In Defense of Gwyneth Paltrow, or Coming to Terms with Being Racist

I know. I’ve seen it. It’s an ad where Gwyneth Paltrow is all serene and serious-face and sporting a jaunty-yet-possibly-meant-to-evoke-tribal-two-toned-blue-colored swipe across her pale, white cheek. The caption in bold lettering at the bottom states I AM AFRICAN. Under that, it says, “Help us stop the dying. Pay for lifesaving aids drugs that can keep a child, a mother, a father, a family alive.” To me that says, Let’s stop people from dying. We all come from the same place. We are family.

I’ve heard giggles and titters and loud eye-rolling, along with outright yelling and jeering about not just this ad, but pretty much everything Gwyneth Paltrow has touched lately. And I don’t get it.

Why does a white woman joining a campaign focused on Africa get met with distain? Is it because she’s white or because she’s “Gwynnie,” as I’ve seen her widely, familiarly and condescendingly addressed, because nothing brings a person down to beneath our level faster than minimizing them with a cutesie name probably reserved for family and close friends of girls under five. If it’s because she’s white, I’ve got a big problem with that and I’ll address it below. But if its because she is who she is, have we all just turned into a large group of Regina Georges? (Shout out to Tina Fey! Holla!)

It appears to me that Gwyneth’s worst “fault” is being who she is and not apologizing for it. She’s happy and confident and beautiful and rich and enjoys her life. She talks about clothes and accessories out of the average person’s price range . (She can afford it. I bet her friends can afford it.) And she has the audacity to not say she’s sorry she’s so happy and content. Because she doesn’t apologize, we think she’s stuck-up and flaunting it. She has a great voice. Her cook book, from what I glean from my friends and the internet reviews, is fantastic. She’s been in movies we all love and won awards for her craft. She’s worked with the Save the Children fund, seems to delight in hanging out with her kids and from all accounts, has a stable marriage. I mean, if you don’t like someone, you don’t like them. There are plenty of people I don’t care for. But I don’t need to publicly jeer at them and hope they fail, either. I’ll save my jeering and gnashing of teeth for people that are actually doing hateful and hurtful things.

We all want to be happy, living in abundance, safe and confident in our own skins. Those are the things I try to teach my kids. I mean, I’m all for ribbing or joking within reason, you need to have a sense of humor about yourself. But I’m calling sour grapes.

Before this turns into a GP fan site, which is not my intent at at all, let me state that the reason this is on my radar is that I’ve watched this kind of thing happen before, it is happening now, to good friends of mine, mostly women, who succeed and don’t apologize for it. It’s like we’re still in high school. We’ve got to stop this scratching and clenching and trying to knock the happy, beautiful people down because looking at them makes us feel bad about ourselves. They’ve worked their butts off to be where they are. Good for them!

Instead of all that junk, spend your time doing something better and worthwhile like improving yourself and your own life and get all those things you wish you had. The grass always looks greener, especially if someone looks like they have no problems, but everyone is struggling in their own way. Everyone is doing the best they can. Nobody’s life is a cake walk. And all that noise just takes away from the important stuff in life.

Now on to what I really want to talk about.

This I AM AFRICAN ad campaign, currently spearheaded by Alicia Keys, for Keep a Child Alive has other “non-black” people involved. The list includes David Bowie, Elijah Wood, Sarah Jessica Parker, Liv Tyler, Sting, Elizabeth Hurley, Richard Gere, Gisele Bundchen, Lucy Liu and Heidi Klum. Are we angry and disappointed in all of them or just Gwyneth? What are we saying, that only black people belong in the campaign? Because that is, I guess, “normal” and “good?” Not silly or distasteful or outrageous or arrogant, which are some of the terms I’ve heard in connection to Gwyneth’s ad.

There is a joke rebuttal ad that made the rounds aimed at Gwyneth for joining this campaign to fight against aids. It shows a beautiful African woman in traditional dress and has the words I AM GWYNETH PALTROW as the caption. And underneath that, there is paragraph which includes, “Help us Stop the Shameless famewhores from using the suffering of those dying from aids in Africa to bolster pathetic careers now that they are no longer dating Brad Pitt and no one gives a shit about them.” For me, the message is- don’t try. Don’t try because you are famous and because you are white and because you live in America.

