Popaganda: Faking It

On today’s show, we’ll be talking about one of my favorite subjects: the act of faking it. Why do we do it, and what does it mean when we accuse others of doing it? And what does the impostor tell us about the boundaries we erect in order to define ourselves and our place in the world? To answer those questions, we’ll take on the Portsmouth Sinfonia, the phenomenon of the “fake geek girl,” Rachel Dolezal, and the awful—but perhaps enlightening—film White Chicks.

We have two guests on the show this week: first, I talk with Michi Trota, managing editor of the two-time Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine, about how to it feels to be pushed out of a community is supposed to be all about celebrating outcasts. Then I speak with Amalia Nicholson—a content producer and cohost of the podcast Borrowed Interest, a show that focuses on the experiences of Black women in advertising—about everyone’s favorite Wayans Brothers movie (besides Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, of course).


RESOURCES

  • The Portsmouth Sinfonia’s rendition of “Also sprach Zarathustra.”
  • Read Ijeoma Oluo’s essential interview with Rachel Dolezal.
  • For more on the “fake geek girl,” check out this great panel from Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo 2013 about the “fake geek girl” with Laura Koroski, Karlyn Meyer, Dawn Xiana Moon, Erin Tipton, and Michi Trota, with Carlye Frank as moderator.

SHOUT-OUTS


Subscribe to Bitch’s podcasts on iTunesSoundcloud, or the Stitcher mobile app.

Download an MP3 of this podcast on Soundcloud or just browse our podcast archives here on Bitch Media


TRANSCRIPT

SOLEIL HO: Soleil Ho here, and you’re listening to Popaganda. I hope you enjoyed the last episode on wellness. If you have any questions or thoughts about it, please feel free to email me at soleil@b-word.org. I’d love to read your feedback. 

On today’s show, we’ll be talking about one of my favorite subjects: The act of faking it. I’ll be talking to some folks about fake geeks and gatekeeping and the awful—but perhaps enlightening—film White Chicks. Stay tuned. 

[theme music] 

But first, I wanna talk about the Portsmouth Sinfonia. In 1970, a group of people at the Portsmouth School of Art in England got together and started an orchestra. The interesting thing is, none of them knew how to play their own instruments. Most of them didn’t have any experience playing music, and the ones who did took up instruments they were unfamiliar with. But they did kind of know how the songs were supposed to go. This is Also Sprach Zarathustra by the Portsmouth Sinfonia. 

[recorded clip, hissing in the background and a tentative, honking, out of tune music performance of the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey] 

I’m telling you about all this because, to me, this is the epitome of faking it ‘til you make it. I find the Sinfonia’s work so resonant in so many ways. To use a concrete example, when I listen to podcasts that I’ve made, this is what they sound like in my head: A screeching, fuzzy mess that is, at best, shaped kind of like a podcast. Something in the neighborhood of what I’m actually aiming for, rather than a beautiful, crystalline exemplar of the genre. My fixation on the blemishes and shortfalls of the work I produce creates this impression in my head. 

But listening to Portsmouth Sinfonia’s music is kind of therapeutic, in a way. They’re not worried about being “found out” as not being perfect. They suck, but they went ahead and made something beautiful and worth listening to anyway. Well, that’s subjective. But I think so. 

On this episode of Popaganda, I’m gonna explore what it means to be an impostor and what’s so scary—and even transgressive—about existing in a space that you’re normally not supposed to be in. I hope you enjoy the show. 

[Imposter Syndrome by Sidney Gish, upbeat folk-pop] 

♪ Every other day i’m wondering 

What’s a human being gotta be like 

What’s a way to just be competent 

These sweet instincts ruin my life 

Every other day I’m wondering 

Was it a mistake to try and define 

What I’m certain’s mad incompetence 

These sweet instincts ruin my life ♪ 

SOLEIL: The crimes of the impostor center on a false sense of entitlement: You’re taking the space or resources of someone else who deserves it more; your accomplishments are fake; and somehow, magically, you’ve deceived everyone around you into thinking you’re more qualified than you really are. And they’re all gonna find out. 

