Thursday, May 19, 2011

Polo, by Ralph Lifshitz? No. Ralph Lauren, with Oprah Winfrey, have well-understood the racist, anti-Semitic society they each grew up in

photo of Oprah Winfrey and Ralph Lauren is from here
Revised quite a bit in places, on 20 May 2011.

Judging from a recent Oprah Winfrey Show, Mr. Lauren and Ms. Winfrey both appear to desire to live at the top of this allegedly only-great society. And to the casual observer, they do. But neither will, let me tell you. Neither can, because neither person is white, male, and Christian. And only white het male Christians or Gentiles can be at the tippety-top in this misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic, heterosexist, and increasingly classist country of mine.

I'm so sick of white people--women and men--telling me how powerful Oprah is, as if she's nearly as powerful as the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, GW Bush, Bill Clinton, or, even, Arnold Schwarzenegger. She isn't. She has a place in dominant cultural media. That's it. That's power too. But consider the power to control, violate, and oppress other people's lives. Oprah can get books sold and can get people to watch a TV show. She doesn't control state or other government policies which really do harm vulnerable people. She doesn't have a military or police force she can unleash onto oppressed citizens. Those kinds of destructive, inhumane power are very valued in the US.

Oprah Winfrey doesn't have or exercise that kind of power. She has participated in creating dominant society's culture and has benefited from it, building a career all around it, figuring out how to have a very financially successful life on the white skeleton of CRAP's bloody body; but her life is not stained red with the Richest White Man's blood. She, unlike so many white het men, is not a war criminal, a serial rapist of women and girls living on US, Indigenous, or another country's land. She doesn't mass produce or compulsively consume images of raped and incested girls (or boys)--grown or not. And if she spoke out too much against racism, capitalism, and misogyny (I'm not concerned she'll start doing this, by the way), she'd be not so graciously removed from public life. Her corporate and financial supporters would stop having her back.

One of the most anti-status quo things I think she's done is to be so overtly pro-lesbian and pro-gay. She has also worked to keep adult male predators away from children, for a little while. There is also the example of her life, for so many people. There's the bootstraps myth, that her life participates in: she pulled herself out of poverty and a racistly and misogynistically abusive childhood to become an ultra-successful businessperson and celebrity in what is usually a White Het Man's World. She demonstrates how to have a lot of economic power but not abuse it horrendously. That's a very rare thing and there are, weekly, rich white het men who remind us how abusively some forms of power can be expressed, with no meaningful or class-level human rights accountability keeping them or the institutions in check; it's the actions with the institutional supports that make their normalised corruption possible. The white het men who commit these egregious crimes are not charged with exploiting the powers they, alone, possess. The power they possess is socially, generally, seen as "good". But it's anything but good.

White het Christian and Gentile men have the most dominant, institutionalised destructive power in my country, exercised exploitively without any class-level relief against all women, including against white women, but additionally destructively against the lives of women of color. White het Christian or WH Gentile men also oppress and destroy men of color, and potentially any person determined by het men to be of lesser value for being not masculine or manly enough--if male. Women cannot be masculine or feminine enough to avoid the atrocities and abuses men, as a class, misogynistically commit. Either way, along any cultural continuum, the femme woman and the stud or butch, the non-gender conforming or the gender variant woman will be punished somehow, usually in more than one way, by men. Lesbians, in particular, however the appear to het men, will be oppressed by het men, institutionally and socially (structurally) if not also personally.

Ralph's ability to abusively exploit and take lives depends on his willingness to use slave labor in the production of his carefully designed clothes--clothes designed to sell back to the United Rapes of Amerikkka, and to the capitalist world, an idea of itself that is white non-Jewish male supremacist to the core of its bloody being. It depends on whether and to what degrees he reinforces dominant cultural ideals of beauty, used against just about everyone but the ideals actively enforce and support rape against girls and women by portraying women as sexxx-things for men. This is dovetailed in a way that won't create peace or social justice for people of color.

