The (Not So) Subtle Racism of The Gilmore Girls

Ok, don’t freak out.  I like the Gilmore Girls as much as the next 30-something White woman.  Promise.  I like Lorelai and Rory and life in Stars Hollow.  I kinda want to live there myself.  You know, eat at Luke’s diner and attend the loveably wacky town meetings; gossip about the will-they/won’t-they of Luke and Lorelai, shop at Doose’s, maybe even have Paris yell at me.

I started watching the show a couple months ago and I watch it whenever I’m at the Y (you know, ’cause I work out now).  I had never seen it so when the entire series was released on Netflix, I thought it would make the perfect companion for me and the rowing machine.   And I fell hard for those Gilmore Girls right from the start.  Small town life, quirky characters, romance, innocence and entirely surmountable conflict.  It practically made me wish I  had gotten knocked up at 16 if it meant I’d have the life and verbal skills of Lorelai Gilmore.

 

gilmoregirls

 

Admittedly I’m only 2 seasons deep at this point but the portrayals of people of color on the show, scanty though they may be, are getting harder and harder for me to overlook as I get swept away in the small town politics and social life of Stars Hollow.   I wouldn’t have noticed it 15 years ago and I’m guessing a lot of you are scratching your heads and racking your brains, trying to remember if there was some sort of lynching or cross-burning on the WB that you missed.

But that’s not what racism looks like these days.  Well, not often, anyway.  Racism nowadays is different.  It’s more subtle.  In some ways I think racism might be even more insidious now than it was 60 years ago because it’s gone underground.  It’s invisible to the dominant culture, enabling us to sit back with our excellent healthcare, our smart kids, and countless other benefits of Whiteness, all the while patting ourselves on the back for allowing a Black man into the oval office.

I think most of us mean well.  I really do.  We might not see what all the fuss is about but we’re certainly not out to hurt anybody.  So circling back to the Gilmore Girls, I’d like to gently point out some of the things that I find problematic with the show’s cast of characters as I’m guessing that they, too, might be invisible to the casual White observer.

A quick review of the characters in question…

Michel

michelThis is the show’s only Black character, as of Season 2.  He is the concierge at the Inn where Lorelei works and his character is an uptight, high maintenance, rude, feminine but hetero, irritable snob.  He speaks with an exaggerated French accent and his short scenes presumably provide a comic counterpoint to the other characters’ main plot lines.

Mrs. Kim & Lane

mrskimKorean-American mother and daughter.   Lane, 16, is best friend to Rory Gilmore.  She is the stereotypical 2nd generation kid who just wants to “be normal,” like Rory. Her mother, Mrs. Kim, is an uber conservative Christian (Adventist?) who forbids Lane to listen to music, talk to boys, or eat anything but her hyper-healthy offerings.  She is insanely strict.  She speaks with a heavy accent and comes across as harsh and clueless at the same time.

And…

Oh wait, that’s it.  There aren’t any others.  Well, there was the mechanic who checked out the car Dean built for Rory.  She was what you might call racially ambiguous (Latina, maybe?) but she, too, spoke with a heavy accent.  Her english made her sound dumb although she was obviously intelligent enough to be the one checking out a car built from scratch.  But that was a 60-second scene, tops, so we’ll keep our focus on Michel and Mrs. Kim/Lane.

They aren’t characters

The problem with those characters is that they aren’t characters.  They’re caricatures.

A caricature is “an imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.”

Mrs. Kim is so over-the-top, so insane, so intense.  Her character is indeed a grotesque exaggeration of a stereotypical Asian immigrant parent.  Michel, likewise, is also entirely outlandish.  He is so petty, so snobbish, so rude.  Both characters are at once unbelievable and entirely one-dimensional.

There are other characters on the show that are largely one-dimensional as well.  Ms. Patty, the flamboyant dance teacher, for example.  Or Babette the cat lady who lives in that weird low-ceiling-ed house with her strange husband. But see, the difference is that those characters are portrayed as charming.  A little out there, maybe, but overall lovable and endearing.  Not so with Michel and Mrs. Kim.  They aren’t remotely like-able, either one.  But we aren’t meant to like them.  We’re meant to loathe them.  They are portrayed as less real and therefore less relatable.  Less human.

Lane is like-able but only because she wants to be like Rory and any other “normal American teenager.”  We root for her and pray she can pull a fast one on her mom because she wants to be like us!   She wants to ditch the Korean doctor set ups and listen to rock & roll and kiss boys.  Her Korean-ness isn’t to be celebrated or even explored.  It’s to be escaped.

