Edward James Olmos on Race

This week we spent a couple days on "Scientific Racism and the Invention of the Homosexual Body" from Siobhan Somerville's "queering the color line: race and the invention of homosexuality in American culture". The question I found most interesting regarding this piece was whether race, or homosexuality, exist. As one might guess from the title of the full book, Somerville pursued queering the understanding of both.

Last year, I saw this Youtube video of Edward James Olmos speaking to the United Nations about race.

Olmos is an actor invited to the U.N. because of his lead role in "Battlestar Galactica", wherein humans, who had previously spread to multiple planets and created large ethnic and cultural divides, were forced to live in close proximity while fleeing across space in a dwindling fleet of ships. Olmos is fairly well known as a Latino actor (he claims Aztec and Spanish ancestry, one of which is normally thought of as Hispanic and one of which is technically Latin), but in his many public appearances, often points out that there is no Latino race. In my link, he explains that race is a concept designed to differentiate others and thereby dehumanize them in order to conquer or colonize them.

Someone in class brought up how Somerville mentions how the way we understand races changes over time, such as how the Polish have only recently been considered white. The same is true of Russians, even though it's worth pointing out that Russia belongs to the landmass of Asia and shares a lot of racial markers with some other Asian countries. In another class, we read Said's "Orientalism", which points out the discrepancies in how the West imagines the Orient, and how this construction has changed over time to exclude places like Russia or Palestine. The theme of Said's inferred Orient is mystery, and my class concluded that areas become more Occidental by becoming more well-known. When a people are no longer "the other", they're also no longer another race.

My friend is half Brazilian. For most of us, this fails to raise the question: which kind of Brazilian? It's a very real question for her. Her mother is a black Brazilian, descended from the African slaves imported there. The mother has always been ashamed of being dark-skinned, because while many Brazilians are mixed with not only indigenous Latins and Spaniards but also Africans, she came from an area where lighter skin was highly socially privileged. My friend is considered black in Brazil and Latina in America. But most countries have confusing racial roots like this. How far back in history does the "racial" mixing need to happen in order for it become....canon?. I've known someone from a Latin country who swore up and down he was white because his family was all from Spain and supposedly never interbred with those indigenous to his country, but of course many Americans don't think of the Spanish themselves as white.

If race exists, how do we define it? What race would you say Edward James Olmos is? Is it relevant to look at race as a cultural determinant? Said would say no, in that people conflate members of a so-called race and fail to distinguish their actual cultural and geographical differences. One thing we discussed and never sufficiently resolved in that course was, when casting an actor, how much of a problem is it to cast an actor of the same race of the character but a different country, or even ethnicity? Clearly casting Caucasians in the roles is awful, but isn't a Japanese person just as non-Chinese as a white person? The countries are certainly not on good terms and some cross-castings spark a lot of controversy. What role does race place in whitewashing cultural perceptions?

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This page contains a single entry by babelsburgfx published on October 3, 2010 7:31 PM.

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