photo of model whose "looks" could locate him in a neo-Nazi Aryan Youth movement is from here
As a white Jew, I've had occasions--many recently--to observe, among whites (Jewish and not), how there are hierarchies that don't get spoken about out loud any more. Suffice it to say blond people are valued more, Christian or just plain Gentile light-whites are valued more--even while some of them get to be tan. Anyone who has a Western European patriarchal "sir" name that isn't Jewish is valued even more. Ralph knew this very well. He chose "Lauren" as his name and "Polo" as his icon because it represented an economically and ethnically-specific class of humanity to US Americans that he was not born into. He cannot ever occupy it either. He can pretend to. He, like Oprah, can acquire many of the trappings of it. But if you believe there aren't many, many places across this country, many new versions of old-fashioned country clubs, polo clubs, golf clubs, fraternities, Lion's clubs, Mason's organisations, and other whiteboys' clubs--like that of white male priests, that won't let Ralph and Oprah in their doors and won't welcome them to be members, let alone leaders, you're living in a grand or deep level of denial. There are many places in the Christian/Gentile white world that will look with strange curiosity or suspicion upon anyone who is Jewish (or Muslim).

Oprah Winfrey visited Ralph Lauren on his Colorado estate. She was impressed--"wow"ed--clearly.  This level of being impressed reminded me that even among the multi-millionaires or billionaires in the world, there are social and cultural stratifications and degrees of material status.

From the interview I learned (from Oprah, not from Ralph) that he is the son of immigrant Russian Jews. ("Russian" being a term that was, in his childhood, used as a synonym for the whole of the USSR. His family is from Belarus, not what is now the country of Russia, however.) We also learned from this show, which introduced us to his spouse and children, that his wife of many years is blond (they do seem to have a lovely and very loving relationship). We also learned about the sexual orientation of at least of his grown children: a daughter and a son, are about to be heterosexually wed to their respective fiancée/fiancé. So we have the presentation of this almost ideal nuclear family, which exists on the throats of so many who will never get what they have.

I had a friend once who was also Jewish, white, very heterosexual while not especially homophobic. He was pro-feminist. He only chose to date non-Jewish white women. His last name had also been anglo-sized away from being identified too readily as "Jewish" European. His family holidayed in Telluride, Colorado, which is near where the Lauren land is located.

If you go to Colorado, or Utah, or Arizona, or any other state in the union, please pay attention to where and when there are places that won't allow anyone who is Black, Brown, Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim, Arab, or Indigenous. And pay attention to how many of those places value women and gay males as much as het men.

White, economically class-privileged, het men who complain about not having enough rights, as males, are so deeply in denial about all the structural, institutional power they have--including, of course, the power to rape, the power to assault, the power to control, the power to exclude, the power to sue, the power to imprison, the power to economically and sexually exploit other human beings, that it's no wonder they view feminists as a powerful enemy. They don't know the meaning of the word "enemy". White het Christian and Gentile men, in the U.S., have no enemies. They might have people who don't respect them, although not a lot. They might have people who feel appropriately disgusted by the entitlements, privileges, and forms of power they posses quite possessively. But that's not the same thing as having the power to oppress whole classes of people. At all.

The sooner white het men admitted that, the sooner we might be able to address the many forms of social injustice and inhumanity that rule this White Het Man's world. It's most powerful citizens won't even consider me to be a man, because I'm male and so stubbornly pro-feminist, so against sucking the intellectual dicks of white men, so opposed to the unjust and evil forms of structural power they so furiously and defiantly, and secretively and privately protect.

Ralph understood what any person wants in the US: status, power, respectability. In the US, wealth is a quick ride to all of those things. It won't get you to the tippety-top, unless you've got a few other culturally and ethnically specific things going for you which are not so easily gotten rid of once you have them--the stigma of racial, sexual, regional, religious, or economic inferiority.

To those who know cultural history--and believe me, Ralph is sure hoping you don't find this out--the religious and regional roots of the game of polo take us directly to Muslim Asia. The game itself comes from Central Asia, specifically the region now known as Iran, but has been played across many regions including South Asia and Northern Africa. It is a sport that was colonised by the White British. And it is this period of its history, and its location in the US as a white Christian-statused rich man's sport of leisure, that Ralph is referencing and exploiting.

