Thursday, February 17, 2011

Justin Beiber Pets Esperanza Spalding's Hair

In an interview with Spalding, Beiber reached out and touched her hair without asking.  I suppose he thought it was fine, because he told her that he liked her hair, but it was an absolute violation.  You don't just reach out and pet someone.  Spalding is entitled to her bodily integrity.  
When I look at the above image, I cannot help but think of the race and gender dynamics at play.  Beiber is a White male with plenty of class privilege.  White men have a history of violating the bodies of women of colour, because they have always existed with a privielge that is unmatched by any other group.  Whether they were sneaking into the slave cabins, or publicly ridiculing and shaming us, they have always felt that their race and gender entitles them to our bodies.  

Even as he was touching Spalding's hair, she returned the compliment and said that she liked his hair. At no time did she attempt to touch him.  I think this is very indicative of the fact that White men control the environment around them, and their personal space is inviolable.  To Beiber, Spalding is an "other".  Though he may not see his actions as both racist and sexist, that is exactly what they are. You don't pet people that you think are your equal.

In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine Beiber had this to say:
[Justin Bieber] isn't sure what political party he'd support if he was old enough to vote. "I'm not sure about the parties," Bieber says. "But whatever they have in Korea, that's bad." He does have a solid opinion on abortion. "I really don't believe in abortion," Bieber says. "It's like killing a baby?" How about in cases of rape? "Um. Well, I think that's really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don't know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that."
Is it really surprising that the same kid who does not believe that women should have control over their reproduction believes that he can touch a woman at will?  Everything in his life has taught him that he has privileges, which he is in no way entitled to. He doesn't have to think about the best way to negotiate a space, because he is a part of the dominant culture.  With added privilege of celebrity and wealth, Bieber has no social censure on his behaviour.

The touching begins at :21

As I watched him pet her, the violation of this action hurt me.  The predatory nature of racism means that it appears in actions that may at first seem innocent, but each action in which a WOC is demeaned, is yet another indicator, of the fact that we are still devalued as people. 

Watching the video, you will note that he did not stop at petting her hair.  He placed his arms around her and gave her a hug.  At no time did he ask for permission. In the video, he admitted to never having met Spalding before, but he still felt that he had the right to touch her at will.  Beiber completely controlled this conversation, to the point of deciding when the interview was over, and then he grabbed her elbow to guide her forward.  None of this was polite, or pleasant, it was simply him asserting his right as a White male of class privilege.

This was no harmless interview.  In many ways, it represented how normalized racism and sexism has become.  They are a part of our everyday interactions, and it is only because we have come to internalize the fact that we believe that some people have more rights than others, that we continually miss the clues that indicate whose bodies are infused with power.