Category Archives: whiteness

Performance/paper – Languages Perform Us

In March I presented a paper at a conference on multilingualism at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez. My performance was about decolonizing the concept of ‘first language’ and how the term ‘non-native’ gets applied to people who speak multiple languages other than English.

I presented this as an interactive storytelling performance. Click here for the text of the performance:

Languages Perform Us: Decolonizing Options for Multilingual Identities

UPDATE: This was published in Qualitative Inquiry, Vol 21, Issue 2, in February 2015:
Languages Perform Us: Decolonizing Options for Multilingual Identities

Hari Takes Kumar To White(ness) Castle: Why Kal Penn Is Wrong On Stop-and-Frisk

Hari takes Kumar to White(ness) Castle: Why Kal Penn is Wrong on Stop-and-Frisk

by hari stephen kumar, August 17, 2013 // @kineticnow

Dear Kumar (aka Kal Penn),

Dude, it’s time for us to talk, you and me.

Kumar to Kumar.

You see, as a brown man with a name like Kumar, I’ve gotten stopped many times. And asked about THAT movie of yours. You remember it, right? The one where you and Harold critique racism and mock how cops profile brown folks?

And so now I hear you’ve been tweeting about Stop-and-Frisk. And about how you think it’s a “good policy.” About how you think “the stats don’t lie” when it comes to “who, sadly, commits & are victims of the most crimes.”

And how, even after someone pointed out to you that other cities saw reduced crime rates without Stop-and-Frisk, you responded “If they added s&f it’d be even better.”

Well, KUMAR, for the sake of Kumars everywhere, I do believe it’s time we stop and frisk your brain.

I don’t think you realize how wrong you are about those stats, especially since they have convinced you to believe the many myths about Stop and Frisk. Bridget Todd, with whom you exchanged a few tweets about this issue, wrote an excellent open letter to you on Racialicious about why these myths are dangerous.

And furthermore, I don’t think you realize how Stop-and-Frisk actually benefits whiteness.

So, get up. We’re going to White(ness) Castle.

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White Times: 5 Keys To American Racism

by hari stephen kumar, August 7, 2013.

(Also published on on August 14, 2013.)

Shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted, a friend said to me that “these are dark times in America.” To which I said, “No, these are white times in America, as always.”

In the month since the Zimmerman acquittal, the mainstream conversation about the case has morphed into a personal verdict on Trayvon’s behavior and a cultural indictment on black people more broadly. When even the President of the United States, a black man, begins his heartfelt statement on the issue by saying that he wants to address “the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling,” you already know that in the public imagination the case of Florida v. Zimmerman has become instead a Trial of Trayvon.

And when the President ends his speech by asking the American people to ask ourselves, echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., “Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?” you cannot help but reflect on all the ways that it was indeed Trayvon’s character that was judged and assassinated in both the legal courtroom and in the court of public opinion.

For many, this is one of the strangest things about the case: why did the trial’s focus shift to Trayvon instead of Zimmerman? After the verdict, why has the so-called “national conversation on race” become so fixated on “problems” with “black culture”? Why did the acquittal give license to commentators from across the racial and political spectrum to speak so bluntly in blaming black people for Trayvon’s death? How do we make sense of the ugly racial rhetoric coming from white commentators like Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and NRA board member Ted Nugent who are so quick to condemn the character of “the black community”? Why do their talking points get repeated across online comments and in personal conversations?

And why do so many such conversations begin with “I’m not racist but …”?
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HuffPost Live Interview: Rolling Stone Controversy

On Thursday, July 18, 2013, I participated in a panel on HuffPost Live discussing the controversy around Rolling Stone magazine’s cover image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. I addressed how whiteness plays a role in the ways people have described the cover as showing someone who seems to be “normal”, an “average American kid”, “our next door neighbor“, a “rock star”, “good looking”, etc. I raised the point that in contrast, depictions of young black males do not get those descriptors associated with them in media narratives. For example, Trayvon Martin was also a normal, average American kid, good looking, and definitely Zimmerman’s neighbor, but Zimmerman’s defense was able to show the jury a picture of a shirtless Trayvon and persuade them to see a threatening male rather than a “neighbor.” I argued that the cover image controversy gives us an opportunity to have more complex conversations about how whiteness and white privilege influences the ways we perceive “normalcy” versus “criminal” in everyday life.

Here’s a short 2-minute synopsis of my main point:

Watch the full segment on HuffPost Live.

HuffPost Live Interview: Racializing the Boston Marathon Bombers

On April 30, 2013, I was interviewed on HuffPost Live to discuss the phenomenon by which the white Tsarnaev brothers became racialized as “ethnic Chechens” in media representations. They contacted me because I had posted a decidedly non-satirical analysis on my satirical blog brofiling about how a magazine cover caricatured the images of these quintessential Caucasian bros by darkening their skin and making them look like stereotypical images of Arab men.

The panel conversation also addressed how American media responds to mass violence differently when the perpetrators are Muslim versus when the perpetrators are white Christian right-wing extremists. Watch below, or click here for the segment page on HuffPost Live.