as Ebonics." Instead she proclaimed she only speaks proper English and uses proper grammar. It's clear for this young woman what messages about who she is and where she comes from have left a lasting impression.