In theory, keeping the sanctity of spaces is what gatekeeping’s for. An easy example is the “you must be this tall to ride” sign posted in front of rollercoasters. Or the fact that the DMV makes sure potential drivers know the rules of the road before granting them the right to drive a car. But things tend to get a bit more fraught when gatekeeping is used to uphold prejudiced ideas of who belongs in a given space. 

One fascinating example of this is the phenomenon of the “fake geek girl.” So, I called up Michi Trota, the Managing Editor of the two-time Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine, to talk through how to it feels to be pushed out of a community is supposed to be all about celebrating outcasts.

MICHI: Unfortunately, I think most people who identify as part of a marginalized group who have intersecting marginalized identities are, sadly, very familiar with that feeling. I’m sure you have probably run into the situations where you’re given “the test”— 

SOLEIL: Mmm. 

MICHI: —to see how nerdy you are, if you are the right kind of nerd. And it’s a completely arbitrary set of qualifications that oh, not so coincidentally set it up so that if you are not familiar with, or you are not a fan of, fandoms that are very heavily skewed toward white, cis, heterosexual men, of course, you are either a fake fan, or you’re new, or you’re not to be taken as seriously. It is a problem. It’s one, I think, we are much louder about addressing, particularly because a lot of the problems that we see stemming from that kind of gatekeeping and trying to point toward certain people as being imposters or fake, which I think is just a completely artificial construct. If you consider yourself a nerd or a geek, that is the only qualification that should count. That’s how you identify. If you’re into a thing, that’s it; you’re a fan. You don’t have to prove, nor should you have to prove, that you are a fan who belongs in these spaces. That you should have to prove that you’re allowed to like these sort of things and be a part of the larger geek culture or even just your own particular fandom. 

But a lot of these problems, I think, are reflective of a lot of the larger systemic social issues that we see. I mean, things like Gamergate and the sad rabid puppies in science fiction and fantasy. And now we’re seeing things like Comicsgate. Those all sort of funnel back into the idea that you can tell who a “real fan” is. And shockingly, people who get the label of “fake geek” and “fake fan” are people of color, of people who are part of the queer community, are disabled fans. It’s not surprising how those boundaries have been drawn. 

SOLEIL: So, you mentioned a test. Can you give me an example of questions or just the sorts of tests that people would conduct? 

MICHI: I would go to comic book stores. I’d be wearing, I’d probably walk in wearing a X-Men t-shirt, or I’d know what titles I wanted to read. And there’s the always sort of that, “Oh! You like Storm? So, how long have you been reading The X-Men? What do you know about Cyclops? Do you know who the Phoenix is? Do you know what the Phoenix Saga is? Do you know who Dazzler is? What do you know about the Starjammers?” But then I would start noticing that when I was answering questions about the Marvel universe, I’d suddenly get, “OK, well, what do you know about Batman? What do you know about Wonder Woman? OK, well, what do you know about the Justice League?” And I’m like, “But we were just talking about Marvel. Why do you care?” 

SOLEIL: Mm. 

MICHI: And then you start answering those questions, and then out of left field comes things like, “OK, well, what do you know about Tomb Raider?” I’m like, I don’t play video games. 

SOLEIL: [laughing] What? 

MICHI: Aha!!! Fake nerd! You don’t know anything about Tomb Raider. I’m like, “But I don’t video game, and we were just talking about comics. Whaaaaat the fuck?” 

SOLEIL: Why would someone fake it, though? You know? That’s the thing that I’m always curious about. In the mind of the gatekeeper, why would the imposter be trying to intrude upon this space and fake their way into knowing about Batman? 