The Repetition Principle

In the case of the Gilmore Girls it could be argued that this was all mere coincidence.  And that may well be.   But the reason it’s problematic is because it’s something that has been repeated regularly on TV and in the movies for decades.  Screenwriters and marketers are our modern day story-tellers and the story of Michel & Mrs. Kim is one that is repeated again and again and again.

Repetition Principle tells us that if something happens often enough, we will eventually be persuaded.   If we are shown a particular depiction of something often enough, we will eventually be persuaded to believe what we see.   No one is immune to this.  So if we allow these grotesque exaggerations to go unchecked, if we continue to puff up these portrayals of characters we love to hate, if we continue to tell these un-true stories about certain people, we will eventually be persuaded to believe them — when maybe all we really wanted was something entertaining to distract us on the treadmill.

—————-

Other posts on Race

Feeling Your Skin
Can I Get An Amen… from the Awkward White Lady?
A Song Of Lament
Fury in Ferguson

Wild Geese

I took the boys to Bainbridge Island last week for the Martin Luther King holiday.  I considered going to the MLK march like we’ve done in years past but I felt like the boys needed, or at least I needed, a day away.  A day out of the city, away from school and work and schedules; to wander under a scopious sky, throw rocks and eat ice cream.

We caught the 9:30 ferry and spent about half the day on the island’s eastern side at Fort Ward State Park before hitting the local ice cream shop.  It wasn’t perfect.  There was whining, of course, and more than one, When are we going ho-ooome?  There may or may not have been some conspicuous pee-ing in public but overall, it was just what I had been pining for and it made me wish I had brought along some Wendell Berry or Patrick Kavanaugh to keep me company while the boys wandered the waterfront.

geese

I kept thinking of Berry’s poem, The Wild Geese.  It’s midwinter, not Summer’s end, and certainly we weren’t on horseback… but still it seemed to fit.

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

The U.S. (In)Justice System

I saw this video a couple days ago and I keep coming back to it for the stats.   Vox manages to show us the racial disparities in our criminal justice system in less than 2 minutes.  I was particularly drawn to the racial gap in incarceration rates in the U.S. and the marijuana use rates (which are nearly identical) and the marijuana arrest rates (which aren’t at all).   Have a look…

 

Other posts on Race

Fury in #Ferguson
Misplaced Imagining
Dear White Church
#BlackLivesMatter
White Privilege Awareness Series

Growing Pains

Your first child takes you places you have never been.  They tug you along these winding unknown trails often fraught with unforeseen peril, sudden switchbacks and seemingly unscale-able mountains.  You wend your way wildly along, hands clasped, half-stumbling, groping amongst low-hanging branches.    Amazingly, at times, you find yourself suddenly atop a mountain, breathless, the wind whipping your hair as you look out on this sudden vista of such profound and immense beauty that it hurts, physically, to behold.  Sometimes you might get to sit awhile.  Enjoy the view.  Catch your breath.  Other times you are yanked from your reverie and off you go again, praying fervently that your feet find steady ground as you run along behind.

woody trails

Gryffin has been in kindergarten for about 4 months now and we find ourselves, as always, in uncharted land.  While we’ve settled in to making lunches, remembering library books and backpacks and parent/teacher conferences, there has been other, more murky terrain to navigate in this new year.

Friends.

Friends who make fun of his shirt on “spirit day” until he quietly removes it over by the cubbies and stuffs it in his backpack.

Friends who laugh so much at the sunglasses he so proudly wore one morning that he vows never to wear them again.

Friends who won’t sit by him at lunch if he brings a certain kind of sandwich so he insists I make him something else, even though he doesn’t like it.

I drop him off every morning and watch him walk apprehensively onto the playground, eyes slowly scanning the blacktop for his “friends.”   His face is such a bald commingling of hopefulness, fear, and uncertainty that I almost have to look away.

They aren’t bullies, these kids.  And Gryffin genuinely seems to like going to school.  But teaching a six-year-old about confidence and being brave: being ok with being Gryffin?   It’s harder than I imagined.  Who wants to hear about developing genuine and meaningful relationships when you’re just hoping somebody will sit by you in the cafeteria?  I know he’ll be ok, really, but it’s brought some anguish to us this week as Jason and I have lumbered along beside him on this unfamiliar path.  

It seems that with your second child, even though the landscape has changed, sometimes significantly, you have the faint memory of having been here before.  You remember that there is a steep ledge off to this side, an uphill climb around that bend. You also remember the breathtaking, blinding beauty that comes at unexpected turns so you don’t feel quite so afraid.   I’ll keep my eyes peeled now for those places in this unexplored territory with my firstborn.  We’ll get through this bend in the trail and I know the view will be all the more worth it for what we’ve crossed to get to it.  

