Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Response: What It Means To Be Bette

I went to AfterEllen today and saw this post about Bette's "blackness" and "The L Word." Since it seems posting comments isn't allowed and since I find some of the things the writer says interesting, I am very interested in discussing some of her issues and points raised.

I have written a bit, both in my blog and elsewhere, about problems I have with "The L Word." There are more problems with the show than just Bette's character, and a lot of people brush those problems off as it's TV. That's certainly true, but that doesn't mean we can't point out problems with it and hope for more progressive storylines. Race is one of my biggest problems with the show, and maybe if minorities weren't handled so poorly on the show many of us queer minority females wouldn't still feel the need for a show about queer minority females. Since I've said most of what I've wanted to say in other posts about my problems with the show, I'm going to stick more strictly to some thoughts I had upon reading the post on AE.

I'm not exactly sure what she's angry about or why she jumps to so many conclusions about what people who have a problem with the portrayal of Bette mean or would like to see. She talks about us ranting, but I've really only seen her ranting, not to mention being condescending. I don't see how the quote from blac(k)ademic is a rant. She's analyzing the character, and she's perfectly allowed to do that on her blog.
Have any of these ranters walked in bi-racial shoes?

Yes--me, actually.
From behind these hazel eyes being bi-racial isn't easy.

Well...neither is being "100% black." They're actually both pretty damn shitty, more or less so depending on what you're mixed with, how light you are, what kind of features you have and what race you're perceived to be.
I can see how the writers of the L Word would have a hard time finding a way to express both Bette's sides.

I can't...unless, of course, they are writers who have little to no real knowledge of what they're writing about, which I truly believe is the case here. One of my philosophies in life is, don't talk about things you don't know anything about. See, my being biracial and being a writer, I could write about the experience. I do that a little bit with my blog and when I comment on other blog topics related to that issue.
Being a black cuban, finding a place that you fit is often a tiring task. In America, you aren't really considered black because you are cuban, and you aren't considered hispanic because you are have African ancestry and your darker skin. Delving even deeper, when you look for a place in the white community, there is still something missing. It's hard enough without people making it even harder.

The one thing I absolutely don't want to do when I write about any experience of mine is make it sound like a sob story. These things that she has described above are facts of life for so many biracial people, not to say she's not stating them as simple facts as opposed to a sob story...even though I interpreted the fact that she prefaced that statement with "being bi-racial isn't easy" and her anger as making that statement more sob story-ish. But, like I said, other blacks have it difficult because of race, although I do think biracial blacks go through some entirely different issues on top of experiencing what "100% blacks" experience.
What would make these viewers happy? Should Bette attend a weekly "Sistah Talk" meeting to "identify" properly with her blackness? Would she have truly been a better love interest for Tasha simply because she is half-black?

All I really ask of the show is if they are going to have an explicitly biracial black character, they need to do something with that--otherwise, what's the point of her character being biracial? To show how biracial blacks flock straight to white people only and almost never think about the fact that they are part-black, too? I'm not sure I've ever known any biracial blacks who are that one-dimensional, even though many of us seem that way on the surface. And I think the feeling of not fitting in with one, the other or both races is one huge reason why so many biracial blacks seem like Bette on the surface, among many other issues. The thing about that is, there are so many "100% blacks" who are exactly the same--don't feel like they fit in racially and don't associate with/date blacks.

Since this is something that seems to be ignored time and time again on TV, I feel like this character--among many other characters, such as Moira/Max--could have so much more depth and much more interesting storylines if the writers knew what they were doing with various identities aside from the lesbian identity...but, unfortunately, they don't. They try to do way too much--depict blacks, latinas, butches, transgendereds, bisexuals, heterosexuals, etc, on top of more general storylines--and that contributes to their failing miserably, along with the fact that the show seems to be primarily run by white lesbians who don't really know anything about many of these identities other than what they shallowly observe in everyday life. When writers try to do too much, they can only develop shallow storylines and characters. They can't give everything the attention it really needs. And, let's face it, this show's writers are way more interested in lesbian romance and sex than issues and identities.

