Racism in America: Racial Hypersensitivity Blinds Us from the Truth
Vampire Squids Invade Goldman Sachs?
Which is the most racially, gender biased or sexually discriminating remark?
The Goldman Sachs Vampire Squid
In the wake of recent forum threads HERE and HERE involving feminism and anti-Semitism (or not), and of some recent events I observed personally, I could not help but be annoyed by an offhanded remark made during an interview on NPR (transcript here- and audio). The question was about whether or not the criticism of Goldman Sachs was legitimate or if it was really anti-Semitism picking on a “Jewish” firm.
They advertised the show as I'm driving along, and I think, Hmm, that’s interesting. I wonder if there’s anything to that anti-Semitic claim. That would be jacked up. Seems unlikely, but you never know, let’s hear the evidence. So I tune in figuring this will be good. And almost immediately I was so pissed off I wanted to ram my truck into an animal shelter so I could kill myself and take out some puppies and kittens too. Nothing good or thinking should have to endure a world that is this paranoid.
So here’s the deal. The guy they are interviewing, Michael Kinsley, a columnist for the Atlantic, starts off sounding pretty reasonable (and ends that way too, honestly). He’s talking about how some people think it may be suspicious that it’s Goldman Sachs getting raked over the coals and not like Morgan Stanley and other white-boy firms (all previous convictions for scandal totally ignored). So, no problem, that’s a fair question to consider as the interview starts.
The host ads a comment about how the anti-Semitic suspicion in this case can be compared to how it can be difficult for people NOT of color to criticize Barak Obama without being called racist too. Mr. Kinsley agrees that is a definite reality in our culture, and he doesn’t hesitate to agree that in this Goldman Sachs case, that is the sort of thing that has to be considered: is it anti-Semitic or is it that other thing, that thing where white guys can’t say anything about anyone who isn’t white anymore in our society because of how hypersensitive everyone has gotten?
So fair enough, they’re at least laying out the groundwork for the conversation, acknowledging two major ways of approaching the topic. Now, we just need some facts.
So we progress. The host quotes a line from an article about the Goldman Sachs written by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. He wrote, “The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money" [emphasis mine].
At this point, Mr. Kinsley says:
That passage, which has been widely quoted, comes very close to the line, because, you know, it never uses the word Jewish but it invokes a lot of images that are familiar in classic anti-Semitism: the bloodsucking monster, this -the other. And it's smothering the normal life of normal people. All of that has - Jews have been victimized - and I should add - I should mention that I am Jewish - Jews have been victimized by that kind of imagery for centuries.
So, obviously, I, driving in my truck, immediately began looking for an animal shelter and some kittens. Who wouldn’t? Once our society has become this reactive, this absolutely paranoid and absurd, I just have to … I just ... I was filled with frustration and impotent rage. It’s just so unfathomably stupid. God! What has happened to us?
How is a goddamn vampire Jewish? They are from Transylvania. I don’t know what map Mr. Kinsley is using, but I assure you, Transylvania is really not all that close to Israel. In fact, in modern times, apparently vampires come from the state of Washington, which is even farther from the Jewish homeland. He was trying to make a claim that Jewish people are traditionally associated with blood suckers. But I’m telling you, Google it. “Jewish bloodsucker” gets you nothing, one moron in a forum. Jew and mosquito, Jew and vampire, Jew and leech, Jew and tick. Nothing. So I don’t know where he got that “tradition” but it definitely predates Google. You’ll get stuff about Jewish women’s health issues with facial tics. You’ll get a video with mosquito abatement. Stuff like that. Not very convincing on the hate speech front. So, vampire fails as a racial thing common enough, “classic” enough, to garner the assumption that it is “that kind of imagery” and “close to the line.”
