So, let’s say you’ve got to buy Christmas presents for a friend of yours, but you just don’t know what to get her. A gift certificate from the local steakhouse? The latest 50 Cent CD? A gag gift from Toys ‘R Us? A new crockpot?
But what a minute! Your friend is Latina! Surely, that’s a hook to get her the perfect Christmas present! But, gosh, you just don’t know anything about Latina heritage. Well, New York Times has the perfect gift suggestions for you: how about a children’s book on Sonia Sotomayor? How about Iman’s book of beauty tips for women of colour? And, of course, there’s always a “Wise Latina” t-shirt! (Because apparently the hot thing for Latinas this year are Sotomayor-related products.)
And what if you’re buying me a present? Well, clearly, because I’m Asian American, I simply must have a copy of “Asian Faces“, a book that tells Asian women how we’re applying our eye makeup wrong, and how to do it right.
The New York Times isn’t exactly known for its racial sensitivity, but what moron green-lit this racist stereotype-perpetuating gift suggestion feature?
The assumption made here is that people of colour somehow need “race-related” presents, because our race is the be-all and end-all of our identities (and Christmas gift wishes). Not only that, but NYT readeres are encouraged to typecast their friends of colour to find “race appropriate” gifts — so, the friend is no longer just a friend, she’s “the Asian friend” or “the Latina friend” or “the Black friend”, and gifts should be bought reflecting your brand-spanking new racial categorization. Meanwhile, your White friends don’t need to be Otherized, since obviously they don’t have racial identities to contend with, so you can get them meaningful and non-offensive presents!
(Which makes me wonder what you do if you have mixed race friends? Do they just get multiple racist gifts? Or do you just pick the gift most in-keeping with the race you think they look the most like?)
And even if we, just for a second, accept the racist notion that we should be buying gifts based on our friends’ races and ethnicities, why would we buy these stereotype-inspired gifts? How racist is it to suggest that African-American women should receive haircare products specifically geared towards “problem hair” or Carribean cruises featuring a gospel choir (because Black women hate their hair but love some gospel music), while Indian women want nothing more than multi-coloured head-scarves (or coffee-table books celebrating multi-coloured head scarves)? Oh, and, what about the nail polish with benefits going to the people of Haiti — because both your friend and Haitians are people of colour, so somehow there’s a logical Christmas gift-giving connection?
And don’t even get me started on the “Baby Jamz” gift idea: because Black women love hip hop and have lots of babies, so clearly they need a gift that blends the two, right?
Then again, maybe the NYT is on to something. Perhaps this year, I will also give my friends race-inspired presents. In fact, right now, I’m on my way to go buy my Asian friends kimonos, bonsai trees, and pearl-inlaid chopsticks. My Latino friends? Clearly a set of antique maracas and a matching sombrero are the way to go. My Indian friend shall receive a henna kit, a book on yoga, and some bags of incense, and (since I’m an equal opportunity bigot) all of my White friends are getting gift boxes of cheese and coolers full of cheap beer, all the better to tailgate with. And electroman? Well, since he’s Black, he’s in for a special treat: the complete Tyler Perry DVD library collection, including full seasons of “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne”. Oh, and while I’m at it, all my gay friends will receive adult sex toys, and all my friends over the age of forty will receive tennis balls and denture adhesive.
Sound like a great Christmas? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.