MICHI: There’s this cultish feeling of we’re into this thing that nobody else knows about. Within a lot of nerd culture, there is this feeling of we’re into this thing that other people don’t know about, and that’s what makes it special. So, now that other people are getting into it, and they are people that we feel like we have been excluded by, and now they’re into it, that makes it not special anymore. If it’s not secret, it’s not safe. 

Which is really weird because if it’s secret, then it’s going to go out of business! 

BOTH: [laugh] 

MICHI: I mean— [laughs] Look. Look at how much money the Marvel cinematic universe alone has been making. I mean, the idea of the fair weather fan in sports. Like, “Ugh, you’re only into the Cubs now because they’re winning.” I’m like, “But the point is, they’re into the Cubs now, and that’s more money that’s being poured into that franchise. That’s not a bad thing.” Or somehow people, the idea that maybe they’re faking getting into it because they want to take it over and take it away from you. 

SOLEIL: Mm. 

MICHI: It’s really, really weird. And I mean, as a woman in these spaces, there have always been, you hear these things that other nerds are saying where it’s like, “Oh, they’re just in here to get attention.” And this is a thing that is directed primarily at women and femme-appearing people who are in geek spaces, that they’re not really fans. They’re fake. They’re here just for the attention. Which is really weird because oh, because geek culture is cool now. They don’t really like Batman. They don’t really like playing Assassin’s Creed. They’re not really into Steven and the Universe. They’re just here, saying that they are because it’ll get them attention; it’ll make them popular. 

To which it’s like, OK? And so what? You don’t have to associate with them, and just because they’re into stuff for reasons that you don’t like, how does their being here hurt you? It’s the idea that the spaces are only for “real people” who, again, pass this very arbitrary set of qualifications to be here. And a lot of it, for a lot of straight male nerds, it’s the oh, well, if she’s here, and she’s not willing to fuck me, then clearly she’s just being a fake fan and here for the attention. 

SOLEIL: Whoa! 

MICHI: It’s like, really? Guys, come on. There’s a pretty woman here in geek spaces. In order for her to clearly belong, she has to be willing to go out with us. Like, no! 

From the opposite end, I was very much one of those women who had a lot of issues with internalized misogyny and bought into the false premise that there’s only space for so many women in geek culture. There’s only so much space in my community for women to be here because if there are more women, and I feel like they’re prettier and more socially adept than I am, then I’m going to get pushed out. It was the oh, that’s where the fake thing comes that gets addressed at women a lot in other ways of well, you’re too femme to be here. You’re too pretty to be a real nerd. Clearly, you must be faking it. And when you sit and actually think about why you’ve decided that this femme-appearing person is too pretty to be a real nerd, that’s a lot to unpack. Because again, it’s a completely arbitrary standard, and a lot of it is based on insecurity and the idea that you’re competing with another woman for limited space. When a, geek culture is like pie; it’s unlimited. 

SOLEIL: [laughs] Wait, where? Where is this unlimited pie? 

MICHI: [laughs] There’s pie enough for everybody here. But yeah, it’s a very frustrating thing, the idea that somebody is coming into your space to take it away from you. Or that if you are sharing it with people who are not like you or who didn’t get into it for the same reasons, or who don’t like the same things, who don’t have the same opinions as you do about who’s better—Batman or Superman—or who will win in a fight—Wonder Woman or Storm—because clearly, we’re pitting fandoms against each other all the time, which is, in and of itself another problem. 

But it’s not a limited amount of space; there’s room for everybody. And somebody participating in fandom for reasons that are not yours does not invalidate your presence and your identity. 

SOLEIL: Uncanny, the magazine that Michi helps edit along with publishers Lynne and Michael Thomas, is one of the most strident proponents of an inclusive nerd community, particularly within the sci fi and fantasy writing spheres. Through an editing and curation process that keeps an eye out for works by and for marginalized people—including trans people, people of color, and people with disabilities—they put forth a vision of the world that makes everyone feel like they belong. 