 

Novelty

I think I might have a novel inside of me.  It feels like it is pushing its way out.  Maybe that sounds strange?  I can think of no other way to describe it, though.  It’s an idea that has been dawning on me slowly; something long latent within me that is doggedly swelling outward.  I’ve dismissed it, laughed at it, scorned it, but still it persists.

Two months ago while I was cleaning up dinner the opening lines of a book came to mind.  Just like that.  I was pushing in a chair at our table and there they were.  To whom the lines might belong, I hadn’t a clue.  I could conceive nothing of it beyond that opening notion.typewriter-coffee-cup

 

But then, two nights later, while on a car ride, there she was.  A girl.  Maybe 8, 9, 10, I wasn’t sure.  But I could see her vividly.  I remember reading somewhere that Harry Potter walked into J.K. Rowling’s mind fully formed one day while she rode the train.  I always baffled at that.  How does that happen?  I mean, really?

I honestly haven’t a clue how to go about writing a novel.  I’ve never written a work of fiction in my life, save the odd school assignment, I suppose.  It’s just never been my thing.  I fancy myself more of an Anne Lamott (indulge me, ok?) than a J.K. Rowling.

 

But something about my writing lately has felt overwhelming and I feel compelled to change my pace a little.  When you write a blog and connect it to social media, there is an urgency attached.  How many “likes” and “retweets” will this one get?  How many hits?  How many shares?  Maybe this will be the one.   Part of me wants to pull back from that pressure to write something edgy and current that can make the rounds on social media and catapult me to the pinnacle.  The pinnacle of what, I wonder?  And what then?  Maybe there is a place for me somewhere else?  Could there be a home for me in fiction?

I’m not walking away from my other writing.  I couldn’t.   But this feeling presses in and I’d like to explore it.  I so enjoy a well-written story, though, that I feel frightened; full of dread at the thought of writing something that is sure to be sub-par.  The name Zadie Smith or Olive Ann Burns comes to mind and makes me want to run for the hills.

Annie Dillard says that putting a book together is life at its most free.  So after hedging and visioning and building a scaffolding in my mind over the past two months, I wrote the opening pages of my first book this week.  So far I have to say the jury is still out on that “life at its most free” thing but I’ll keep ya posted.

Happy New Year

Another trip around the sun, friends, and now we set out once more.  A fresh start.  A clean slate and all the attendant hope that brings.

I’d like to take on the mantle of the seasoned mariner preparing to set sail.  Scouring her boat, adjusting her sails, battening down the hatches and studying the horizon so she can determine her best course.  Scrutinizing the weather and making small adjustments to her vessel so she can maximize the wind and sail steadily along on her chosen trajectory.

sailboat1

It’s time to stockpile provisions and double-check the compass.  It’s time to unfold the map and smooth it out with calloused hands.  It’s time to crosscheck the course and consider new topography.

Come!  It’s a new year!  In the words of Mark Twain, let’s throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor and catch the trade winds in our sails!

———

 

 

P.S. Lest my husband get any grand ideas about me sailing around the world, I’d like to be abundantly clear that this is a metaphor. I’ve been sailing exactly twice.

Dear White Church,

When White Christians today consider the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, I would guess that the vast majority of us look on it favorably.  I know I always have and nearly every White Christian I know does as well.   Equal rights and access for all.  All hail Martin Luther King and I Have a Dream, right?   Well, not exactly.  Did you know that White Christians and most evangelical churches were actually involved in the efforts to thwart the Civil Rights movement?    It’s true.  Churches were either actively outspoken in their opposition to the movement or simply absent from the conversation altogether.

When I was a kid my parents would always sing me happy birthday at the exact moment of my birth.  8:08am.  Every year without fail.  They would sing to my sister at 8:35am.  Every year.  But when we were in high school, my sister and I looked at our birth certificates one afternoon and discovered that the times had inadvertently been switched!  They should have been singing to me at 8:35, not 8:08, and vice versa.  My sister took it in stride but I just couldn’t believe it!  I had always been the 8:08 girl and even after seeing it in writing, I insisted that they sing to me at 8:08.  It was the story I had been told all my life and there was just no changing it.  They still, to this day, call me at 8:08am.

Most White Christians during the Civil Rights era truly believed that segregation was the way God intended things to be.  It was simply the “natural order of things” and it was the story they had been told their entire lives.  Even as millions of people, Christians included, marched and protested and rallied and said, “no, let us tell you a different story,” they just couldn’t believe it.

Now, though, we look back and say, “pshhh, how could they not see?  How could they not know?”   We know better now.  We wouldn’t get something so terribly wrong.

