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Liberty For All

Why and how whitewashing is actually harmful

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With its release on Mar. 31 in the US, “Ghost in the Shell,” a live-action sci-fi movie based on one of the most successful Japanese manga and anime series ever, garnered criticism for whitewashing from the international community. The crux of the matter was that the main heroine, Major, originally named Motoko Kusanagi in the original series and identified as Japanese in the live-action film, was casted by Scarlett Johansson, a white woman.

“Ghost in the Shell” is only one film mentioned in the whitewashing controversy surrounding Hollywood, however. Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” casted Tilda Swinton, a white actress, as the Ancient One, as an originally Himalayan high priest. Drama and romance film “Aloha” casted Emma Stone, also a white actress, as the Asian-Hawaiian character Alison Ng. Live-action film “The Last Airbender” portrayed three of its originally Asian and Inuit characters as white. True-story based “21” casted the original, real-life Asian-American students as white actors Jim Sturgess, Jacob Pitts, and Kevin Spacey. The list stretches back to the beginning of the film industry.

In the argument against the protests of whitewashing (but not necessarily for whitewashing per se), many directors, casting directors, and others in the film industry make the argument that films should be casted by talent, not race. Others claim that critics should focus not on the racial aspects of the film, but on the cinematography, plot, composition, and acting, viewing the film as a work of art rather than a point in racial politics.

More of those against this critical view of whitewashing argue that without the name value of top Hollywood stars, many of who tend to be white, movies cannot generate enough profit or be properly funded in the first place.

While wanting to have the most talented cast possible to create more profit is a valid concern, having a majority of white casts have weighty consequences. For one, a mostly white cast gives the idea that being white is a norm, a default, and that anyone of any other race or ethnicity is inherently different. This definition of norms sets aside people of color, making them feel like outsiders of a country they do and therefore should feel like they belong in. Not only that, but having a mostly white narrative gives the impression that only white individuals can live exciting, dynamic lives worth watching. Though the film may not state so explicitly, the prevalence of white leads and stars subconsciously train the brain to see white as the new standard of human. In addition, these arguments, perhaps unintentionally, suggest that white actors have a higher skill level than those of other races or ethnicities.

This last idea may find its roots in the fact that the most famous actors and actresses tend to be white, and that the majority—75 percent, according to a study conducted by the University of Southern California—of actors is white. While this may be true, deliberately not casting a diverse cast perpetuates the vicious cycle of a white-dominated Hollywood. The film industry started long before the Civil Rights movement brought relative integration to America, meaning that all actors were white to the extent that some used blackface or yellowface to portray ethnically “diverse” characters. This created a white-actor dominated industry, which led most movie stars to be white. Even though people of color entered the game, the acclaimed were still mostly white, and the ones mostly getting casted in blockbusters and box office hits and earning thousands of dollars.

The effects of whitewashing do not remain within just the film industry and the world of entertainment. Media representation helps normalize the diversity of our world, instead of, as mentioned before, presenting white America as the norm. Movies—and other forms of entertainment—often make audience members search for an image of themselves on the screen, whether it’s intentional or not. That is, people are always looking for ways to relate with the stories and emotions that movies are trying to show. Having racially diverse casts (casts that are actually diverse, instead of having a couple of non-white sidekicks) allow real, non-white people connect with the story more and feel like they’re part of the narrative, of America’s narrative.

Take my own small anecdote, for example. When I was younger, I dressed up as the ethnically Chinese Disney princess, Mulan, for two Halloweens in a row. My favorite princess was, hands down, Ariel, not Mulan. But still, I dressed up as Mulan. Living in a mostly-white suburb in Texas, where all of my best friends were white, I had no concept of myself being or looking different due to race; since we all liked horses and chased boys together during recess, we were friends. But still, I dressed up as Mulan. I had no concepts about race at that age, but there was probably a thought in the back of my head that I looked like Mulan, and that I wanted to be Mulan. I felt represented, even as a five-year-old that knew nothing about racism or media representation.

