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@ChoosingBae: A Meditation on Racial Intelligibility and White Supremacy at PWIs

by Sara Gonzalez-Bautista; Scripps College 18


@ChoosingBae is a fauxfoto series born of out necessity. During my two years at
Scripps College, I have experienced the traumatic realization of my own un-intelligibility within
predominately White spaces. As George Lipstiz articulates in The Possessive Investment in
Whiteness, while race is a cultural construct, it does have substantial social consequences.
Bluntly, Whiteness affects us all and therefore as an ambiguously, multi-racial Woman of Color
at the Claremont Colleges I am affected. A series of unfortunate events within the last few weeks
prompted this exploration and personal reflection on themes of friendship (and the loss of) with
White students, romantic relationships with Men of Color, institutional failure (or success of
upholding traditional standards for elite feminine, White womanhood), internal perceptions of
external realities and external expectations of internalization of these realities.
The technology of the 21st century enables society to project onto social media the
peculiar substantiality of American reality. Notably, platforms like Twitter encapsulate the
everyday apparatuses of race relations dependent on White Supremacy and racial Othering.
Integral to this dynamic is also the formation of American expectations for women and their
femininity and attractiveness and therefore their worth within hierarchical systems of power
which gives privilege to these physical attributes. The Twitter account @ChoosingBae with its
approximately 125,000 followers reinforce these emulatable identities/aesthetics: racially
ambiguous beauties/baddies/baes. However, general racial ambiguity is not sufficient, a
particular iteration is propagated. In this includes: certain clothing brands namely Adidas, Ralph
Lauren, Calvin Klein (while scantly worn) and makeup trends namely long hair, fake eyelashes,
razor sharp winged eyeliner, bold eyebrows, overdrawn lips, intense contour and highlight. The
following collage is exemplary of this aesthetic:

This particular performance of femininity emphasizes the importance of intelligibility within our
contemporary youth orientated society valorized by social media. While the manager of this
account is anonymous, based on the wording of the accounts bio which describes those pictured
as females not women leads me to believe that a man moderates the account as the
terminology female is most common amongst men. I exist extraneously and un-intelligibly
from this reality.
On April 16, 2016 I lost who for the entirety of my time thus far at Scripps had been my
best friend. These were our final messages after four semesters of friendship:

After this conversation she proceeded to block my phone number. We currently live together and
planned on doing so again next year in a suite with other friends and then I received this email
with no subject, no greeting, no sign off.

The concept of White Fragility explains that while the racist actions of White individuals are
inappropriate and shrouded in histories of violence and racial oppression, they often construe
themselves as the victim of wrongdoing. This is unfortunately confirmed in her petty response to
block myself and several of my friends on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.
This semester has been the most personally challenging since coming to the Claremont
Colleges and therefore also full of opportunities for personal growth (Ill get back to that later).
This semester stress has manifested itself in multiple forms: headaches, ongoing illness, mouth
sores and most recently hives. A fauxfoto series mimicked after the @ChoosingBae aesthetic
was a means by which to display and deconstruct my physical reactions to ongoing discomfort
induced by Claremont and my many interactions here. The terms fauxfoto and fauxesthetics
embody my intentions with visual art. While the photographs in this series, graciously taken by
Melissa Krassenstein SCR 16, mimic the aesthetics of @ChoosingBae they are not entirely
accurate, hence the faux. Aspects of my aesthetic self are both coherent and incoherent in
context of @ChoosingBae. Coherent/intelligible aspects include: the matching Calvin Klein
underwear set, gold hoop earrings, fake French tip nails, culturally appropriative braids, bold
eyebrows, overdrawn lips, intense contour and highlight. Whereas the incoherent/un-intelligible
aspects include: shaven head, glasses, body hair (armpits and legs), and visible physical

manifestations of stress like hives. All of these attributes are presented together, seemingly as a
coherent image of a womans body.

The keyword is seemingly. To the viewer, there is a level of discomfort in the juxtaposition
between aesthetic coherency and incoherency. This is comparable and representative of the
discomfort felt by being a Woman of Color and racially ambiguous in a predominately White

institution.

This

contrast

is

most

exemplified

by

the

following

image:

Before this image was altered into the piece now entitled OnWhite Fragility, My Brown Ass, it
was a simply a photograph of myself on the mantle of a Scripps dorm posing with this portrait of
a White woman with blonde hair and blue eyes painted typically in a white dress presumably
demonstrative of the delicateness and fragility of White women. Women of Color have a long
history of being sexualized, primitized, and infantalized in the support, or perhaps to contrast
that,

of the construction of White womanhood. Present in the final version of OnWhite

Fragility, My Brown Ass is Dean Worcester who was the American zoologist to the Phillippines
from 1899 to 1913 during American colonial occupation of the islands. He produced hundreds of
yardstick photographs which documented the supposed inferiority of the indigenous peoples to
that of White-Euro peoples in comparsion of stature and size.