By the way, David Bowie, whom I have mad love for, was not met with derision when his ad came out because he is married to Iman and already considered a humanitarian. So the problem with Gwyneth is that she is married to a white guy and isn’t considered a humanitarian? So she shouldn’t try? How does one become a humanitarian, anyway? Oh, by joining campaigns and becoming ambassadors and doing what one can? Weird. If only Gwyneth had tried that…….

I’m not saying any of the ads in this campaign are perfect. They show tribal paint and dress in a way that I find beautiful but some have said is mocking or inappropriate. I find it beautiful not because I’m secretly mocking Africans and the way they dress. I find it beautiful because I love color and culture and photography and appreciate the qualities we all have that make us individual and unique and tribal dress and jewelry is beautiful to me. Will you be mad or laugh at me because I don’t find it offensive as so many people have clearly pointed out it is or call me a racist?

I posit that if my finding it beautiful is offensive to you, it is more helpful to help me understand why, not yell at me and call me stupid and racist. I may be simply uneducated in the ways these images are harmful. I may not be savvy to the undercurrents and in that way, naive and in your opinion, racist or elitist. So educate me. Tell me how you feel. Let’s talk about it in a way that furthers the conversation, not shuts it down, leaving everyone defensive.

Another criticism of this campaign is the idea that by using the words I AM AFRICAN in association with an AIDS campaign, we are saying that Africa is a pit and *only* a pit of AIDS. Nothing else.

People, one organization cannot cover all things. They are more effective when they get serious about one aspect of a problem. It does not mean that said organization does not care about any other problems. Does that mean they shouldn’t try? If we tell a charity they should give up before they start because if they do try to do something, just one thing, someone is going to be upset or dissatisfied or worse, offended because they didn’t cover XYZ, we are sending the wrong message.

There will always be more things to worry about and campaign for and that is good because it means that we as a race keep learning and seeing things in a new way and hopefully finding ways to target problems and help each other. Hopefully someone will decide to do a campaign for causes not currently covered. One can only hope those campaigns will be memorable enough to spur discussion and elicit help as much as this one has. The answer cannot be that they never should have tried because they didn’t say the wording right or the photo isn’t perfect. Let’s be thankful for what people are trying to do and if you see something not currently covered, do that thing! Do your part to help where you can.

There are other issues at stake, like the Big White American Country sending money to the Poor Black (Country thanks for catching the typo, @Carolynedgar) Continent, causing more issues with the local infrastructure. I hear that. I worked with a non-profit with ties to Africa and saw many things that did not go how they ought to have gone. Until government is no longer corrupt, we could shovel mountains of cash to Africa and it wouldn’t better the infrastructure in any large, major way. In fact, it will probably make things worse.

Let’s put that aside for a moment. What about the “small” ways? What about the woman and child who received vaccines, food and other care because a charity provided it? That won’t seem like such a small thing to them, or frankly, to me. Is it better for them to go without because we haven’t figured out the best delivery system yet? Horseshit. Those people deserve the help. They are our family. Shame on the officials with means and ways in government that don’t change policy to truly help their poverty stricken people because they are corrupt. Shame on them, not shame on their people. Those people (all people!) deserve help and we should be taking care of our own. Let’s keep taking care of them in any and all ways we can while we work on the bigger problems.

I don’t want to try and “save” Africa or any other country. Africa doesn’t need saving. It is a country filled with smart, beautiful, competent people in the state and local levels who are already (and have been for years) busting their butts to help where they can. It is a disservice to them all to not acknowledge that. Africa needs partners with resources willing to make fair trade agreements so they can help themselves continue to grow. I don’t think Keep a Child Alive contradicts that in any way. And the more “white people” and ANY people who get involved along the way, the better.