Whitewashing is obviously not the biggest or most urgent problem to exist in present day America. However, whitewashing is a branch of racism and representation that we can, to an extent, curb and control. We might not be able to force people to think a certain way, but we can certainly expose them to the diversity of our world, and how non-white people are “normal” people just the same.

Why standardized testing is problematic

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Okay, as students, we probably all think standardized testing is problematic because we do not like taking the SAT, ACT, AP, or, really, any kind of test. Or on the flip side, we might think standardized testing is problematic because everyone else tries much too hard to get good marks. However, standardizing testing has some real problems beyond the complaints of students being students—standardized testing follows an outdated system and provides less than accurate results.

Picture a factory. People are sitting in rows, hunched over and working on something on their desk, occasionally listening to the orders of the manager standing in front. Now picture a regular classroom. People are sitting in rows, hunched over and working on something on their desk, occasionally listening to the directions and teachings of the teacher standing in front. Sound familiar?

Our school system was heavily influenced by the Industrial Revolution, since many schools were formed to teach children the skills and knowledge necessary for factory work. Subjects such as basic math, science, English, and history were taught to give children the means to understand their factory jobs and have a bit of necessary background knowledge. The only cognitive skill they needed developed was rote-memorization, which was tested by measuring how much content they could regurgitate back based on what they had just learned.

In that kind of educational setting, standardized testing is not all that bad—tests were able to evaluate the needed cognitive skill with relative ease. However, today, we no longer value only rote-memorization, nor do we expect our education system to prepare students only for factory work.

According to Seoul University professor Sun-Geun Baek in a paper he wrote for Educational Psychology Review, “preparation for [standardized] tests often leads to the acquisition of ‘inert’ knowledge,” with “inert ideas” meaning ideas in the mind that are not “used, tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.” In other words, standardized testing and all of the processes leading up to a student taking it does not challenge the entirety of the student’s cognitive skills, and in the contrary creates knowledge that is basically useless outside of the purpose of being tested. These tests do not test our intelligence, and do little to increase our intelligence in any of the preparation processes, so why do we still rely only on them as our primary source of student assessment?

Some say standardized tests are crucial to the educational system because they are objective and are the most efficient way to obtain data from thousands of students. However, multiple studies have shown that, because the tests do not actually measure intelligence and performance is based on how well learned a student is, standardized tests and the system based around them create and perpetuate a cultural and economical bias. That is, students from other cultures who have a different kind of context and background knowledge and students from lower economic classes who did not have the opportunity to high quality education or out-of-school resources can possibly score lower than their rich, white counterparts, despite having similar intelligence levels. This bias takes off the reliable, “objective” veneer of standardized tests.

So if standardized tests do not properly measure intelligence and perpetuate bias, should they still be treated with the weight they are now in the educational system? Sure, they serve some purposes, such as yielding large amounts of empirical data and testing students on content-based knowledge. But standardized tests should not be the basis of our entire educational system, and they should not be treated as something they are not.

Stop saying people need to “suck it up and deal with” president-elect Trump

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Unless you truly live under a rock, you probably know by now that Donald Trump is the president-elect of the US. In fact, you are probably sick and tired of hearing that Donald Trump is the president-elect of the US. This news seems to follow you no matter where you go—every news site ever, your Facebook feed, your lunch table, your classroom or workplace—like that piece of toilet paper that sticks to your shoe and trails you everywhere you go until you physically extricate it.

Some, especially at SIS, despair at the news in varying degrees (disappointment, resignation, shock, rage, tears) while others, hello conservative red states of the Midwest and South, celebrate their successful “revolution.” And as there always seems to be wherever there are two majorly differing opinions, there are those in the middle ground—sure, it is a little disappointing that someone like Trump got elected as president, but we need to suck it up and deal with the fact that he will be our next president. After all, it is not going to be that bad, and most people probably will not get affected directly anyway, right?

As our president-elect put ever so eloquently, WRONG. The biggest problem, other than the obvious ones about Trump’s alleged future policies such as building a wall or forcing deportation, is the ideas that Trump has put forward, and the enormous following that those ideas got. To put it simply, the problem is the condonation of racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, islamophobic, and homophobic behavior demonstrated in Trump’s language and actions.