MICHI: We want to make a culture where people have the ability to have their work shared and honored and respected. Because again, there’s such a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy and voices and perspectives that are out there. Uncanny has a very distinctive voice from our other publications. There’s a lot of overlap, but you know, things that may work for one publication, that will work for something like Asimov’s may not necessarily work for us. But the more diverse the field is, the more publications there are with people with different tastes and different perspectives, that’s more opportunities for more writers to have their visions published. Because we are all gatekeepers. 

I mean, it’s been very, very weird for me to get used to the idea of being Managing Editor for this publication, for being a managing editor with two Hugos, I’m a gatekeeper. For all intents and purposes, that is part of my job, is that I am picking and choosing what gets published at Uncanny. And because my perspective is different from what Lynne and Michael’s perspective is from what my peer at Fireside Fiction is Elsa. She’s got slightly different tastes and different perspectives. And that’s great because that means that we’re not all publishing the same thing. We’re not all publishing the same version of Pew Pew Spaceship or— 

SOLEIL: [laughs] 

MICHI: —or Sword and Sorcery Quest stories. And not all the fantasy and science fiction we publish falls into those things. There’s a home for them. There are publications that love that sort of thing, and that’s great. But that’s not what everybody wants to publish. And the more diverse and widespread of perspectives we have among the gatekeepers in publishing—I mean, we’ll just stick with publications, with magazines, but you can apply this to the publishing field in general—having a diversity of perspectives among literary agents, among editors and book publishers, among producers and writers for films, and all of those things, if you have a wider variety of perspectives and openness to those perspectives among the gatekeepers, that means that we’re not all choosing the same thing. And that audiences are not going to be getting the same thing from a handful of publications from a handful of gatekeepers. 

SOLEIL: And it feels like the more diverse the pool gets, the harder it would be to have these sorts of tests of worthiness at the retail level, right? At the social interaction level? Because there’s no more canon. 

MICHI: Exactly. You know, we shouldn’t have to all be competing to be Thor, wielding the hammer. 

BOTH: [laugh] 

MICHI: It should be, yeah, and the thing is, for those of us who are in—I take this very seriously as somebody who’s in this position—that it is both a privilege and a responsibility. I think it’s very important for those of us who are in these positions to make sure we are not just widening the field in front of us so that there’s more space for us to move on to different projects. We should be making sure that the door not only stays open but that it gets wider behind us. And I will always be very grateful to the Thomases for giving me the opportunity to be Uncanny’s Managing Editor. That is, I think, a really great example of how to use privilege to bring somebody new who has the potential to succeed in a role but is not someone who has necessarily all the same connections and the same background. 

Because I had a lot of experience in Chicago, but in the wider science fiction and fantasy community, I was not very well known at all. And as I am growing my career, that’s what I wanna make sure that I’m doing, is making space and not only making space, but also actively encouraging and doing what I can to bring other people in behind me, with me, make sure that I am not hoarding opportunities just for myself. Because that is a thing that can sometimes happen. 

And it’s really encouraging when I see people in higher levels of power and authority acknowledge that they’re not always the best person to be able to speak, and instead, saying, “Hey, you’ve approached me to talk about this thing, or you’ve approached me to head this project. I’m not the best person. Let me direct you to a couple of other people who you may not know but would be great for these opportunities.” That’s how I think you disrupt the status quo. That is how you make it so that the status quo is not a very narrow range of expected faces and voices that you see. So that we are, that it’s not this weird thing when you have someone like me who’s saying that, “Hey, I’m managing a science fiction and fantasy publication,” because there aren’t, there should be more editors of color who work in the genre. There should be more voices who can speak to multiple perspectives of having a disability. 

I’m really proud of the fact that Lightspeed, after doing their Queers Destroy, Women Destroy, People of Color Destroy Science Fiction series, that they handed the reigns over to Uncanny. And this year we’re doing our Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction special issue. It is being entirely edited by editors who identify as disabled. All of the short stories, the essays, the poetry, and the cover art will be provided by disabled creators. And that’s something that I’m very proud of the fact that Uncanny can use its platform to provide that sort of support and visibility. Because those voices are important. 