Yes, I’m white. And I’m assuming there will be many people that suggest this is not my business and I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m white and come from a place of privilege. But, please listen – if it’s not my business, then you discount not only me, but oceans of non-black people and if this campaign and ones like it are not meant for us, then who are they trying to reach? And if someone like me can’t bring this up and talk about it in a way that is nonthreatening to all sides, how will we ever further this conversation at all?

Please don’t scream at me that I’m racist and I don’t understand. On many fronts, I’ve come to realize and am currently accepting the fact I’m passively racist and always have been. This is the result of poor education, inexperience and naiveté, not blatant disregard for others because of their skin color and excludes intentional racism, aggression and marginalizing. Those are the easy to recognize kinds of racism. I’m guilty of subtle yet pervasive types such as never thinking twice about how my day-to-day life might benefit from simply being white and taking for granted that life will always give me a fair shake, the benefit of the doubt. I’ve asked people I find beautiful and exotic looking what their ethnicity is, never realizing how rude that might sound. (I think it’s the natural interviewer in me. I just really like to know things about people.) And more than once I’ve touched someone’s hair. Uninvited. I know. But to be fair, I do that to people of all races, including white. (But I didn’t do it EVEN 1 TIME at the last conference I attended, so yay for me, I guess? Oh look at me, learning already…)

I want to learn. I want to understand. I’m looking for ways to educate myself.

I’m ready to listen. Tell me how you feel.

29 Responses

  1. How do I feel? Speechless. I feel speechless.

    You have said it all and more.

    I have always felt uncomfortable with attacks on celebrities who using their soapboxes to affect social change. What a waste to have the voice and reach of a Matt Damon and not be able to attend a pro-teacher rally because, hey, he’s “just an actor.” Or for Heather Armstrong not being able to try and gain attention for women’s mortality causes because hey, she’s “just a blogger.”

    I wish we could just support good people trying to do good and stop being so fucking cynical about every little thing.

  2. I think sometimes the issue with things like these is for people to say “We’re all the same.” It sounds nice and good for us to say that, but I think at the same time saying that we’re all the same ignores the fact that throughout history Africa and Africans have been treated very poorly by whites over and over again. I think it also ignores the fact that in America (and other places around the world I would assume) Gwenyth Paltrow can walk out of an airport and have her pick of taxis while that isn’t always true for Jada Pinkett Smith.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but those are the issues with this campaign that I have. I think the intention is good, but I think it was probably conceived by some priveleged people trying to help those “poor people in Africa.”

  3. I do get pretty eye-rolly about Gwyneth Paltrow. She didn’t really hit my radar screen until someone pointed me to the article on her site about how to do it all as a parent and one of the suggestions was to have the fishmonger visit your home to save time. I still howl about that when I think of it – me ringing up the guys in the butcher shop at Vons and saying “My good man, daresay you drop by this afternoon around 3 with a selection of whatever is freshest?” I think it was just so beautifully clueless that it pushed me over the edge into being a person who makes fun of GP.

    Another part of it is that she is so clearly among the elect. Even as a white person, she is so clearly whiter and blonder and taller and thinner. She will always be the winner. It doesn’t matter at what. The debate team, volleyball, Miss Teen Wherever. She’s going to win.

    She’s the girl you know your boyfriend is going to fall for. She doesn’t even have to do anything. She just has to BE there. She’s the girl who doesn’t even want your boyfriend and he can’t get her, but now that he’s seen her, he can’t even consider being with you when this princess exists in the world.

    It doesn’t help that she shows up in every single thing I like, from food shows to Glee. Gwyneth is busy having the Fabulous Life, the charmed life that no one else seems to get. She’s fabulous, I’m not – I get it, Gwyneth.

    So yeah, it’s jealousy and it is juvenile and it is probably beneath me. But there it is.

    So if I make fun of her for her stance on fishmongers or on appearing with a silly caption below a silly photo, well, that’s where it comes from. It has nothing to do with whether the thing she is doing is a good cause or not. She’s fun to make fun of, maybe because nothing I can do will tarnish her fabulousness. She has more than enough to go around.

  4. To be fair, I recently got called on the carpet for something disparaging I said about Matt Damon. By Liz, actually! (Hiya, Mom-101. You know I love you.) But I was okay with that and it was a crappy educational day/moment for me and I should want to be a better person.