Already, not even a month after Trump’s election, the number of hate crimes and blatant white supremacist behavior has skyrocketed. According to released FBI statistics, hate crimes against Muslims in the US rose 67 percent in 2015. White students in DeWitt, Michigan “formed a physical wall of students to block Latino kids from entering the school,” a female student at San Jose State University had her hijab ripped off by a white male, a USPS worker of Hispanic descent in Cambridge, Massachusetts was told to “go back to [his] country” by a white male, five high school students attending Arlington High school were arrested in connection with racist and anti-transgender graffiti, and “colored” and “whites only” hand-written signs were posted above two water fountains at a First Coast High school. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The fact that Trump won the election sends out a strong message: a “majority” of people living in the US can stand behind a potential president who called Mexicans “rapists,” said to grab women by certain explicit body parts, ordered a wall to be built around the US, and stated that all Muslims needed to carry identification around with them, and a potential vice president who called for electroshock therapy to “cure” homosexuality.

Saying that Trump probably won’t be that bad, or claiming that judgment and protests need to be held off until his actual presidency and the policies he presents, blatantly disregards the increasing discrimination and fear that people of color, women, LGBTQ+ individuals—basically anyone outside Trump’s circle of followers—are experiencing. Stop saying that we need to blindly accept and move on with president-elect Trump. It sounds inconsiderate and almost racist.

The real effects of stereotypes

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By now, we all know, at least abstractly, that stereotyping is harmful and mind narrowing. We have been told time and time again to “not judge a book by its cover.” In many ways, society has seen an upward trend in awareness and progressiveness when it comes to gender and racial stereotypes, as we can see through many mediums, including politics and representation in pop culture. However, despite the change in numbers and policies, it seems that many still have mindsets that fall behind on the times.

Some things in our society so direly lack progressivism that they almost seem to be anachronistic: on Oct. 13, according to the Associated Press, four white student football players from Stone High School in Mississippi allegedly put a noose around a black junior varsity football player. Admittedly, that particular example reflects an extreme case of action based on stereotype, but even on less extreme levels, people of various backgrounds are affected in their day-to-day lives because of the prejudices that others can have against specific stereotypes.

According to (source), one important danger of stereotypes is how the victims of said stereotypes see themselves: for example, a study conducted by Yeung and von Hippel in 2008 shows that women who took a driving simulation after being told the purpose of the experiment was to “investigate the reasons that men are better drivers than women” were more than twice as likely to hit a pedestrian jaywalker than the control group that was told that they were being assessed in the “mental processes involved in driving.”

The result of this study shows an example of stereotype threat. Stereotype threat, a term coined by Claude M. Steele and Joshua Aronson in their study conducted in 1995, was defined as “being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group.” In other words, stereotype threat describes the action of consciously or unconsciously embodying the stereotype that one is subjected to.

“So what?” some may say. Well, stereotype threat could potentially create a vicious cycle of prejudice. For example, if there are negative stereotypes surrounding a group of people and they start behaving more like their stereotypes due to increased exposure, then more people outside of that group could start believing those stereotypes. A larger group of people validating and believing in negative stereotypes could potentially deter, or even reverse, the progress being made against racism, sexism, and other areas of inequality.

Getting rid of stereotype threat would help in areas such the racial score gap, the gender pay gap, and more. Simply making a conscious effort to not succumb to blindly believing stereotypes and being aware that human identities are complex and therefore unable to be expressed as a single, clichéd character can help bring real changes toward a more equal society.

Bisexuality definitely is and always has been “a thing”

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By now, many people have become familiar with the term “LGBT” and the increasing advocacy for those identifying as gay or lesbian. However, despite the word “LGBT” being thrown around more and more, bisexual people, who put the “B” in “LGBT,” are still prone to ignorance and scorn, arguably more so than homosexual minorities.

The University of California San Diego LGBT Resource Center defines bisexuality simply as “the capacity for emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction to more than one gender/sex.” To put it simply, those who are bisexual are usually attracted to both men and women.