[mellow music] 

SOLEIL: Thanks to Michi Trota for speaking with me. 

Next, let’s talk about one of the most famous examples of the impostor in pop culture: The 2004 race- and gender-bending comedy film, White Chicks.  

[White Chicks trailer, overly dramatic sound effects of fights, vehicles, and swooshing sounds] 

NARRATOR: FBI agents Marcus and Kevin Copeland have been assigned to protect the heiresses to a multi-billion dollar fortune. 

SUPERVISOR: If the kidnapper strikes, we will be ready. All you gotta do is pick them up and drop them off. 

[18-wheeler honks, tires screech in a near-head-on crash; then, screaming] 

NARRATOR: Now— 

WHITE CHICK: You don’t actually think we’re gonna go to the Hamptons looking like THIS! 

NARRATOR: —to catch their kidnappers— 

MARCUS: One more screwup, and me and you are through! You know them girls ain’t gonna be there! 

KEVIN: Oh, they’ll be there. 

NARRATOR: —they’ll have to do the unthinkable. 

[music winds down; a white man whistles at Marcus and Kevin in white lady drag] 

KEVIN: Yo, what’s up, money? You got a problem? 

SOLEIL: As a film that was panned by pretty much everyone, including me, for pretty much encompassing every awful comedy trope of the early “naughties,” it’s hard to think it could be anyone’s favorite movie. But podcaster and advertising content producer Amalia Nicholson loves the hell out of it, and I wanted to talk to her about why. 

AMALIA: It’s so good. [laughs] 

SOLEIL: Tell me. What is this movie? 

AMALIA: Ooookay. [laughs] So, this movie— Well, first of all, this movie, it could easily be considered just like a throwaway, stupid comedy from the early 2000s, but it’s pretty genius. So, the premise of the movie is that the Wayans brothers play two FBI agents who are prone to going undercover and wearing costumes and posing as other people to help solve the crimes that they’re investigating. And in this movie, they’re not appreciated by their boss; they’re not appreciated by anyone even though they go the extra mile. Which classic for Black people, right? 

BOTH: [laugh] 

AMALIA: I mean, their boss is Black too, but whatever. 

BOTH: [laugh] 

AMALIA: So, they’re assigned this shitty job of protecting two socialites modeled sort of after the Hilton sisters. And they’re driving them to a party in the Hamptons, and a car crash happens because of like…shenanigans. And the sisters get a little, they both get a cut on their faces, which renders them heinous and hideous. And they could never leave; they could never go to these parties. So, they hole up in their hotel room, and the Wayans brothers call in reinforcements and transform into their twins, into their doppelgängers. They turn into the white chicks. And then they go about investigating a crime because the reason they’re escorting these sisters is that there’s a series of socialite kidnappings happening. So, they’re in the Hamptons, undercover, hanging out with these other white socialites and trying to get to the bottom of these kidnappings: What’s really going on in the Hamptons? Not all is what it seems. 

BOTH: [laugh] 

AMALIA: And from there, just hijinks ensue. Crimes get investigated. There’s some love stories. There’s heart break. There’s everything you could want in a movie is in White Chicks. [chuckles] 

SOLEIL: So, OK. I watched— 

AMALIA: [laughs] 

SOLEIL: —half of White Chicks, and I was like, you know, I don’t know if I can do this. 

AMALIA: Really? 

SOLEIL: I don’t know if I can do it. Why do you love it so much? Help me. 

AMALIA: Well, first of all, can I ask: Was it just the creepy blue-eyed contacts and powder-white skin or? 

SOLEIL: I think it was the part where, I think they were in the car with the other socialites. 