Would we?

Demo-photo-Black-Lives-Matter-sign-400x400

Tens of thousands of people marched in New York City this past week.   Thousands upon thousands marched in Washington, DC.  There have been dozens of other marches around the nation, including several here in Seattle.  There have been walk-outs and die-ins and rallies all across the country.  Yet the collective White Church remains either outwardly outspoken in its opposition of the #BlackLivesMatter movement or absent from the conversation altogether.  We are making the same mistake all over again.  Black people are desperately trying to tell us a different story and we will not listen.

When I was 23 one of my closest college friends lost her cousin in a car accident.  Not just any cousin.  This cousin was like a sister to her and the funeral was only 2 hours away from my house.  I was starting a new job the same day, though, and I was nervous about asking for a later start date.  I was also afraid.  I was afraid of the sadness that I would see.  I was nervous about driving alone and navigating the freeways of Los Angeles.  My presence isn’t important, I told myself.   It’s family time.  They don’t need me to be there.

Not showing up at that funeral is one of my greatest regrets.  It’s inordinately painful to recall my cowardice and my unwillingness to push through my discomfort and show up for my friend.  I had the opportunity to sit with her in her grief and I chose not to do it.  If a situation of that sort were to surface now I hope that I would be brave.  I hope that I would move heaven and earth to be there.  I hope that I would remember my grief and my repentance and my sorrow over that past failure. I hope that I would make a better choice the next time around.

Beloved Church, let’s not make the same mistake again.   We need to confess and lament our action and our inaction from 50 years ago.  We need to confess and lament that we have preserved a theology that has reinforced racial hierarchies and perpetuated systemic injustices.   To do this we need to be brave.  We need to be brave enough to stop telling ourselves the same story over and over and over again.  We need to be brave enough to consider a different story; the story being shouted from the streets of Ferguson and the sidewalk in Staten Island; from the playground in Cleveland and the Wal-Mart in Ohio.  We need to be brave enough to say, “We are sorry that we didn’t listen then.   We are listening now.”

——–

Word Art Meditation

I saw a picture posted on Facebook last night of some students at my alma mater (a small Christian college) joining the protest movement and holding signs that say, among other things, that #BlackLivesMatter.   My first response was surprise!  I didn’t expect to see that sort of support and solidarity from the predominantly White college.  But I also know that my own exploration of race began on that campus so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.  Either way, I was pleased and proud to see it.

But then I read the comments.

Let’s just say that I should have clicked “LIKE” and left it at that.

I’m sitting now on the couch in the dark by our Christmas tree thinking about Pakistan and the deflating words on that comment thread.  This has felt to me a particularly painful Advent season.  It’s hard to feel merry and bright and I’m wrestling with the hope of heaven that I wrote about last month.   Some days, some hours are so desperately dark.

I worked on this word art mediation a few weeks ago after the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision and I returned to it again this morning.   I’ve been listening to “I Need Thee Every Hour” over and over again this Fall.  It’s technically not a Christmas song but this line speaks of Advent waiting.  Come quickly, Lord.  Come quickly.

 

IMG_6875

 

This is the version I like best right now.

Advent Week 3

Week 2 was decidedly better than week 1.  Onward!  If you’ve got young kids and you don’t mind a non-committal collection of Bible translations, this might be for you!

 

Week 3 is the Week of JOY

Day 1 — Isaiah 12:6 (MSG)

“Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all!
    Let the whole earth know what he’s done!
Raise the roof! Sing your hearts out, O Zion!
    The Greatest lives among you: The Holy of Israel.”

dancingmama

Day 2 — Luke 2:8-12 (MSG)

“There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”  

shepherds

 

Day 3 — Isaiah 35:10 (NLT)

“Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
    They will enter Jerusalem singing,
    crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
    and they will be filled with joy and gladness.”

 

tajmahal

 

Day 4 — Isaiah 9:3 (MSG)

“You repopulated the nation,
    you expanded its joy.
Oh, they’re so glad in your presence!
    Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
    sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.”

gift-table-snowflakes

 

Day 5 — Psalm 47:1 (CEB)

“Clap your hands, all you people!
    Shout joyfully to God with a joyous shout!”

clapclapclap

Day 6 — Psalm 28:7 (MSG)

“Blessed be God
    he heard me praying.
He proved he’s on my side;
    I’ve thrown my lot in with him.

Now I’m jumping for joy,
    and shouting and singing my thanks to him.”

flip

The gymnast in me can’t resist this one. I have always felt so much joy in flipping.