Apparently that is not simple enough. A shocking amount of people, including those who consider themselves as parts of the LGBT community, chalk bisexuality up to “a phase,” “being confused,” or, perhaps the worst one of them all: “being greedy.” There are many negative opinions about bisexuality; however, most of them tend to be based on horrible misconceptions.

One common misconception is that bisexuals are promiscuous and disloyal. Believe it or not, many are under the false assumption that being attracted to both genders makes a person unable or less prone to commit to a relationship and more likely to abandon his or her partner for one of the other sex. Sure, of course there are bisexual people that do not want to have serious relationships, that are more promiscuous, that have broken up with partners unjustly. However, these actions do not define bisexuality in and of itself. Those who have committed those acts did not do so because they were bisexual; they did so because of their identity as a human being, which just happened to be bisexual. Besides, wanting casual relationships over serious relationships is a tendency found in many that are straight, gay, lesbian, and more. The thought of infidelity and the false accusations made in a relationship are not because of the bisexual nature of the partner, but rather because of the unhealthy trust issues within the relationship.

Another common misconception is that bisexuality is the result of a person being confused about his or her sexuality, or that the only valid bisexuality is when a person is attracted to men and women an equal amount. The simple definition of bisexuality— “of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward both sexes”—proves that if a person experiences attraction to both genders, he or she can identify as bisexual. So, hypothetically, if one usually prefers men, but sometimes feels attracted to women, one can identify as bisexual, and vice versa.

Biphobia (rendering bisexual people invisible because they are not homo- or heterosexual) and bisexual erasure (the questioning and/or denial of the existence and legitimacy of bisexuality) is a problem that bisexual people experience within both heterosexual and homosexual communities. Some examples of biphobia and bisexual erasure, according to the UCSD LGBT Resource Center, include but are not limited to assuming that everyone you meet is either heterosexual or homosexual and expecting a bisexual person to identify as heterosexual when coupled with an opposite sex and homosexual when with the same sex.

In an increasingly progressive world, it seems that bisexual people, though far from being the only ones, are being left behind, especially considering their relatively big numbers and general acknowledgement from the public. Though, like most issues regarding social equality and acceptance, it will take time to bring complete acceptance and awareness for bisexual people, we can take the first step by making sure that there are less people that deny even the existence of bisexuality.

What is intersectional feminism?

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Man-hating, angry anti-family women that burn bras and refuse to shave. Though this image is an older stereotype and many probably no longer strictly believe in that image exactly, it is an undeniable and unfortunate truth that the concept of feminism still has a negative connotation.

What is feminism? Feminism is, to put it simply, the belief that women should achieve social, political, and economic equality that they currently do not have.

Despite its goals, many men and women around the world are opposed to feminism for various reasons. Some of the most common arguments made against feminism are that feminism causes reverse sexism, vilifies men, and that gender inequality does not exist in the first place. The Women Against Feminism page shows women stating various reasons they do not need feminism, some of which include that they do not believe they are victims, respect and love men, do not believe that men and women are uniform, and believe that feminism does not bring equality.

Many of these arguments show valid concerns: they are right to an extent. Everyone deserves respect and love: men should not be vilified, and the actions of one man should not be interpreted as representation of the whole male population. Men and women are different, because every individual is innately different. However, these arguments do not serve as arguments against feminism, or at least the right definition of it.

The arguments that men should not be hated and that men and women are different have nothing to do with opposing feminism: true feminism is consistent with the idea that advocates equality, not a reversed power imbalance or any type of hatred. Equality has nothing to do with making men and women the exact same; equality has nothing to do with hating one side or the other.

But for some, such as those who believe that feminism focuses on a problem that has already been solved years ago and detracts from issues that need more attention, or those who believe that modern feminism has grown to only focus on trivial matters typically present in Western society, simple education about the definition of feminism is not enough.

To these people, I have two words to say: intersectional feminism.

There are many different types of feminism, since there are differing opinions about the causes and solutions to gender inequality. As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, “intersectionality” is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. In other words, intersectional feminism is the belief that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity depending on other factors, and that problems experienced by women in different circumstances deserve to be addressed and combated, even by those who are not in the same situation.

