solidarity: what hurts you hurts me

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on September 21, 2010

So I haven’t posted in a while – working as a sub-editor can make it difficult to enjoy after-hours writing and reading. But an offensive remark made by a coworker today left me in such a funk that I needed to return to this blog, if just to figure out why his remarks affected me so deeply.

Said coworker is known for making ‘provocative’ jokes (read: he has a crass and  self-congratulatory sense of humour). On this occasion, my boss was talking about his experience teaching in Korea. Coworker pipes up with something along the lines of: “YUCK. Asian chicks. Ew I’d never go there. Maybe if I was in Vietnam during the war or something *guffaw guffaw*.”

A few days ago I’d heard him talk about how ‘repulsive’ he found the (Chinese? Korean?) language, followed by my boss chiming in with ‘Ching chong ching!’

I don’t  need to explain what’s offensive about these remarks (if you need an explanation leave a comment).  But I do need to discuss, at least for myself, the rage I felt. I’ve learned (after years of interacting with meatheads and their HILARIOUS senses of humour) that I can’t let everything I hear affect me personally. But sometimes it’s an almost superhuman feat to shrug things off.

Firstly, a disclaimer: I am Indian Sikh Punjabi, born in Malaysia. So it could seem puzzling that I’m so enraged by comments that degrade ethnicities I don’t identify with.  But really, as a PoC, it’s only logical to feel solidarity with other minorities. Unfortunately, many people of colour don’t feel this way.

I know many Indians who cuss ‘Pakis’, Chinese people who look down on brown people (particularly Africans), and black people who make fun of Chinese or Indian people. I once went to an Iranian hairdresser who told me my hairstyle made me look like a “nigger”.

But denigrating others to feel a bit higher up the racial pecking order is deluded. You may feel more part of the ‘winning team’ to put down other minorities but for every other person of colour you make fun of, someone else is also mocking and ridiculing you.

It seems only my presence in the room would stop said coworker from saying something like, “Ew, Indian chicks! Gross. Maybe if I was pillaging Punjab and didn’t have another options.” What would stop him from saying, “I find the Indian accent repulsive. BUDD BUDD [or whatever noise such people make to demonstrate their ignorance].”

I know that the kind of people who make fun of Asians will not hesitate to make fun of me. Participating in derogatory humour about CHINKS or GOOKS does not mean said ‘comedian’ won’t call me a RAGHEAD or CURRYMUNCHER when I leave the room.

I feel solidarity with people of all colours. As a person of colour, what hurts other PoCs hurts me. Funnily, racists don’t discriminate in their choice of target: chinks, gooks, sandniggers, ragheads, currymunchers, boongas, darkies, slanties, spics, kikes, niggers – we are all the same to them.


An 11-year-old CEO lights up my week

Posted in Fuck yeah!, The Good Word by Nancy on June 30, 2010

Watch the video at the source

This is one of the most inspiring and awesome stories I’ve heard about in so long. Amiya Alexander, 11, teaches dance classes to little girls around Detroit in her very own pink-bus-turned-dance-academy. She has her own financial advisers to help her save her earnings for medical school, and she has the unconditional support of her parents.

This shows the power of giving kids the message: “Yes you can.”

What kind of ally are you?

Posted in Reading list by Nancy on June 17, 2010

Re-blogged from here

1. Active Oppression

  • Laughing at or telling jokes about LGBT people
  • Making fun of people who don’t fit traditional notions of gender roles and sexual identity
  • Verbal and/or physical harrassment
  • Working for anti-LGBT legislation, i.e. employment and housing
  • Gay-bashing or other forms of violence

2. Indifference & Ignorance

  • Business as usual attitude
  • Passive acceptance of actions by others which demeans LGBT individuals, i.e walking away and/or not contronting said behaviors
  • Ignoring the topic, i.e lack of discussions
  • Adopting a liberal attitude of “what people do in the privacy of their own bedroom is none of my business. I just don’t want to hear about it.”
  • Being friendly before you knew somebody was LGBT but ignoring them afterwards.