Day 7

For the final day of the week we will look back over the week and talk about where we saw, felt or shared joy.  I’m hoping to tell the boys about my grandmother, Pat, who was known for her joy all her life.   She wrote her life story so I’d like to look up the part where she talks about her joyfulness as child and read it to the boys.  There is so much that they can live into that was set in motion by their great-grandmother.  What a gift.

pat

Music

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne

——-

Other Advent Posts

Week 1: Waiting with Kids 
Week 2: Waiting with Kids… Turns Out It’s Kinda Hard!

Waiting with Kids — Turns out it’s kinda hard!

Ok, so perhaps I don’t know my kids quite as well as I claimed last week.  We did manage to make it through our Advent readings each night (save one) last week but Jason and I nearly lost our sweet minds in the process.   It’s possible that bedtime isn’t the best time of day for lighting candles, looking at pictures on the iPad and trying to read metaphorical verse with your kids.    Just a thought.

The first night actually went really  well and I was feeling sort of smug about the whole thing.  The boys enjoyed the picture of the kid in the garden, we chatted briefly about the passage and we lit the first candle without incident.  Rockin’ it.

The next night, though, and every night following, was an all-out battle of the wills between the 4 of us.  It was NOT pretty.   Gryffin ran to the bedroom door (sometimes out the door) whenever we started to light the candles because the match-lighting made him nervous.  Isaiah, on the other hand, could not get any closer to the matches during the candle-lighting.   When I was 5, my bangs caught on fire from the Advent candles (hel-lo  Aquanet) and I spent the entire season with singed tips on my forehead.  Needless to say, Isaiah makes me particularly nervous this year.

Both boys would then proceed to bounce around their bedroom or roll around on the floor in their underwear while Jason and I tried to talk about hope and the baby Jesus and blah, blah, blah.  I don’t know how many times Jason said, “Boys!  Sit down!  Attenta-focus on Mama!” while I tried in vain to explain what it means to “walk in the land of shadows.”

Do you know how much kids their age are able to understand metaphors?    Not a bit.  Not one single bit.   So in between telling the boys not touch the glass votives and not to dig their fingernails into the Christ candle, we attempted to explain “shepherd-rule” and “Daughter Zion.”

And do you know how you feel just before bedtime when your kids are 4 and 6?   DONE.  You feel done and any hope you had earlier in the day of explaining things like “shepherd-rule,” (which I still can’t even grasp) with any amount of patience is out the window.  WHO ON EARTH CARES ABOUT SHEPHERD-RULE JUST GO TO BED.  Lord, have mercy.

It wasn’t a total fail.  The pictures were a big hit most nights and the boys ran right over in reverent awe when they saw the glow of the iPad.  Honestly, I think at this age, you could light a candle, look at a picture and call it a day.  But I pressed on with the Scripture passages this week because… well, because SCRIPTURE.  Isn’t that kind of the point?   I’m hoping that more specifically connecting the images to the passage this week will give us a little more head way.  We’ll see.   I’m not holding my breath!

 

Week 2 is the Week of PEACE

Day 1 — Psalm 29:11 (MSG)

“God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace.”

 

liftingweights

Day 2 — Isaiah 26:3-4 (CEV)

“The Lord gives perfect peace
    to those whose faith is firm.
 So always trust the Lord
because he is forever
    our mighty rock”

 

krishnasbutterball

Salavankuppam, Tamil Nadu, India

Day 3  — Isaiah 55:12-13 (MSG)

“So you’ll go out in joy,
    you’ll be led into a whole and complete life.
The mountains and hills will lead the parade,
    bursting with song.
All the trees of the forest will join the procession,
    exuberant with applause.
No more thistles, but giant sequoias,
    no more thornbushes, but stately pines—
Monuments to me, to God,
    living and lasting evidence of God.”

 

aspens

Day 4  — Isaiah 26:12 (NLT)

Lord, you will grant us peace;
    all we have accomplished is really from you.

 

triathlonHehe, remember when I did a triathlon!

 

Day 5  — Isaiah 54:10 (MSG)

For even if the mountains walk away
    and the hills fall to pieces,
My love won’t walk away from you,
    my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart.”
    The God who has compassion on you says so.

 

JAI-NZ02004

Day 6  — Isaiah 9:6 (CEB)

A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

 

motherchild

 

Music

I listened to the song I picked last week a grand total of once.   This week’s pick is Silent Night by Pentatonix.   The “dawn of redeeming grace” connotes peace to me and the in-breaking of shalom.

 

Activity

Yeah, there was no baking last week.    We did talk about how we could offer hope to someone sad and the boys said they wanted to give people hugs.  That’s about as far as we got on the kinesthetic learning.    I’ll get on it for this week just as soon I as I figure out that shepherd-rule thing.