A notable aspect of Worcesters survey of the indigenous peoples is that many of his subjects
were young girls who he posed unclothed or to mimic the poses of famous classical European
paintings. Therefore the inclusion of my own exposed body is a reclamation of the autonomy
taken away from my own ancestors; indigenous girls and women. This art is therefore both a
reclamation but also a declaration of my own autonony, while cognizant of the inherit constrains
still present because of White Supremacy.
Another aspect common detail throughout my visual art is the inclusion of screenshots
from Google searches, which notably in this series is Sarah Snyder, why do men of color of
men like white women? This piece features six recent selfies of Sarah Snyder, famously Will
Smiths son Jaden Smiths older girlfriend, from Instagram collaged with six repeatitions of

myself and begs the question to an already assuming Google: why do men of color like white
women? Google suggested searches prove the frequency that such questions are asked, therefore
the pieces reasonate with a broader consciousness than my limited own. In contrast to the
implied universality of Internet generated thought, I included more intimately personal thoughts
presented as a one-way text conversation with myself as seen in the following two pieces:

While my own words only appear on three of the pieces, throughout the series are quoations
from songs (Black Lipstick by Chicano Batman and Needed Me by Rihanna), class assigned
readings (The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality by Margaret
Hunter), poetry excerpts from radical WOC writers (Johanna Hedva, Ena Ganguly, Prisca
Dorcas and Yesika Starr) and featured Humanities Insitute poets (Sesshu Foster and Claudia
Rankine). Their words speak to the different themes explored in the series notably histories of
violence, interracial relationships, sense of security and insecurity in body and place,
expectations of woman, and romantic dynamics between Men and Women of Color.
Self-portraiture is a conventional method to explore ones own identity and its many
inevitable intersections. While the women of @ChoosingBae are autonomous in their decision
to submit photographs to the account, these images mimic and reinforce standards of intelligible
beauty. Therefore, a faux-mimicry of this aesthetic made sense to critique broader systems of

power and oppression in American life. To be presented in clusters, each piece in the series
explores intersectional aspects of my identity within the physical confines of Claremont. While
Claremont has an often times negative effect on my wellbeing, it is currently also the place of my
greatest opportunities for positivity. As a fellow this semester for the Humanities Institute, the
work of many great thinkers has permeated my thoughts and my own conceptualizations of my
ability to navigate spaces at the Claremont Colleges as an un-intelligible Woman of Color.
Therefore, the inclusion of poems by Sesshu Foster and Claudia Rankine was obvious; as their
intersectional identities (while different than my own) complicate conversations of the
contradictory nature of this American life.
Alongside the visiting thinkers of the Humanities Institute, this semester has also
presented inspiration from my peers. Interracial Leisureware is a conceptual project (part of
Adisa Studios which is a POC art collective) that through clothing explores the complexities and
inconsistences of life under the regime of neoliberal, White-supremacist, imperial-capitalist, cishetero-patriarchy. While no clothing from Interracial Leisureware is worn in this series
photographs, the importance of clothing and its aesthetics in the development of impactful
imagery is explored through the Calvin Klein underwear set. Like all aspects of life, imagery is
contingent on power. The power of brands like Calvin Klein are that they signify coherent,
cultural capital; or trendiness; or the power to determine and reinforce the intelligible signifiers
of relevancy/productivity as delineated by the constraints of capitalism. Adisa Studios, broadly,
offers a counter-narrative; self-descriptions and representations by and for students of Color at
the Claremont Colleges. In a world where my identities are commodified and too often
essentialized in for-profit colleges and universities and advertised as Ethnic Studies and
Gender, Feminist, and Sexuality Studies, opportunities for self-representation must be constant

in order to survive. Reclamation of autonomy through self-expression is a necessity in