3. Oppression Through Lack of Action

  • If you hear a friend telling a demeaning joke, recognizing it as oppressive, not laughing at this joke but not saying anything about it either.
  • Being uncomfortable but not confronting homophobia
  • Labeling individuals based upon stereotypes – or not confronting those who use stereotypes to label others
  • Avoiding participation in events that might make others suspect you are a LGBT-ally, or LGBT yourself

4. Confronting Oppression

  • When you hear a homophobic joke, you confront the speaker about it.
  • Making a choice to participate in events (or spaces) that are LGBT-friendly/inclusive
  • Be aware and confront statements such as, “I’m not prejudiced but…”

5. Growing as an Ally

  • Read books/journals by and about LGBT individuals
  • Being sensitive to issues LGBT individuals face
  • Attending LGBT-friendly events (such as PRIDE!)
  • Educating yourself about LGBT-issues instead of relying on “experts”

6. Becoming Active as an Ally

  • Educating others, engaging others in LGBT-oriented conversations, presenting programs to others.
  • Be “out” as a supporter of LGBT issues and individuals
  • Encourage and promote respect for one another, and celebrate the differences between individuals.

7. Challenging Systems

  • Creating a climate where individual and cultural diversity is recognized and celebrated
  • Working for a LGBT-positive legislation
  • Addressing LGBT issues through training and workshops
  • Supporting “out” LGBT individuals
  • Changing and challenging discriminatory institutional practices and working to change such practices.

Of course this doesn’t just apply to LGBTTQ issues.

I think most people I know sit at 3 on this scale. This also makes me aware of my own inaction.

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Another 101 Fact: There is no such thing as reverse sexism (via The Gender Blender Blog)

Posted in Uncategorized by Nancy on June 16, 2010

This articulates what I so often want to say about ‘reverse -isms’. This applies to racism, ableism, heterosexism, ageism and so on.

Something that I often get asked is "aren't feminists just being reversely sexist?" or "isn't feminism just reverse sexism?"  No, and no.  There is no such thing as reverse sexism.  First of all, let's establish a working definition of sexism: Just like how racism = power + prejudice based on skin color, sexism = power + prejudice based on gender.  When talking about the various forms of oppression, many people often confuse prejudice with the is … Read More

via The Gender Blender Blog

Banning identity

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on June 16, 2010

What’s been pissing me off this week? At the top of the shit pile was Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club’s seemingly innocuous ‘hat ban’, that ended up revealing the group’s full-blown racism.

The club banned Karnail Singh from a public function held in his honour, because of a ban on ‘hats’. After the embarrassing incident, the club voted to keep the ban, despite the fact that it would alienate South Auckland’s large Sikh community.

A private club has a right to enforce its rules. But it was a breach of human rights to enforce those discriminatory rules at a public function. I hope they get hauled over the coals by the Human Rights Commission.

These UN-cosmopolitan buffoons fail, or refuse, to realise the most basic truth: a Sikh’s turban is NOT a ‘hat’ – it is a part of the Sikh identity, not a fashion to be worn by choice.


In a similar vein, it’s almost amusing that people who can see the blatant injustice in banning turbans cannot see the injustice of France’s ban on hijabs in public schools. I constantly hear people making cracks about veiling and denouncing the hijab, imposing (hypocritical) Western standards on another culture and faith. Just because anything to do with Islam is treated with suspicion and demonised by the West does not give people a free pass to mock symbols of someone’s identity.

Many Muslim women who live under oppressive regimes are forced to wear the hijab. However, the hijab tradition does not stem from any regime; it is part of the Islamic faith. Many Muslim women wear the hijab by choice, just as Sikh men wear the turban and Orthodox Jewish women wear the head scarf.

Those who seek to ban the hijab because it is ‘oppressive’ are stripping women of their choice to identify with Islamic tradition.

To many Muslim women, a hijab is a declaration of faith and empowerment. Forcing a woman to remove her veil can cause psychological trauma. Those who wear it by choice do so for many reasons.

Following list is from here

How some Muslim women have reported on the empowerment through veiling:
-To them it is a declaration of their faith and loyalty to Allah
-Allows them to be viewed and interacted with as a human being, and not as a sexual object to be gawked at.
-Gives them confidence when interacting in mixed-gender settings.
-Seen for their brains first, and body later.
-When they accomplish something, they know it is because they truly earned it through hard work, and not because of their sex appeal.
-One woman remarked it as the “most dramatic, proactive, feminist statement that I could make in my personal life, an in-your-face-rebellion against the feminine mystique” (I Just Want to Be Me: Issues of Identity for One American Muslim by Pamela Taylor, page 120)
-Seen as a resistance to Western ideology and culture, and allows them to maintain their own distinct identity without the Western world’s attempts at assimilation. For countries where Islam is not the majority, it gives women a sense of security and cultural identity.
-It allows women to be a part of both worlds – it allows them to preserve their own religious identity, cultural history and background, while living in another country.