My issue is not wanting Bette to be "blacker." I simply want her character filled out more and for race to be dealt with on more than just a superficial level, thrown out there every now and then, then forgotten again. Absolutely not should Bette be with Tasha or speak ebonics. There are sophisticated, intelligent, professional, standard English-speaking black women, of which I am one. That's fine to show on TV. I do have a problem with Bette only having white friends (I don't really count a sister as a friend, and she wasn't really friends with Tasha) and mainly white love interests, though. She lives in LA. LA is multicultural, as is she. How does someone like that in that kind of environment find herself constantly surrounded by white people?

If she were white, I'd understand better--but she's not, and that's kind of the point some of us "ranters" would like to make. In real life...the only kind of blacks who are around that much diversity and still wind up with white person after white person are the blacks who try to wind up with white person after white person. And if that's Bette's case, show that issue, show her struggling with her racial identity, because a lot of blacks--biracial and "100%"--do try to stay away from blacks or choose white friends because they feel they have more in common with whites than blacks. Don't just act like race is not an issue at all, like it doesn't exist...because if there's one thing on TV I'm tired of seeing, it's that.

We all know race matters. I would be happy if just one TV show arrived on TV that actually acknowledged that. As a black person and as a biracial person, I would like to see myself and more of the issues I actually experience reflected in more storylines on TV. Going back to the writer's statement about trying to find a place to fit in as a black, Cuban, Hispanic or even with whites--I know all about that, save the Cuban/Hispanic part, because I don't really have problems fitting in with French people. I react to it very differently, though--it's not a sore spot for me. I think us biracial blacks have gotten a reputation as being people who are unstable, very unhappy because of our mixed backgrounds, don't know to handle it, etc.

Seriously--I think several things, including realizing that the majority of blacks contend with not fitting in with blacks and whites at various points throughout life, and having the right kind of parents, have helped me escape from completely being able to relate to a lot of mixed kids. I don't fit into various communities for so many reasons, and there's a big part of me that is glad most of the time that I don't, because they are too confining and too narrowminded. That's just not how I want to be. I think life would be easiest if I did fit in with white people, out of all my identities, but I definitely don't care enough about it to ignore or downplay being black because that's just reality for me. I...am...black.

And, frankly, I don't understand people of any race who worry about fitting in with blacks, Latinos, etc, because, realistically, being white or more like white people gets you farther in life...which is why I say I think my life would be easiest fitting in with them. So, for me, I have black, Asian and white friends, and I'm not going to be anything more or less for them in terms of racial identity just because I'd have something to gain or lose by being "whiter" or "blacker," just like I'm not going to stop expressing my "offensive" opinions to keep from pissing people off or come out of the closet to please gay people. Simply put, I'm going to be who I am and what makes me happy, and others should do the same. If you're not "black enough," don't worry about it. I just would like to see Bette's character deal with and/or reveal more of those kinds of issues because, in LA, I would guess she'd certainly be confronted with them.

Another thing I really understand that helps me is nobody ever really fits in. You're always different for some reason. There's always going to be someone who doesn't like you because of who you are. There are varying degrees of "blackness," so that's not my issue with Bette, Obama or any other black person. Black people don't all have to be the same way. But every black person has a take on being black, whether it's that it doesn't matter or that it matters more than anything else in the world. That's not depicted on TV, so, basically, my problem is too many racial issues are ignored on TV in general and "The L Word" is just one of many examples.

Honestly, I wish interracial dating were as easy as just seeing someone you like, hooking up and pretty much never noticing or discussing race because it's a non-issue. That just doesn't happen and it's not true that race is a non-issue, but the way TV tells it that's always how it happens. That's my honest complaint with "The L Word," "Grey's Anatomy" and other shows with interracial relationships. And, frankly, the popularity of interracial dating that leaves out black women in real life is slap-in-the-face enough without having to turn on the TV and see it on nearly every...show that has black characters, whether it's a black woman who never dates black women or black men who never date black women. Key word is "never."

I'm not ranting, because I don't care enough about that show to rant about it. I'm simply making an observation and saying what I would like a TV show to do or not do. That's my insight.