Regardless of your opinion, I promise if you watch this, you will enjoy it. (It's got 1,300,000 views for a reason)
Furthermore, it’s not just a vampire. It’s a vampire SQUID. Squids are not Jewish themed at all. I Googled the term “Jew” and “squid” together to see if I could get anything, to see if there was some connection I missed somehow, something I hadn’t heard. I found “jewel squid” top of the search, which I admit was really, really close, especially if you ignore the ‘e’ and the ‘l’ on the end of jewel – which is actually in keeping with what we do in this society because ignoring key pieces of information and logic are the nature of our social and political interactions these days. BUT, since I refuse to be an asshole, I’m going to point out that it is actually a jewel squid, a type of squid and not related to Jewish anything despite the three letters at the start. I did find another passage about eating squid, which, apparently is not kosher. The line, “An Observant Jew wouldn’t be caught dead eating Calamari, as it is made out of squid which is utterly forbidden…” suggesting that even if Taibbi wanted to start a new stereotype with this vampire squid thing, he was off to a really bad start. (He was “flabbergasted” by the accusation by the way. Apparently he’s never heard of such things either.)
So, two words into this quote and already we are totally, amazingly far away from an anti-Semitic remark. But, let’s keep going. Surely there’s something in there, because, Kinsley is being presented as an expert and he did point out that, as he even said, “It [the quote] never uses the word Jewish, but it invokes a lot of images that are familiar in classic Anti-Semitism.” Yep, that’s right, never used the word. Hmmm. And I had no idea that the “classic” Jewish persecution included vampire squids. That’s pretty interesting and somehow managed to escape me for all these years - and I've read a lot of social theory, ethnic study, history, anthropology, philosophy, good old fashioned literature AND lots and lots of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. The description of a multi-limbed creature with a funnel proboscis jammed down a throat of a human struck me as more classic science fiction – somewhere between Jules Vern and Aliens the movie – than a standard Jewish hate image, but, I guess I could have missed that popular classic imagery; maybe Google just isn’t a good enough resource either and I need to dig deeper to find the overwhelming trend of vampire squid imagery associated with Jews.
But, I can dig further, just in case I am missing something. He also brings up the idea of “the other.” That the “monster” is the representation of the other. Which is fine. It’s well documented, and pretty much every human faction that ever wanted to dehumanize another human faction used this strategy. It’s been proven over and over in HUMAN history. It’s very hard to do horrible things to other people if you see them as people, so groups seeking to dominate others dehumanize those they wish to dominate, destroy or enslave. So, I’m totally with Mr. Kinsley here. But, this particular vampire squid is being described as “wrapped around the face of humanity.” That’s what the original quote says. “Humanity.” Not some of humanity. Not the part of humanity that meets some definition or another that excludes others. There is no exclusionary language in it at all. “It never uses the word Jewish” and it never says anything to specify that the vampire squid is a picky eater or a particular variety of squid beyond being vampire. It’s a company being called a vampire squid against humanity. A company. And not just sucking the money-blood of non-Jewish people, but all people not associated with it.
Now, unless I am missing something, not all Jewish people are part of Goldman Sachs. Which means, those people are being sucked dry by the vampire squid too. Kinsley even points out that there are Jewish people working for Morgan Stanley too. Turns out, Jews are part of humanity. So, to somehow leap to the conclusion that a vampire squid that sucks the money out of everyone’s economy, Jew and gentile alike, is almost, is "close," to being an anti-Semitic remark is not only ridiculous, it’s why this country is having a train wreck on levels that have nothing to do with the economy.
Why is everyone working so goddamn hard to find ways to be f-ing offended?
We actually teach people how to be offended now. Show them what to look for. How to turn an innocuous remark, or a stupid one, into something to be deeply incensed by. How to take nothing and turn it into evidence of oppression and an active disrespect for you and everything you stand for, the seedlings of oppression. It started as really great literary and philosophical criticism of established power, but it has morphed into a twisted mockery of what it was supposed to be. And worse, it blinds us to REAL discrimination. Every time someone calls a vampire squid anti-Semitic, they are crying wolf and reducing the likelihood that caring citizens are going to run up the hill and deal with a real problem.
Why would a white man put black characters in a novel?
The other night in a graduate level writing class, the conversation went to gender issues and, from there, to racial ones. After a while, a white guy made the comment, “I am afraid to put black characters in my stories because I’m not black, and to use a black character will put me under fire if I ‘do something wrong’ with him.”