    But for all the things SueBob just mentioned I have to say that I, too, get “stuck” on certain things about people, Gwyneth in particular. And I’ve owned up to the jealousy/juvenile part of it. I just get to a point where I can’t listen to them once they’ve uttered a thoughtless comment. For me, it was the “you MUST use champagne vinegar in this recipe, nothing else will do” and I thought, “Gee. Who are you talking to? I can’t afford that.”

    So, more than just jealousy, it’s a financial thing that I struggle with because of how out of touch she can be so, yes, it makes me question her (motives? I guess) when she’s that out of touch and wants to join a campaign.

    I am flawed. This is a battle I fight with myself. I know this already.

    But I appreciate you challenging me on it. I can hear it better from friends like you and Liz.

  5. It reminds me of that thing after 9/11 — “we are all New Yorkers.” We’re not, of course, but we all felt tremendous pain and sympathized with everyone in and around Ground Zero. So I think it is with this Africa campaign, it’s an extension of sympathy and support, but yoking it to a group of well-photographed celebrities, black or white, is just weird to me, and it derails the conversation.

    But I liked the thing where Gwyneth was eating her way through Spain with Mario Batali, that was fun.

  6. I think people will see things how they want to see them. Always. I think people will be offended by something just because they can, to tell the truth. I think there are people who will yell racism where it doesn’t exist and not say a word where it does.

    Personally, I would never consider an ad campaign with white Americans promoting charity to Africa as racist. Honestly, it would never cross my mind to think of it that way. If people are annoyed that rich white people are working to fix some of the bad things in the world by using their money and celebrity, then they are missing the point entirely.

    I have to believe that those people in Africa who are receiving life-saving drugs or other things they need probably don’t care WHO they come from or what ethnicity they are. I have to believe if a purple alien arrived offering them something to save their families, they wouldn’t give a crap.

    As far as Gwyneth? I like her. Yes, she’s rich and privileged, but she has worked pretty hard for what she has. I watched a show about her life once and it seemed to me that while she had it good growing up, she never rested until she got where she wanted to be. That is admirable in any person, celeb or not.

  7. I don’t think the opinion that GP is white or that she using her celebrity has much at all to do with the criticism she’s faced. I’d would say she she hasn’t come across as genuine to a great number of people.

  8. I think you need to learn the definition of racism. I think that sharing your opinion and worrying about derision from commenters about this particular subject and being called a ‘racist,’ is silly.

    This isn’t about racism, as Gwyneth has not done anything ( in the public eye that I’m aware of) that can be constituted as that. What is is, is condensing. But that isn’t her fault.

    Unfortunately, Gwyneth does represent everything that a woman ‘should’ be in westernized society and I agree that some resent her for that, but I don’t think that this is t her problem. It’s ours because we buy into it.

    Honestly? I don’t think you understand. You are being hyper-sensitive, and patronizng and in that, when you seem to be bracing yourself for screaming black militants to barrage you in the comment section, which shows that you know very little about why people get upset when there are real and serious examples of racism in popular culture and in ‘real life.’

  9. I live under a rock that’s on fire, so this is actually the first I’ve heard about this campaign. It seems like it was done with good intentions for a good cause and I’m ok with that.
    The Celebs being out of touch comments though? I TOTALLY get that. When I was first pregnant with twins a read a book about twin parenting authored by Jane Seymore. (Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman)
    Holy gods, that thing was awful. Having problems finding clothes that fit? Have your costume designer whip you up something!
    And make sure to hire a night nanny as well as a day nanny so you can get some rest!!
    Seriously, what planet are you living on? I’m floored by how far removed from reality some of these people seem to be.

  10. I would dislike that ad no matter what white celebrity was featured. Caring about a cause, working in support of an issue that’s personally important to you (whether it’s in vogue or not) – I respect that no matter how well known the champion(s) may be. But co-opting an identity, no matter how good the champion’s intentions may be, bothers me.