combatting simplified and/or fictionalized iterations of self by oppressive apparatuses of power.
Chandan Reddy explains in Freedom with Violence the contradictions of modernity: the
nation-states claim to provide freedom from violence depends on its systematic deployment of
violence against peoples perceived as nonnormative and irrational and therefore liberal
modernity is the apparatus that authorizes and administers state violence. As Johanna Hedva
explains in her Sick Woman Theory that the value (or relative disposability) of the individual
in society is determined by the potential productivity of or attributable to the individual under
coercive capitalism. Western medicine prescribes the body solutions for unproductivity, Adisa
Studios and I have choose to make art.
In this fourteen-piece series, a wide range of topics are addressed. Essentially, the images
in the series are grouped thematically with mediations on White fragility, racialized fetishizations
of Men of Colors bodies by White women, mixed-race identity, physical manifestations of stress
induced by daily microaggressions by White students and professors, and the words of older
adults also contemporarily navigating their way through the gendered and racialized spaces of
this post-racial, media-centered American society. If I could change aspects of this series now I
wish I would have incorporated more of my own words into the images. While the words of
other poets and thinkers essentially conveyed my emotions, perhaps an attempt at my too often
avoided poetry would have been even more insightful and healing during this meditation process.
Another obvious alteration to the pieces would have been their execution, many of these pieces
were made under fifteen minutes with no later alterations. The process, like Ive said before, was
made out of necessity when no other coping mechanisms were sufficient.

These pieces were really made out of necessity and from here I hope only to continue to
process, heal and most importantly find happiness in a world that, after having constructed me as
so, finds my un-intelligibility threatening and unacceptable. I have recently read the work of
mixed-race Women of Color Johanna Hedva entitled Sick Woman Theory. The following
image was one of the last in the series made and includes my favorite quotation thus far from
Hedya.

While I do not claim any form of dis-ability (Hedya makes many connections between ableism and capitalism), this quotation profoundly resonates with me at this time in my lifes process
of unlearning. Until this semester, with a combination of events, I did not realize the extent of the
ramifications of internalized self-hatred. While my two years at Scripps have presented plenty of
challenges, they have brought about opportunities for change, growth, and self-love. Self-love
is an interesting topic talked about frequently in the college and university setting by Students of
Color doing what I am now- learning to love yourself, as yourself, both inside and outside of the
confinements of White Supremacy and Western imperialism of my countries and my own very

body. Additionally, Adisa Studios is future-forward. The day that this paper is turned in is also
the formal release party of our art collective to the 5C community. After nearly a full academic
year of vision, my blessed, beautiful and Brown friends and I will be debuting not only our
artwork but also our willingness to be vulnerable in a place too often draining of our physical
and emotional well-being. While we often falter here, we also thrive. I look forward to the
magnificence that will be manifested by myself and my loved ones. I have been saying this a lot
recently, but this world is full of snakes and angels and a major piece in the unlearning process is
to begin to distinguish more clearly and immediately between them. This following piece
exemplifies the love and happiness that heals the hurt.

T HE S CRIPPS C OLLEGE H UMANITIES I NSTITUTE


AND

ADISA S TUDIOS + I NTERRACIAL L EISUREWARE


PRESENT :

@CHOOSINGBAE: A MEDIATION ON
RACIAL INTELLIGIBILITY AND WHITE

SUPREMACY AT PREDOMINATELY WHITE


INSTITUTIONS (PWIS)
by Sara Gonzalez-Bautista SCR 18

ON WHITE FRAGILITY, MY BROWN ASS


A meditation on White Fragility featuring Scripps College dorm art, Dean Worcester, screenshot
text messages between myself and Florence Walsh, and a barrio inspired font.
______________________________________________________________________________

SARAH SNYDER, WHY DO MEN OF COLOR OF


MEN LIKE WHITE WOMEN?
A meditation on racial fetishization, the myth of post-racial interracial dating, White beauty
standards featuring Instagram fotos from @sarahfuckingsnyder and Google suggested searches.

CAN YOU STILL SEE MY NOPAL?


A meditation on mixed-race identity and external expectations of internalization of these
realities featuring The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality by
Margaret Hunter, nopales, sage, and the soccer stadium in Nuevo Len, Mexico.

MY WORDS

A meditation on the physical manifestations of internal perceptions of external realities featuring


Scripps College dorm art, cooltext.com, Google stock images, empty space, and hives.

YOUR WORDS

A meditation on resonating with others meditations on life featuring Humanities Institute poets:
Claudia Rankine and Sesshu Foster, radical Women of Color writers: Johanna Hedva, Ena
Ganguly, Prisca Dorcas and Yesika Starr and lyrics from songs by: Chicano Batman and
Rihanna.

by Claudia Rankine

by Sesshu Foster

by Johanna Hedva

by Ena Ganguly

by Prisca Dorcas

by Yesika Starr

Black Lipstick by Chicano Batman

Needed Me by Rihanna featuring art by Banksy

SARA GONZALEZ-BAUTISTA

Dedicated to this Lifes many snakes and angels.