A woman in the class replied, “Why would you put a black character in your story anyway? Only a white man would say that a character was black. Only white writers would write ‘the black man bent down to pick up the garbage.’ They would never write ‘the white man bent down to pick up the garbage.’”
Why would a black man have white characters?
And, that may be true in certain instances, perhaps lots of certain instances. I could have pointed out that a black guy might write that a ‘white guy bent down and picked up the garbage’ in a story he was telling where all the other characters were black; I might have pointed out that white guys write about their lives and experiences, which sometimes actually include black guys, and that this is a culture that is abundantly aware of that sort of thing so pretending that no one notices that stuff would be unrealistic and might render the writing flat or affected, but I kept my mouth shut because I’m white and male too, and this was not a room friendly to the race that has portions of it that have been cruel to everyone for so many centuries, unlike all the other peace loving races that have no knowledge of war, rape, greed, kingdoms, empire building or anything else. Only my race did that, so I kept my mouth shut. I also didn’t ask why she had her hypothetical black character picking up garbage and why that was the first thing that popped into her head for him to do.
So, she and a few others sort of intimidated this white guy to silence. It wasn’t hostile, it was friendly, but there was an underlying tension in the room. He knew there was no chance of surviving a real conversation on the issue, so he made a wise tactical retreat into self-deprecating humor. They were satisfied. White man down. Wounded Knee slightly avenged. Etc. He was under attack, just nicely. I don’t even think he is old enough to have been at Wounded Knee. Don’t think he owns any slaves – he’s certainly never mentioned having any. I know for a fact he didn’t write California’s Prop 8.
There are a few lesbian writers in the group – I suppose I’m already screwed for pointing that out, I’m not supposed to be aware of these things as identifiers (like pointing out a character is black) even though the whole underlying argument that led to his comment was based on how the white man (which we can be aware of as a racial identity – one of evil - the "other" for the other) has caused lots of gender issues and other racial inequities all of which have created the experience of “the other” … the category of persons who are not the white male and how their lives are impacted by being so. So yeah, I’m not supposed to notice that they are lesbian, even if they themselves point it out constantly in conversations.
If you are white and male and get robbed by anyone other than a white, clearly hetero-sexual male, you cannot tell the cops anything.
“Who robbed you?”
“Not a white male.”
“What did he or she look like?”
“I can’t say.”
“You didn’t see anything?”
“Oh no, I saw him or her.”
“What about hair color?”
“It wasn’t blonde or red or a lighter shade of brown.”
“Not blue or green or hazel.”
So, hopefully if any of us get robbed, we’ll only be robbed by a white male. Which is possible, as white people represent roughly 12% of the world population, roughly half of them male, so there is a solid chance that almost one time out of every ten times we get robbed, we will be able to tell the cops what our assailant looked like. (As long as it is okay to mention height, weight, baldness, acne, etc. I suspect, however, that all of these are soon to be off limits too.)
Now, that said, I don’t deny the concept of “the other” is a real position that exists in opposition to power, in forced or enforced subordination to power, and therefore it is a position, a relationship to power, influence and access that needs a voice and deserves one. I totally agree. The dominant, the conquerors, the strong typically force their culture on those who can’t do anything to stop it – or on those that don’t care really as long as they can live their lives and be happy and the language of choice isn’t really that important if they can be semi-left alone. “The other” is a class of basically everyone who did not “win” the culture wars of the last two or so millennium or even battles of much smaller milieu, people that feel they have lost and want access to those freedoms and liberties that the dominant group has. “The other” takes place in social circumstances large and small, nations and families, cities and neighborhoods. It’s an orientation based on opposition to “mainstream” or "normal" or "best" as defined by the majority or those aligned with a majority, be it racial, religious or something else underpinned by power of some sort - the influence and the ability to shape the world.
Tradition and the Individual Talent
The Others finally get to speak
but Rome wasn't built in a day... or alone.