    For example, I was a huge champion of the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. It was an extremely personally important issue to me. But even though I served – and had been asked, before DADT, whether I had ever had same-sex relations – I would never equate my experience with DADT to that of gay service members’ experience with DADT.

    And frankly, to Suebob’s point above, Gwyneth consistently and consciously elevates herself above the rest of us – not just in her profession, but in motherhood as well – such that when she endeavors to demonstrate her humanity, we mere mortals have difficulty buying it.

  11. Julie brings up an interesting point for me and that is that I would never co-opt myself in an I AM GAY ad just to show my solidarity. I would do it in a different way entirely, because that would be ridiculous.

  12. I think Eden makes a great point about the I’M A NEW YORKER campaign. I don’t find this one in the slightest big offensive. Maybe it’s because I was born tall and blonde, so I don’t hold those things against her any more than I hold shiny easy to manage hair against the people who were born with that while I have to (oh the horror) use a curling iron… but I sure as hell can’t afford champagne vinegar for every day recipes either…and I still sure as hell don’t begrudge Gweneth wanting to help sick children.

  13. It’s about time someone had the courage to come to Gwyneth’s defense.

    No, I’m kidding. My problem with her is that she’s trying to relate and she’s just not even close. I don’t begrudge her success, beauty, poise, privilege, but fame or no fame, we would not be friends in real life.

  14. I’ve seen those ads and I don’t particularly like any of them. I don’t appreciate anyone who isn’t actually African putting on what is supposed to be some sort of tribal paint saying “I Am African.” So, Iman, yes, David Bowie, no. Even Alicia Keyes, no. What would have been wrong with each person painting the flag of the country of their origin on their faces with a caption saying “I am human” with the rest of that copy?

  15. I rolled my eyes at this campaign when I first saw the photos, and not because of Gwyneth. I rolled my eyes at the idea of Alicia Keys repping “Africa” by letting her hair go curly and poufy and putting some random tribal paint on her light skin. I rolled my eyes at photographs of other celebrities wearing sincere expressions and some kind of tribal face paint. I rolled my eyes at celebrities once again saving “Africa,” as if Africa were a school in the South Bronx that could be saved with some good fundraising and by restoring music programs.

    It was not until I read this post that I realized the “I Am African” campaign wasn’t geared towards famine or hunger or poverty or any of the other ills from which “Africa” usually needs to be saved. This time, celebrities are trying to save “Africa” – particularly African children – from AIDS. This is a well-meaning campaign, and it will no doubt benefit many children who otherwise might suffer. I wouldn’t call the campaign, or the photographs – many of which are artistically beautiful – racist. I would say that representing Africa by resorting to vague tribal imagery is troubling. The message about human origins beginning in Africa is a nice one, but the imagery used by the campaign detracts from its overall focus and message.

    My issue with this campaign is less about race and more about myopia. The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a wonderful TED talk about the “single story,” and she talks about the “single story” of Africa as filled with beautiful zoo animals and poor people. As an African-American, I grew up with the same “single story” of Africa as most Americans. Earlier this year, I took my first trip to Africa – to South Africa. I was pleasantly surprised to find Johannesburg to be as cosmopolitan as any American or European city I’ve visited. There were animals in South Africa, of course – in parks and reserves. Seeing Africa as thriving cities and suburbs, not just mud huts and savannahs, reinforced what Adichie writes of in her stories and speaks of in her TED talk, and what my Nigerian, Ghanaian and South African friends had told me for years. And while the countries of Africa certainly have their share of problems, most Africans don’t view their continent as perpetually in need of saving. Especially not by celebrities.

    The Gwyneth Paltrow parody ad was, to me, less of a commentary on Gwyneth Paltrow per se, and more emblematic of a certain weariness with these types of celebrity “save the continent” campaigns. Perhaps if we began viewing Africa as a place populated by smart, empowered people, instead of as a place filled with starving children and barely literate adults, we could create programs to spur real investments in infrastructure that could help overcome some of the lingering problems that plague many countries on the continent. This would do more to “save Africa” than anything a celebrity has tried so far.