That means that even if woman does not feel like she is necessarily oppressed, if there are other women that are being oppressed for any other reason, it is the responsibility of other women to stand up against that oppression. Equality should be universal: equality should be intersectional.

However, still some may say that feminism, intersectional or not, causes reverse sexism, as it ignores the problems of men who are also discriminated against and experience difficulties.

It is true that there are men that live difficult lives that deserve to have a better quality of living. The truth is that there are people from all backgrounds and identities who suffer, and that has to change. But the fact that there are men who also experience difficulties does not change the fact that we live in a patriarchy, a male-based society. It does not change the fact that there is still an inherent male privilege in our society. Male-privilege is still very real and very present. Discrimination of women is still very real and very present.

A list of women’s experiences of inequality could constitute an entire article in it of itself, but some undeniable core examples able to be backed by statistics are the gender pay gap and violence against women. However, if these issues are still not enough to prove that gender inequality exists and needs to be combatted, let us shift our focus outside of Western societies.

Though all countries still have at least some evidence of gender inequality, Western societies have seen immense improvements. However, there are women outside of this bubble of progress that experience worse offenses just for being born a woman–genital mutilation and infanticide, to name a few. Just because discrimination is not happening right in front of you does not mean it is not happening.

The point is, gender inequality exists, and as long as it exists, feminism, especially intersectional feminism, is necessary. So the next time someone claims to reject feminism because they want “true equality,” say, “me too! That is why I am a feminist.”

Why saying “All Lives Matter” is problematic

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“Black Lives Matter” is a term we are all probably familiar with, whether we learned it through hashtags on social media or through the protests featured in the news. These three words have recently emerged as a topic of wide controversy with the tragic incidents that have freckled the past few years: black deaths due to unnecessary and unlawful police brutality—Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and more—have triggered outrage and revealed to us that even in this day, racism is an apparent problem. But whenever a resurgence of the mantra “Black Lives Matter” occurs, there always seems to be an opposing group of people insisting that “All Lives Matter.”

Black Lives Matter, according to its official website, is a “chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life” that is “[r]ooted in the experiences of Black people in [the US] who actively resist dehumanization.” The website goes on to state that the movement began in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was posthumously put on trial for his death while his shooter was acquitted. Since then, people of all races and backgrounds have protested and grieved under Black Lives Matter for the unfortunate stories of others who experienced similar fates because of racism, whether that be in the form of unequal pay or being handled with unnecessary force by policemen.

This organization is where the famous mantra was born—and with it, its ugly sibling All Lives Matter. Some may ask, “What is so wrong about thinking that all lives matter?” Out of context, nothing. Of course all lives matter! That is the whole principle behind combating racism: regardless of skin color, everyone deserves to live and be happy just as much as the next person does. But in context, saying “All Lives Matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement can be seen as an attempt to cancel out the validity of the movement and silence those who are a part of it.

It is true that African Americans are not the only ones that experience discrimination and inequality on a day-to-day basis; many people of Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, white, and/or other descent undergo significant problems due to racism, and still others suffer from problems other than race.

However, saying “All Lives Matter” while opposing Black Lives Matter does not solve these problems, as the term “All Lives Matter” is a vague blanket term. That is, saying “All Lives Matter” insinuates that the troubles that specific demographics experience (in this case, African Americans) are unworthy of being addressed because there are others also experiencing discrimination. Under this logic, it would be difficult to solve problems regarding inequality for any specific group. The mentality of “All Lives Matter” becomes an obstacle in the journey to bring change and to bring equality.

Saying that “Black Lives Matter” is not saying that only Black lives matter. Saying that “Black Lives Matter” is acknowledging that too many Black lives are being discriminated against and not being treated the way human lives should be treated, and that action to combat this racial discrimination is direly needed. Saying that “Black Lives Matter” is saying that Black lives matter too.

In an ideal future, organizations like Black Lives Matter would not need to exist, because there would be complete equality, with everyone believing that all lives matter. But we are not at that stage yet. Until that day comes, let people say that “Black Lives Matter,” because black lives do, in fact, matter.

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