AMALIA: [laughs] 

SOLEIL: And they were singing A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton, and I was just like, I don’t understand. I don’t know. It was difficult to get through. [laughs] 

AMALIA: So, that scene in particular is really interesting to me because I don’t know if you finished that scene, but what happens is the Wayans brothers are in the car, and the whole car rubs into like classic white-girl sing-along where they’re singing to that song. Which that song keeps going throughout the film as a joke, which is genius. And one of the brothers turns the radio to gangster rap or whatever, and they start rapping along. And the rest of the girls are silent, and they say the N-word. 

SOLEIL: Mm. 

AMALIA: And [laughs] I think Busy Phillips’ character—I might be wrong though—turns it off and is like, “Oh my god. You like cannot say that.” And they’re like, their response is, “No one’s around to hear us.” So then, the entire car just starts rapping along and just saying the N-word, which— 

SOLEIL: [laughs] 

AMALIA: —which is like problematic in some ways, sure. But probably very real. 

[scene from the film plays where they sing along with Vanessa Carlton in out-of-tune voices; music turns to rap, and they rap along] 

WHITE GIRL: Guys! I can’t believe that you just said that! 

COPELAND BROTHER IN DRAG: Said what? 

WHITE GIRL: The N-word. 

COPELAND BROTHER: …uh…so? Nobody’s around. 

SECOND COPELAND BROTHER: Yah…. 

[rap music starts back up, everyone rapping along with the lyrics] 

AMALIA: I think that was one of the first times I was like, oh, I bet white people say it all the time to each other. I bet they just do. [laughs] 

SOLEIL: Mm. 

AMALIA: So, I think that’s the thing about White Chicks that is easy to dismiss or not notice, is that there are these moments of really smart social commentary about race, especially for, I mean, it was made in 2004. And it’s stuff that we’re only starting to think about now. There’s this really great scene in the movie where they get to the hotel, and they realize they don’t have IDs with white people on them. They’re like, oh, I look like a white woman in theory, and my ID is this Black guy. So, they’re trying to check in, and they’re just like, “Oh my gawd! I can’t believe you’re not just letting us have our way! We don’t have our IDs,” blah blah blah. And one of them is like, “I’m gonna lose my mind.” And then the other sister’s like, “Don’t. You guys need to let her, like, figure this out.” And then she finally looks at the concierge and is like, “I…am gonna write…a letter.” 

BOTH: [laugh] 

AMALIA: So, she gets out a piece of paper and starts writing it out and says, “Dear Mr. Royal Hampton”—because it’s like the Hampton Hotel or whatever—“I am a white woman in America.” 

SOLEIL: [laughs] 

AMALIA: And that is all it takes for them to be like, oh my god! You’re right. We’ll just let you check into this hotel with no identification. Your credit cards have some dude’s name on it, but that’s fine. Whatever. 

BOTH: [chuckle] 

AMALIA: Apparently, it is just all you needed to be is a white woman in America with a pen, and you can get what you want. 

SOLEIL: Wow. 

AMALIA: [laughs] So, I think all the silly humor aside, this movie has these little nuggets where you’re just like, that was really smart. Or that was funny, but I’m also a little thrown off. 

SOLEIL: Talk about what do you find resonant in White Chicks? 

AMALIA: It’s all about accessing spaces that aren’t necessarily yours. These two Black men suddenly start hanging out with rich white socialites, and they’re giving them dating advice. They’re singing Vanessa Carlton with them. They form these real relationships with these women, and that was really interesting because I, as a Black person, have access to a lot of different spaces that maybe I normally wouldn’t. I’m also Jewish. So, I go to a synagogue, and I am the only Black person there or one of two. But I know how to access that space, and I know the intimate details of that culture in a way that I think a lot of other people wouldn’t. I think that it’s easy to live in the world presenting as one thing, but then when you’re able to understand other sides of the world, it’s just kind of complicated and painful and difficult. And so, watching this movie, it’s fun and it’s stupid, but you’re like, I can only imagine how hard it would be to be a Black man and see how the other side lives. And to have to suddenly assimilate into it and act like this is all fine and normal when you know that white people shouldn’t say the N-word. And that’s something that personally, I can identify with in this movie, but it’s still confusing and weird and probably maybe too deep of a reading of this film. I don’t know. 

