Greetings from Vancouver!* It’s that time again: racism! Always a fun topic on scatterplot. Anyway, here’s the deal: I read bwog — a student blog at Columbia every now and then. Given that I’m stuck in a hotel room, this is one of the “now” times. They have a recent post, part of a series I gather, wherein they’re trying to give a nickname to a new dean. Fun idea. It’s college. Whatever. Here’s the thing though: one of the four “finalists” for the unofficial nickname is Jar Jar Hinks. The dean is a Black woman, Avis Hinkson. It’s a play off Jar Jar Binks, from Star Wars. And I have a problem with this because the character is seriously racist.
As Jessica Brown noted when we first say the new Star Wars movies when they came out, Lucas seemed to have given up on having languages make characters distinct (and thereby using subtitles) and instead decided to rely upon often grotesque racial stereotypes to convey characters. So we have the hook-nosed, slimy merchant (a jew!), the greedy and not to be trusted trade federation (Asians, replete with with asian accents and slitted eyes), and, of course, Jar Jar Binks, of the Gungans.
The Gungans speak in a Caribbean patois. Jar Jar is a bumbling fool. His walk is all jive. As Patricia Williams noted in the Nation,
The fat-faced, toadlike ruler of the Gungan race, who is called Boss Nass and who seems to be wearing the distinctive West African robe known as aboubou, expresses his resentment of his grammatically coherent planetary neighbors, the Naboo, in the following terms: “Dey tink dey so smartee, dey tink dey brains so big.”
This invocation of minstrel characters is a grotesque form of racism. And while Lucas defended a lack of intent, the imagery is fairly clear. I’m going to email some of the folks at BWOG about this. Unless, of course, our fair readers think I’m crazy again.
* It’s lovely here. But I probably won’t have too much time to find out just how lovely. I managed to schedule myself into a bit of a whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest — Oregon. UW, UBC, WSU, Reed, and WSU-Vancouver. So far it’s been super-fun. The folks at Eugene and Seattle were great. I caught up with some old friends, old students, and found that presenting work is oh-s0-much-more fun when you’re not on the job market (please don’t tell me that you’re always on the market, I know, but I also think that’s silly, but that’s for another post).