Appropriation and colonisation is what white Christian westerners do so well. If you want to see a rather obnoxious, racist display of this, just note how, in Ralph Lauren's Colorado estate, he has many well-appointed living structures (also known as teepees), and has many items throughout that have been ripped off or stolen from the societies of people the White Man killed and are still killing here. It is a sign of racial and ethnic superiority to be able to display the artifacts of the societies you destroy. No where is this more evident than in upper class and wealth class white homes, built, every one of them, on criminally stolen and corruptly named White Man's land. But on with our history lesson. From Wikipedia *here*:
From Persia, in medieval times polo spread to the Byzantines (who called it tzykanion), and after the Muslim conquests to the Ayyubid and Mameluke dynasties of Egypt and the Levant, whose elites favored it above all other sports. Notable sultans such as Saladin and Baybars were known to play it and encourage it in their court. Polo sticks were features on the Mameluke precursor to modern day playing cards.
Later on Polo was passed from Persia to other parts of Asia including the Indian subcontinent and China, where it was very popular during the Tang Dynasty and frequently depicted in paintings and statues. Valuable for training cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan by the Middle Ages. Known in the East as the Game of Kings. The name polo is said to have been derived from the Tibetan word "pulu", meaning ball.
The modern game of polo, though formalized and popularized by the British, is derived from Manipur (now a state in India) who played the game known as 'Sagol Kangjei', 'Kanjai-bazee', or 'Pulu'. It was the anglicised form of the latter, referring to the wooden ball which was used, that was adopted by the sport in its slow spread to the west. The first polo club was established in the town of Silchar in Assam, India, in 1834.
The modern sport has had difficulty grappling with the traditional social and economic exclusivity associated with a game that is inevitably expensive when played at a serious level. Many polo players genuinely desire to broaden public participation in the sport, both as an end in itself and to increase the standard of play, while others value and seek to preserve the social and economic exclusivity of the sport.
If one searched the world over, you'd find few other sports less associated with being a European Jew than polo. The internalised and externalised anti-Semitism that is revealed by Ralph making that decision to whiten (franco-anglocize) his last name is evident enough, as is his need to escape his family's cultural "trappings". And I'm sure he's not hurting all that much, as he gazes across his land to the picturesque and glorious Colorado mountaintops in the distance. Not even Oprah possesses that view, although she has envied it over the years from just beyond his fenced in land, which she apparently has driven by many times. She envies what he has exactly the way any US American is supposed to; but most of us won't visit the outside, or inside, of his visually bordered backyard. How many other Black women, or any women of color, born into poverty do you suppose Ralph and his spouse and children have had as special guests there (and not as hired staff)?

In Ralph Lauren's logo there's no indication of the Muslim or Asian roots, or South American present, of the game of polo. Below, the iconic human figure atop the horse is off-white, just like the status of many white Jews in Amerikkka, who will never, ever control this not-so-great country of mine, despite what so many non-Jewish people around the world and within Amerikkka believe is going on. A Black Christian man and, hopefully, a Christian white woman, will be president before a Jewish woman or man of any color. Ralph's home isn't filled with Belarussian Jewish cultural artifacts for a reason. They wouldn't signify him as a "great" conquering, settler white man.

image is from here


Owl Eyes said...

I caught a part of this interview. Took me a while to figure out who he was...I am blown away that Oprah would feature him on her show! Great post.

Jackin Ralph said...

I am an African American male and I was super impressed by this post. I have several problems with Oprah but even more with Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren the so called American Designer got a pass for constructing that horrible $1500 outfit for the Olympics. All of his over priced clothes are made in Chinese sweatshops instead of fueling American industry and creating American jobs. So Ryan while your post addressed one side of an issue.I have a much bigger issue with the 7.5 Billion dollar man (net worth 2012) Ralph Lauren

Julian Real said...

Hi Jackin,

Julian here. I am thankful you posted at this blog about the horrendous worker conditions, which do nothing for the U.S. workforce, from which R. Lauren makes his profits. I'm glad that some of this got exposed from the London Olympics U.S. uniforms controversy. I was sorry it didn't result in those outfits not being used.