SOLEIL: White Chicks dives into our collective racial anxiety by parodying the idea of being “white-passing” and pushing our conception of racial boundaries to the extreme. It’s funny in the film, especially to people of color like Amalia and me, who have often felt the pressure to code switch or put on a different persona in order to fit into white spaces. 

But when we think about what it means to “fake it” in a racial sense, it’s hard not to wonder about what Rachel Dolezal means. She’s the white woman who masqueraded as a Black woman, adopting affects that she picked up from reading National Geographic. In 2015, Dolezal, the former president of the NAACP branch in Spokane, Washington and Africana Studies instructor, was exposed for falsifying her racial identity in order to gain access to opportunities and spaces normally reserved for Black people. She’s since defended herself from accusations of racial appropriation by saying that she “identifies as Black” and that her life demonstrates that “race is a social construct.” 

The Dolezal case fascinated the nation and unfortunately still does. There’s a Netflix documentary coming out, and she still makes the rounds to promote her book. Her case is outrageous to so many because of how deeply she crossed the racial boundary, entrenching herself in Black organizations and spaces and appropriating the language of transgender identity to make her case. It pushed us to articulate and draw our boundaries, to consider the many reasons why we could or could not accept the way she portrayed herself. Though she highlighted the permeability of the color line, she did so in a way that banked on racial caricature and her own white privilege. To paraphrase writer Ijeoma Oluo, Dolezal took advantage of the rhetoric and history of racial passing to make the struggle for racial justice all about her. 

It’s interesting because passing narratives are such an integral part of American literature. 

AMALIA: Right. 

SOLEIL: When we think about, during Reconstruction, there were so many stories and fiction stories about Black folks who were lighter, who had white ancestors who passed as white. 

AMALIA: Right. 

SOLEIL: And stories about their relationships and their social mobility and their lives. 

AMALIA: Mmhmm. 

SOLEIL: And it’s been so fascinating to us. As a country that takes race so seriously, that sort of malleability is so fascinating. 

AMALIA: Right. It’s almost like witchcraft, right, or it’s like it’s something that seems impossible to escape because race is something that is unavoidable. Even if you don’t believe in it, other people do. So, you’re immediately ascribed to whatever race you present as. And so, for, I’m sure, plenty of Black and mixed-race people who—or any ethnicity really, where there’s melanin involved—and you pass as this dominant culture, that’s fascinating to us. That’s like winning the golden ticket in some ways, right? 

SOLEIL: Yeah. I mean, being white-passing, we talk about this a lot, I think, in race politics, having that be a sort of privilege but also a source of pain. 

AMALIA: Absolutely. I mean, for me personally, I’m not white-passing. I’m very obviously mixed race, but I’ve had to call out a lot of white Jewish people on their racism because I get the side-eye. Or I’ve been in situations where I’ll make a Jewish joke because hello, that’s part of Jewish culture is very— I mean, come on, right? I don’t really have to explain that. But I get these side-eyes. I get called out. I get called a racist, all this stuff. And I’m like, “Actually, you’re probably the one who’s racist here because for you to not understand that a Black person can also be a Jew, in 2018 especially, is completely ridiculous.” It’s…it’s something that we have a really hard time understanding. And it’s a burden on either side because you feel like you have to represent all of these things and overcompensate for things that aren’t your fault. 

SOLEIL: How do you prove that your Jewish enough or Black enough or whatever enough? 

