See...This is What I'm Talking About

From Jonathan Vogeler's post on Racialicious (emphasis mine):
This summer, Citibank began running an advertising campaign that features three young men embarking on a project, financed by the bank, to photograph Earth from space, using a weather balloon and off-the-shelf equipment. The advertisement taps several currents of our national mythology – independence, ingenuity, discovery, and superiority in space (which is itself an extension of our glorification of colonial conquest).

This is not an entirely fictional story. Two years ago, Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh, two Asian-American MIT students, made international headlines when they used inexpensive, readily available materials to photograph near-space orbit on a $150 budget. They describe their project here, and received national media coverage.

There is a remarkable visual similarity between the Citibank ad storyboard and the real-life project documented by Lee and Yeh on their blog. But there are a few key differences.

As you can see in the commercial..., the most obvious discrepancy is that Lee and Yeh have been replaced by two young white men and a third who appears to be African-American. Within this group there is also a clear racial dynamic: the white men initiate and execute the project, while their friend drives the vehicle and points appreciatively at their success.

America has a long history of mis-attributing credit to white men. But the specific erasure of Asian-American men is indicative of deep cultural paranoia toward the challenge that Asian-American success poses to white hegemony. If the ad were to feature the real-life heroes of this story, many white Americans may read it, not as a feat of American ingenuity, but a dangerous manifestation of their loss of power. This fear is evidenced both internationally, in apprehension toward the rising economies of Asia, and domestically, as resentment of Asian-American students at elite universities. The narrative of enterprising white men achieving success (with an assist from a person of color) is less threatening, because it reinforces the identity that white American men like to imagine for themselves.

A second, less-apparent difference between the commercial and the real story is the source of funding. Citibank positions itself in the commercial as a benevolent patron of small-scale innovation. You may have the idea, the ad says, but the big banks make it feasible. Therefore, white people have an interest in allying themselves with big banks, in the same way that Citibank is tacitly allying itself with the cultural demands of whiteness.

One of the most inspiring aspects of this story, however, is that Lee and Yeh were able to compete with NASA on a budget of only $150. They did not need a bank loan; their seed money was a $200 donation. As they describe it, the specific barrier that they faced was a lack of access to resources. They simply could not afford the expensive equipment that would be needed for near-space photography (and presumably no bank would have lended them the money). Their accomplishment was not only an expansion of scientific knowledge, but the pioneering of a technique that allowed them and others who imitate them to overcome the financial obstacles that restrict scientific access.

The story of ordinary people achieving their goals by tapping small donations and economizing is just as threatening to banks as Asian space-flight is to many white Americans. So this inspiring all-American tale of hard work and ingenuity is rewritten as an alliance between white hegemony and the banking system. Sadly, this the only version of the story that most Americans will ever hear.
See this...this is what I'm talking about. *pulls out hair*

Notice that the commercial uses the line "gain a whole new perspective" when really, there's nothing new about this perspective.  White dude allied with white system to allegedly do something others couldn't/weren't/didn't think to.

And his single black friend (because you know his character doesn't have any others) "helped."

I really would like to see our Asian siblings go the fuck off about this, because this was just excruciating.  If anyone else is wondering where the continuous white delusion comes from...it's shit like this.  This is just blatant revisionism; it is no different from when Hollywhite replaces renowned ancient peoples of color in films with white actors doing British accents.

I'm suddenly having flashbacks to an ex-friend who would roll his eyes and say dumb shit like, "Oh, yeah, America is sooooo awful.  That's why we [read: white people] have everything, and invent everything, and do just about everything.  Because we're sooooooo terrible."

Um, yes...you are.  White folks - especially the ones in America - aren't doing everything, haven't invented everything, and are basically setting up their future generations for massive disappointment.

Comments

  1. if by "invent" your ex-friend meant "take credit for or appropriate from other cultures" then yeah, white people "invented" the shit out of things throughout history.

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  2. *Inhales...exhales.*

    *rubs forehead*

    So much for that old saying "Giving credit where credit is due." White people are so egotistical about themselves that they are willing to steal credit for their own self-gratification. What the hell? What kind of shit is this?

    *Inhales, exhales, and takes blood pressure.*

    This isn't harmless revisionism for advertisement and entertainment purposes. This is white paranoia and cowardice.

    *Inhales...exhales*

    ReplyDelete
  3. Seriously, how do you get the to point in 2011 - about to be 2012 - and you can't just admit that someone else accomplished something without you and in a way you didn't think to?

    What is this shameless desperation?

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Seriously, how do you get the to point in 2011 - about to be 2012 - and you can't just admit that someone else accomplished something without you and in a way you didn't think to?"

    Girl, the more things change... We founded rock & roll, they used our music, put white models on the cover and tried to call it something new.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @ Neo-Prodigy

    Techno too. And darn your fantastic blog for not letting me post under a simple name!

    ReplyDelete
  6. *shudder* They can have techno. It needs to crawl back to the 90s and die.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Franklin. Sorry about that guy. I've had some trolls over the years. If you set up an LJ acct let me know and I'll add to the friends list.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow. Just wow. As their strangle hold on the globe weakens are they going to become increasingly delusional? Telling themselves all kinds of lies because they can't come to grips with reality? En masse delusions of grandeur. Culture vulturing at it's most blatant. If I were Asian, I would be PISSED. However, I am not surprised. They have a long and infamous history of doing this.

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  9. @ Ankh

    What? Blasphemy! Oh wait...

    Not to insult your intelligence or anything, but usually when I hear that statement it's from people who confuse New Wave, Industrial, Trance(which I don't mind too much), or House with Techno. All of which, has gotten better than the stuff from the 90's (thanks to evolving technology), but it still can't hold a candle to Techno.

    But if it's one of those things you seriously know of and dislike, then nevermind. As tastes and religion I equate with genitals. I don't insult other people's, and I don't wave mine in other people's faces...

    @Neo

    I just might have to do that, because there have been a lot of topics on your blog that have piqued my interest.

    ReplyDelete

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