  16. I applaud you for blogging about race. I think we all have been trying our best to discuss things like this lately, and it’s wonderful to see. However I’m almost afraid to answer any of your questions or even really get into it, because I feel like I should preface everything with ‘ok, don’t freak out but…’

    You are asking for answers and questions and discussion but have positioned it so I feel like I need to walk on eggshells with my answers… and I can totally understand why. The discussion we’ve been having in the blogosphere have been harsh. People don’t know what to say, or how to say it, and they realize no matter what they say…they are going to get pummeled by someone for something. That is just how it seems to go lately.

    I saw the parody before I saw the real ad. It strikes me as snobby. As patronizing. As really condescending. Do we want people to want to help? Of course. Do I want to hear it from Paltrow- claiming to be something she clearly couldn’t identify with if she tried- uh, no. This wasn’t just a celebrity trying to bring attention to a cause, this was an uncomfortable attempt at humanizing something from someone who none of us seem to believe can bring us that ‘real’ness.

    And with all things race related, I firmly believe as people of privilege, we need to come at the subject always with humble words. Using the imagery they used, there was nothing humble about it.

  17. I don’t care who’s delivering the message – so long as it gets delivered. It is our duty as human beings to give a rats ass about other human beings. The suffering she is trying to bring awareness to is very real and very horrifying.

    I make every effort with these types of campaigns to see past the person delivering the message and actually HEAR it.

    I find GP off-putting on several levels. This isn’t one of them.

  18. Such a great post. Even better comments. I think it goes to show that some people are waking up to issues that have been in front of us for… years and years…

    I took offense to a few things you said (meaning I went on the defensive) I took more offense to things some of your commenters said. But the point I want to make is this: Wow! True discussion. True, no holds barred, people talking to people. Some of your post and your comments even included “common sense”.

    I hate to invoke the Golden Rule here but geez people… If I had all the money and good looks and opportunity to make someone elses life better and I squandered that opportunity wouldn’t that make me a worse person than if I used my influence to help others?

    I wish “Common Sense” was much more common for us all

  19. I saw the ad and was immediately troubled by the facepaint. The necklace was just cool and could totally be a fashion statement had she not screamed I AM AFRICAN across the bottom. Which she’s not. I think that’s the issue I have with the ad, for her or for anyone else who is not actually African. And dressing up in someone else’s cultural outfits is always a little odd to me and looks off unless you’ve been invited to do it as part of a festival in that culture in which everyone else is also wearing the outfit. I think it’s odd when people dress up in kimonos, for instance, or Native American headdresses or kilts. There’s an element of “I’m putting on a costume for kicks” that sort of rubs me wrong, like the Cleveland Indians’ mascot does. At what point are you sort of infantilizing the outfit and then by extension the culture, you know?

    So this campaign, the claiming that she is African when she’s not (nor is Richard Gere, I’m pretty sure, etc.) is just … WEIRD. And I could see that offending actual Africans. Especially since it’s African she’s claiming to be, not Nigerian or something. There’s nothing we can compare it to. It’s not like someone saying “I AM AMERICAN” when they’re not. It’s more like saying “I AM NORTH AMERICAN” which — I don’t know. I’m confused and sort of pissed off with the tribal paint, really. And the claim to be something you’re not. I understand she and the entire campaign is trying to help, but the presentation of the message in our society is every bit as important as the actual message.

    I went to see what the folks at The Root had to say, and I I liked this explanation:

    “The angle that the organization has chosen to bring attention to this important issue is nothing short of bizarre. The strongest critics will likely call it disrespectful of African culture. But our only issue is that it seems to require a lot of unnecessary mental gymnastics to connect “We all have African DNA. Even white people. Check out my facepaint!” to “So we have a good reason to care about AIDS in Africa” to “So, let’s help people there get the medication they need.”

    How about skipping all that and giving people credit for caring about other human beings — no other genetic link required? “I am human” would have worked just fine.”

    I do think had she killed the facepaint and just said I AM HUMAN than none of the backlash would be happening.