AMALIA: Ugh. Well, you, at a certain point, can’t, and you don’t want to, right? I don’t need to go into my history as a Jewish person in the world, in theory. I shouldn’t have to be like, “I’m a sixth-generation Minnesotan Jew whose family helped build the local synagogue” and blah blah blah blah blah. Like, “My mom moved to Israel and joined the military, and she loves being Jewish.” I shouldn’t have to do that, and I don’t really do it anymore because I’ve realized how complicated that all is and how little I really wanna share that information with a lot of people. Because it just seems like validating racism. 

But recently, I was at a party and overheard someone talking to another mixed friend of mine. He was like, “You’re not Jewish.” And I turned to him, and I was like, “Well, I am.” And he just started saying all these stupid Hebrew phrases, and I was like, “Well, sir. I actually dropped out of Hebrew school because of racist douchebags like you.” And that just freaked him out so badly. Because he’s like, “I’m not racist. I’m not racist. I just, I can’t be racist. That’s impossible.” And it’s like, well, actually, you just displayed full-on racism here. So, hmm, weird. 

But [sighs] it’s hard because you just, by proving yourself, you’re leaning into it more. 

SOLEIL: What I like, too, about White Chicks is how it sort of exaggerates passing and exaggerates the code switching with the spray anti-tan, essentially and all the makeup and then learning about Vanessa Carlton and just all the white lady things, it’s just ridiculous, right? But it is something that real people do all the time to inhabit different spaces. 

AMALIA: Right. Exactly. Exactly. It’s like yeah, it’s a silly version of it, but we all, all people of color know how to walk into a space that’s predominantly white and play the game, right? I know how to code switch in so many languages at this point. I know how to talk to dorky white dudes about comic book movies, and then I know how to talk about, I don’t know, Passover. I can code switch all over the place. And I think that’s what’s funny about White Chicks is that they turn it into humor, but it’s, I’m sure the Wayans brothers know how they walk into a Hollywood executive meeting and talk the talk and then go home, and they can go to the cookout, right? Those characters in that movie would probably, there’s a reason it was so easy for them to turn it on and off. 

SOLEIL: I suspect that there are so many legitimate critiques of this film based on its handling of transphobia or just the trans menace. 

AMALIA: Right, yes. 

SOLEIL: So, there’s so much more we could talk about, but I think thinking about it in terms of racial passing is so interesting and so potent. 

AMALIA: I think yes, transphobia and trans menace, it has its problems, absolutely. Let’s not get that wrong. But I think sometimes you have to look at something and maybe separate out some of those things. Ugh, it feels weird to watch it now, for sure. You have your cringe-y moments, but as a whole, it’s a much more interesting film than we gave it credit for 12 years ago. 

[mellow music] 

SOLEIL: I wanna believe that impostors are more than just intruders or interlopers. The act of passing for something you’re not supposed to be, whether that’s along race, ability, class, or gender lines, tells us something about the binaries we’ve been invested in. It exposes the fault lines of our culture, showing us the down and dirty ways in which we decide who belongs and who doesn’t. It refreshes and disrupts our definitions of who we are, either expanding them or making them more solid. More than anything, the impostor is a messenger. Listen to what they say. 

[theme music] 

Thanks for listening to Popaganda. This episode of Popaganda was produced by Ashley Duchemin. Our jingle is by Mucks & Owen Wuerker. Thanks to Sidney Gish for her song, Impostor Syndrome. Additional music was provided by Blue Dot Sessions. If you have any thoughts or feedback on the show, please feel encouraged to send me an email to soleil@b-word.org. Or just plain review us on iTunes. 

We’re also soliciting reader ideas for topics we could cover on future shows. So, please email your ideas for topics or even people you’d like to hear on the show if you’ve got ‘em!   

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Soleil Ho
by Soleil Ho
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Soleil cooks for a living and writes sometimes. When she was in kindergarten, she reviewed a book for Reading Rainbow that she didn’t actually read. She cohosts Racist Sandwich, a podcast on food, race, class, and gender.

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