I get it, and I’m not trying to pretend like nothing bad ever happened, and that the world is all fixed now and everything is perfect and equal. But what just bugs the crap out of me is that that whole room was just a flick away from wanting to gut that poor bastard for pointing out that he can’t put black characters into his novel because he’ll get eviscerated … just exactly like what he got. He can’t “criticize Barak Obama or he’ll be called a racist” to make a metaphor out of what the NPR host said.
Hell, he can’t even write a heroic black character into a story or he’ll be accused of pandering, or of exploiting the stereotype of the “virile black male” for his own literary and/or financial gains. His vampire squids will be called racist no matter what he does because he is white. Which is fine. We’re in a social space that requires atonement for the sins of our forefathers if we are white. Or, at least, atonement for the sins of people that had the same skin color as our forefathers regardless of what our actual forefathers were doing. There is a provable white benefit, white male advantage that white males have, at least in very high numbers, gotten from the course of history. However, until we as a society are done lashing out reflexively, communication is going to be stunted, truth slow in coming, and the real bad guys are going to be harder to find while we chase ghosts and vampire squids.
Writing is about communicating. It’s about sharing ideas. Learning about each other. Finding ways to be closer to each other. Sure, maybe it starts out with a little heat as emotions fire up, but the point is supposed to be about finding each other. Improving.
How is putting experts on NPR who actually conclude there isn’t anything anti-Semitic going on when it’s all wrapped up, but who will still say that a freaking vampire squid is “very close to the line” going to do anything but harm? God. It’s not f-ing close to anything. It’s an f-ing vampire squid. That’s all. Stop trying to be offended at every goddamn turn. Everyone. Just stop it.
If I want a black character in one of my stories, I’m going to put him in there. Or her. There are people in my world who have phenotypes that qualify them as “black” just as I am “white.” I didn’t invent these labels, and they don’t define me or my characters. Frankly, I’m not white. I’m more of a pinkish color, sort of yellow pink, with bluish-white undertones on the bottoms of my forearms and on my belly if I haven’t been outside in a long time. I have yet to meet any “black” guys that are actually black either.
The very existence of the tension in that classroom, the very notion that vampire squids are some kind of line-pushing racist suggestion by Mr. Kinsley, PROVE that I am writing in a world where there are in fact blacks, whites and Jews. They DO exist. We all exist with our labels. Which label anyone focuses on when they talk to us, or about us, depends on who that other is, on who THE other is in that given moment and context. And most importantly, the intent.
Total racial, gender and sexually oriented blindness may be a noble ideal to work towards, but for now it still just has a lot of the blindness part in it. Just that. The inability to see. Maybe someday we’ll all be able to notice nothing different about anyone. We may actually end up incapable of describing our assailants to cops when we get robbed some day. That’ll be great. We’ll all just get really great insurance and live happily ever after. But until then, for the love of God, can we all just take a breath and relax.
The tension is bad for kittens and my truck.
- Censorship in the Classroom: A Rant
A really nice rant that is spot on target covering this idea as it relates to Mark Twain's book [i]The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn[/i]. Attempts to ban this amazing piece of literature under the absurd accusation of it being a racist work.
- So That\'s What a Blood-Sucking Vampire Squid Looks Like - Goldman Sachs - Gawker
Better research than mine found an octopus image put out by the Nazis. So, there is a singular instance that might be twisted into an enduring squid theme if we ignore the definition of "enduring" and "theme" and "squid", plus ignore context.Read it
- Goldman Execs Blame Anti-Semitism - Page 1 - The Daily Beast
Charlie Gasparino reports that senior executives inside Goldman are in a panic over its image, trying to hire a "brand manager"and even blaming a prejudice against the firm's Jewish chiefs.
- Vlad the Inhaler
On a lighter note: Here's a satirical look at the vampire genre. Good fun for folks looking for a light read and perhaps a giggle. All the good stuff: bats, boobs, and dark, dangerous liasons in shadowed alley ways.
- Washboard Vlad
Here's another bit of fun at the expense of the vampire genre and its fans.
- A Gay Proposal: Solving the gay marriage issue for Liberals and Conservatives
And, just in keeping with the general conversation about race and gender roles, I thought I'd put this in for some satirical exploration of the ongoing gay marriage debate.