So, I have a love/hate relationship with Bust Magazine. I love it because they feature indie music and movies, plus awesome women like Amy Poehler or Beth Ditto or Maya Rudolph. Also, they are feminist-minded and sex-positive to boot, and not in that Glamour sex horoscope kinda way. However, I hate reading it sometimes because I always feel way behind and uncool and stressed out about all the new things I apparently need to read/listen to/watch/learn/do. Unfortunately, after reading this month’s interview with aforementioned awesome-lady Maya Rudolph, my feeling meter swung firmly towards the “hate” side. No, not because of Maya, silly pants! Because of a totally unfortunate comment.
Julie Klausner, who has one of the few podcasts I (mostly) get around to listening to, conducted an overall interesting interview with Ms. Rudolph. I also wanted to marry Gene Wilder when I was younger! Learning that people I admire had the same ridiculous childhood crushes I wrote about in my Star Trek diary makes me feel like I, too, can one day be successful. Despite the fact that I had a Star Trek diary… However, when Maya spoke about how her pregnancy caused all sorts of crazy stuff, like her nose getting bigger, Julie segues into a question about pregnancy and “ethnic features out of control.” No, literally, that’s what was printed: “ethnic features out of control.” Here’s the Q and A segment, which begins with another one of those “you don’t understand life until you’ve had a kid” bs comments, so you can see it for yourself:
Bust: I feel like birth is just the first instance of you having no say in the matter.
Maya: Yes. Oh, my God, even pregnancy. Our friend’s wife is pregnant, and it’s her first baby. My husband said, “Maya, you don’t want to see her. She just looks like she ate a hamburger, and she’s seven month’s pregnant.” Because when I’m pregnant, I’m so big. It’s just frustrating, and it’s uncomfortable. You have no control over it. I mean, my nose would grow!”
Bust: Really? Beyond having swollen feet, all of your womanly and, like, ethnic features were out of control? [emphasis mine]
Maya: All my Judaism, all my blackness. I started carrying a Torah every where. It gets intense.
Jumping from a woman (who happens to be biracial) telling you that her nose gets bigger in pregnancy to “ethnic features” is one thing (a tasteless thing) but then to say “out of control” as if Maya being more ethnic is somehow wrong? Well, um, that’s another thing (a totally insensitive, inappropriate thing). Especially since a really easy google search shows that this nose growth is a common side effect of pregnancy! ::face palm:: Maya gracefully went with it, even turning it into a ridiculous joke about carrying Torah’s around. Since the interview was in print, I couldn’t tell if Maya gave one of those micro-expressions I often seen polite people make when someone says something totally stupid. Like my bestie Erika does when I ask about black lady hair dye products (I wanted uber-vibrant red, folks, but didn’t know if the processing was different!) or say “I’m allowed to be racist, my best friend is black! Not just a friend, but my only one, in fact.” (It’s funnier in my head, like most my jokes.) I would say I’m kidding, but I really did make that joke once. I got some side eye. It was deserved.
Listen, I’m sure many of us are guilty of these kind of slips or unfunny “kidding on the square” jokes. But, really, Bust?!? Not a single person on staff was like, wait a hot minute? Apparently not, because not only is the question included, but the content is also HIGHLIGHTED IN THE INTERVIEW BLURB like it was sooooooo funny and fresh and independent! Hahahahahah! Black people have big noses!!! Hahahaha! To wit:
But she (Rudolph) carved out some time amid the craziness for eggs Benedict, coffee, and insanely good doughnuts to chat with me about the burden of having to pay lip service to the “women in comedy” media trend, her crush on Gene Wilder, and how pregnancy can make you look more ethnic than usual.
As Maya’s Judaism might make her say, if I can also be allowed to stereotype her ethnicities, Oy vey!
Oh, and I read this infuriating review of Donald Glover’s album, which basically said “um, yeah. Your whole album is about you being different from other black people and not being able to relate. But I don’t think you’ve proven to me you’re different from other black people. Plus, you’re copying off of Kanye West and your production is amateurish suckery.” Okay, I’m not so mad at the critique of the production because it is amateurish. The musical ideas there are great. The delivery is bungled by, well, him being a musical amateur. But the whole “you’re not like other black people? Prove it!!” thing just reeks of white privilege. Like “what, black people aren’t a monolith? Y’all look like a big ass mountain of sedimentary rock to me and you’re trying to tell me you’re an igneous pebble. I don’t believe you and the burden of proof is on you, friend, as I am the arbiter of truth, as a representative of the definers and keepers of truth.” Bah, Ian effing Cohen!!
These two incidents got me thinking about how “progressive” media seem to still struggling with privilege and its effects. Especially in media outlets that are “so above it all” aka indie darlings. Irony or satire often walks a fine line and privilege can make that line difficult to see or, even, easy to flat-out ignore. Take another fave of mine, hipster darling Amy Sedaris, whose recent mocking vintage home guides are unfortunately teetering on the line of subversive satire/very bad taste. She’s actually inspired me to write a poem:
Ching-chong, Ching-chong! I shout, all day long Knowing full well that it is wrong… But maybe if I hit an (ironic) gong, All the hipsters will just play along? And make my bank account strong Ca-ching! Ca-ching! Ching-chong!
Now before everyone tells me that I’m taking this privilege and racism stuff too seriously, or that alternative kids are part of the post-racist world so can say or do whatever they want, or that this poem is inappropriate and horribly written, I want to say three things:
1) I’m not taking it too seriously and I’m going to keep saying stuff about it until I’m blue in the face. This is how people grow and change, by others challenging their worldview.
2) I don’t think that Julie Klausner or the people over at Bust are intentionally racist or mean or insensitive. I can’t speak to Pitchfork, as they seem a bit more socially unawares in general. They’re just all about the music, man. Or whatever. But maybe Maya and Julie have had previous conversations where this tone has been accepted as funny? Maybe there was a conversation off-record that this is a reference to? Who knows… I guess what I’m saying is: when you have privilege, you often don’t realize its impact. Because you have it. It’s a dangerous cycle and one I know that I’m guilty of because I’m a highly educated, middle class, married white woman. Especially because I’m a highly educated, middle class, married white woman. Which leads to #3…
3) Knowing this actuality means I have an obligation to check myself and my language, even when I’m shootin’ the shit with someone who is too polite to call me on anything or when I’m testing out new jokes or when I’m innocently asking my friends questions about their particular experiences in this world. It’s also Bust‘s obligations, especially as a self-identified feminist magazine. Because, as the always right-on Jay Smooth says, that’s how we become one happy family: boundaries.
Just some food for thought… I mean, I’ll still cram the last four “How Was Your Week” podcasts into one sitting since I forgot last week and the week before and the week before that. And I’m still gonna get super excited when my next Bust issue arrives, even though the sadz will immediately set in because I know I’ll never get around to making that plush-owl-apron out of salvaged fabric and organic thread that is just adorbs. But, I’ll also continue to be sensitive to troubling language, even if it’s from people I respect and support.
Now, who wants another poem?