Thursday, February 04, 2010

if i was white i'd bore myself to death

This was interesting (in that way that makes you sit back and go, 'Huh.')

This piece in RaceWire posits that the LATimes' method of 'personalizing' their paper to individual readers suffers from what the folks over here call the 'white racial frame.'  (The writer doesn't actually use that term but I'm sure that's what she meant.)

From Hing's piece:
'...I should have known from the get-go, the whole thing is a gussied up marketing survey. And because, as a woman of color, I am not part of their marketing plan. The whole system is powered by Visual DNA, a company with “patented technology proven to increase Revenue Per User.” Visual DNA’s tagline is: “We transform unknown users into known people.” Only problem is, they’re not interested in knowing anyone whose goals, values and interests fall anywhere outside of a very narrow range of people.
The whole exercise is the most heterosexist, white, male, corporate America view of the world.'

(Sounds like the white racial frame to me.)

But I was a little skeptical - I mean, I've taken marketing surveys before. I have yet to meet a survey that acts like a scalpel encoded with your DNA. However, almost immediately, I felt...nonplussed. The choices they gave me to best represent my possible interests, values, issues, self-images, goals, ideas were so frakking White!  I mean, really.  You're going to ask me what's great about America and all I see are white men in suits, skyscrapers, American flags, white servicemen, white people silhouetted against a sunset and then a bunch of latinos holding an American flag? What the hell is that?

So I picked the most innocuous thing I could that didn't scream Mitt Romney:

A blank hand with a computer. This is what's great about America to me because they didn't have any frakking women of color to choose from.

When they asked me about my issues, all I had to choose from were nifty pics of sterile labs, hospitals, a forest (with a white person in it), a wedding cake with two grooms on top of it, more military, a brown person graduating, and a bunch of other stuff that yelled Ozzie & Harriet.  So what did I pick? The brown person graduating - which is lame compared to my 'real' issues (women's rights, poverty, racial inequality, politics, communication...I can find pictures of these things, why couldn't they?)

But then they asked me what success meant.  Dude. They showed me variations of a white family on a boat. Which image did I pick?
An empty, sterile home. (It works, kind of; I consider myself very successful if I have a clean house.)

And don't even get me started on what there was to choose from when I had to identify my Art or my Music.

But the kicker was how they put all my janky, second rate choices together to form my 'white racially framed' profile.  According to them, I am a Live Wire!  I have 'traditional values,' like relaxing with the kids (what the hell?), going to the mall (or soccer pitch), and I have all the excitement of a Sarah Palin speech.

I didn't think it was possible but it's true; the LA Times just made me white. I mean, I'm fairly bougie, but this? They sucked the color right out of me.

All kidding aside, this is what is so frustrating about living within the white racial frame all the time.  I dare say some (white) people will take this survey and also disagree with their profile.  'I don't like flags, the military or picket fences! I like really hip, interesting esoteric things that weren't represented on this survey at all! Marketing surveys are never accurate! You're reading too much...blah blah white privilege white privilege white racial framing...!'  

(And, because, again, this is not about how white people experience the world, but how people of color experience it.  Not a person of color?  STFU.)

I'm talking about the person of color who takes it and, puzzled, ends up just picking random things because we weren't considered at all at the front end of this project; as a result, our view of the world is erased and never represented (and, yes, our view of the world *is* different than yours in alot of ways).  This erasure of our sensibilities, this constant invisibility of our identity - our very presence, even - is a daily strain and source of frustrated disappointment.

As a result of our erasure, the picture of our national culture, our national identity, is diluted. It does our culture a disservice to erase whole peoples like this - just because some marketing guy can't figure out how to fit the rest of us in.  

[If you're a person of color (or a woman, I daresay - the survey comes across as very 'male') please take the visual survey. It's the best example of racial framing I've seen in a long time.]

[Updated: Here's another version of white racial framing.  No young Hollywood actors of color exist? Really?  Nowhere? Like here or here or here or here?  Again, some people aren't trying hard enough.]


jp 吉平 said...

I found the newsmatch banner, but couldn't take the survey.

I get it, though... in order to participate, we have to visualize ourselves as something we're not. Or we have to pretend that the only kind of "normal" is the culturally white perspective.

Joy said...

The company that put it together for the LA Times, VisualDNA, is a British company, which I suspect made the survey even more white than it would have been had an American company designed it. The UK has plenty of nonwhite citizens, of course, but as a society, I think they pay even less lip service to diversity than we do.

I'm a white woman, and while I doubt that I would have noticed how racialized the survey was without reading your post first, I *was* struck by how...not me all the choices were. Half the answers to all the questions were either marriage, kids, or a big house. The picture that I presume was intended to appeal to idealistic, do-gooder types like myself was a benevolent, handsome white guy hugging an African child.

Some of the pictures in the main part of the survey didn't seem to symbolize anything comprehensible. It was like they wanted you to pick the "obvious" choice. I gave up when it ask me to select my favourite brands.

Dan said...

"What Stage In Life Are You?"

Funny, none of the 12 options appears to represent "Single, Underemployed, Chronically Depressed Man-Child"

Yup... if you're not happy and affluent, you must not exist.

Delia Christina said...

I know that LA is a really big suburb, but the lack of diversity (either class, race, gender) represented in this survey was stunning, considering the *actual demographics* of the city.

And, yeah, that same question also befuddled me. So I just picked the chick on the couch with the remote because I, too, have a couch, a remote and smile when I'm sitting on it.



Dan said...

Actually, I think you were supposed to click on the photo of the woman wearing yellow rubber gloves humping on the kitchen counter with her man...

Delia Christina said...

You know, I thought of that!
But humping on the kitchen counter isn't really a stage, is it?

Then I thought of the clearly menopausal woman sitting on her front porch. That's not my stage, either.

So, couch it was.

Dan said...

If you've ever seen "Fight Club" you'd know that it's all about the yellow rubber gloves. ;-)