    I’m glad we’re having these conversations, though, because breaking down our popular culture and media is the first step to understanding passive racism. I always try to put things in the context of this: If another race had been in power for the last gazillion years and I were in the minority, would I be offended by the ad with a person in the privileged race wearing a kilt and saying I AM IRISH? When I knew damn well they weren’t and they hadn’t been particularly great to the Western Europeans for the past gazillion years? I’d think, no, you know, that’s sort of patronizing. Another way to think of it is a man dressed in heels saying I AM A WOMAN in support of ovarian cancer. You know, the thought is nice, but just no.

  20. I can’t relate to Ms. Paltrow. Her upbringing, her socio-economic status, heck, even her diet is not something I can identify with. What I can relate to with her, is her wanting to try, to help, to contribute.

    I’m not saying I find the ad beautiful, or the campaign successful, (and like others before me who wrote much more eloquently, there is something that makes me inherently uncomfortable with the co-opting of identities for a cause campaign) but the fact that she is willing to put herself out there for public criticism all in the hopes of raising awareness for something she (hopefully) supports, well I can respect that. Even admire it.

    That said, she still annoys me with her perfect perfectness. I find solace in the fact my husband is ridiculously better looking than hers. Tis petty but man, it eases the jealousy. Wink.

  21. Africa is not a country. It’s a continent. A diverse, enormous continent where many people, if not the majority, do not wear facepaint.

  22. Leah, I love this amazing and thoughtful post and all the great conversation in the comments. All of this is worth talking about for a lot of reasons, including the whole face paint thing.

    As you know, PunditGirl is Asian. And we’re happy that she has a community that’s somewhat diverse and a school where diversity of all kinds is sought after. But when she was in first grade, one of the staff dressed up for Halloween as a “China girl” (the words of the staff person, not mine), complete with the “coolie” hat. While there is an argument to be made about whether dressing up to look like the stereotype of another culture is an appropriate Halloween costume for an adult, this woman also painted her face yellow and used black eye makeup to make her eyes appear to be Asian.

    Oh yes, she did. And when I approached her and the school administration about my concerns of a white person painting their face yellow, giving themselves almond-shaped eyes with makeup and telling the kids in the school that she was trying to be Chinese, well, I sort of had a big problem with that. Interestingly, because it was Halloween, they saw no problem with it and we, as a family, barely got an apology for something that made our Chinese daughter feel uncomfortable and made her wonder why her skin tone was fair game as part of a costume.

    While it’s great when celebrities come together with others to work for worthwhile charities and causes, I have to ask this — was the face paint really necessary to achieve the goal or was it a merely a way to sensationalize the project? I would bet that if any of us had tried a similar stunt (and while it’s a good cause, the whole face paint thing is a stunt), we would be called out in a major way because we are not celebrities lending our names to a cause. We would be viewed as out of touch publicity seekers.

  23. I just want to say, wow how I love this discussion. So many smart people saying so many smart things, and disagreeing respectfully. Thanks for kicking it off Leah.

    More like this would be a good thing for the world.

  24. Thanks, Liz (and everyone!). It was kind of scary posting this but I’m so glad I did. Having this conversation is so important and I see this as a jumping off point for future conversations here and elsewhere. I plan to keep exploring this part of my growth and education regarding subtle racism. I’m so glad so many people want to participate.

  25. The campaign works. Everyone here is talking and thinking about the issues of AIDS in Africa. Yes, it is oversimplified for our Western style of consumption, because most of us know only the “Single Story” Africa, which is a false fairy-tale. Gwyneth Paltrow is just a person who was born into the right family with the right talents, and she’s trying to do the right thing. Of course she has a biased perspective, she’s never known poverty, ugliness, or destitution. But she’s a real human and I bet she’s felt desperation, sorrow, joy, and fear. I don’t think much about her because I’m busy living my own life, and she never seems to want to do anything harmful, she doesn’t do anything scandalous, and she’s not Kardashian famous – you know, famous but without talent, and frightfully self-possessed. She’s having a good life, and so am I. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever run into problems or that everyday is perfect, and I bet it’s the same for her. I dunno. I just got bigger fish to fry that GP. *shrug*

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