Following on from The best thing a woman can hope for.
On a larger scale, now. I think about famous people and how they may be held up as representing their race or culture. Are they representing us well?
Well, I think the first question there should be: representing us to whom? Because, as much as it is about pride in One of Us becoming successful and well-known, there’s an anxiety about whether they will represent the minority well to outsiders. Implicitly, the representation is to white outsiders in particular. That’s why normative, whiteness-friendly qualities are valued. That’s why the ability to participate in white and Western social codes – and looking as white as possible, in clothes or body, if you can – is so valued.
Valuing qualities that go towards whiteness is about the desire to become acceptable, and those are the qualities prominent – representative – members of minority groups are meant to embody. It’s not really about representing the qualities of that group, although I’m not too sure that that would be desirable or possible, either, falling into the racist quagmire of basic racial attributes as it may.
How much of it having a racial role model is about presenting ourselves to ourselves, and how much about presenting a palatable image to (white) others? Why are celebrities of colour so often held up to be representing their people rather than acting as individuals? White people get to be individuals, where non-white people are always under pressure to represent their whole group.
Certainly in contexts like mine, white-dominated, with a mix of backgrounds and cultures about, there’s a game we have to play. We have to act in certain ways to not betray: to show that we’re traditional enough to be properly One of Us, but not in a way that will alienate others; don’t fit stereotypes, but learn to take a laugh/joke if you fall in. And so on. The double bind.