Allies make sacrifices

Posted in Fuck yeah! by Nancy on June 16, 2010

People who are sympathetic to the plights of various minority groups are often called “allies”. But more often than not,  support from allies is silent or passive. When was the last time you saw a man demanding equal pay for women, or straight people speaking out against homophobic bigotry? The silence of privileged people who (deep down) believe in justice can be disheartening, or lead to the impression that only minorities care about their own rights.

So it was great to read about the stand taken by Reddit-user heterogay.

“Heterogay” is a straight cisgender man who was so disturbed by his family’s homophobia that he ‘came out of the closet’ to them as a gay man. He so strongly believed in gay rights that he couldn’t bear being a part of a family of bigots. He says his family have since disowned him, but he believes that if they don’t love him regardless of his sexuality then their separation is probably for the best.

“I’m a straight male. Very straight. I love women.

I also totally support gay rights – with all my heart. I can’t STAND bigotry and it really pisses me off that you don’t have equal rights.

I’m straight but if I have a son or daughter that’s gay I’ll be damned if they don’t have the same rights that I do….

My family however, is fairly homophobic.

They live on the east coast. I live in SF.

I’ve never let them say anything discriminatory in front of me without it being challenged and flat out calling them hateful bigots.

Anyway. Last week I flew back to spend some time with them… They’re my family after all and before this our relationship was good… I see them like 1x a year.

We’re having dinner and somehow the conversation turns to Obama and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Long story short, my brother in-law says that “fags shouldn’t be able to serve in the military” … and I lose it.

I stand up and say that it’s not right to discriminate against ANYONE regardless of sexuality, race, or religion.

… then it dawns on me… they don’t know that I’m NOT gay.

So I just come out of the closet.

I live in SF… I’m 35… I’m fit, fashionable, metrosexual even. I’ve NEVER been married. I’ve never even brought a girl home to meet Mom…

(though for the record I have plenty of girlfriends, ha).

They think I’m bluffing but once I stick to my guns (and they can see that I’m visually upset) it dawns on them that I’m homosexual.

My dad goes silent and just leaves the table. My sister calls me a jerk for coming out …my brother in law is pissed. My mother is crying.

At this point I decide I’m not going back. I’m going to be gay as far as they’re concerned for the rest of my life.

It was pretty heated… I left shortly after. My calls to the house aren’t answered. My sister says she’s ok with it but that I shouldn’t have come out of the closet….

In a way it hurts because I had a good relationship with my mother and father before this – however, I feel strongly that if they don’t love me regardless of my sexuality, then I don’t want them in my life.

So here I am…. one of you . I’m ostracized from my family. I’m out of the closet and kicked in the teeth.

This is harder than I thought.

Sacrificing privilege for a cause is always hard. A friend once remarked that people keep silent about issues that don’t directly concern them because of selfishness – why would you sacrifice comfort and perks for a seemingly never-ending struggle, even if you are an ‘ally’? It’s a good question: it seems like madness to forfeit privilege and join the losing team.

But I suppose each person has a different tolerance threshold for injustice. There’s only so much sugar-coated bullshit people can take before they wake up to the shit they are being fed. And what use is it coasting through a charmed life that is only made possible by the oppression of others?

Just like straight couples who refuse to get married and support an institution that discriminates against LGBTTQ people, heterogay refuses to protect an unjust system.

When casting calls go bad

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on June 5, 2010

Re-posted from Racialicious:

Award-winning graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese is a huge fan of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series. So when he found out the live-action movie adaptation would feature anall-white principal cast, he became one of the more vocal voices against the casting controversy.

Reporting on rape

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on June 3, 2010

I was flabbergasted to read this rape story on the front page of the Rotorua Daily Post, with a huge 4-deck headline proclaiming:


I am horrified by the way this story has been reported. Read it here.

The RDP seems to want me to think that the truly horrific and scandalous part of this rape story is the fact that the attacker liked to wear women’s clothes/had a sexual preference for bondage.

I would argue that the horrific part of this story is the rape, no matter what the sexual preferences of the attacker.

The intro read:

A Rotorua man with a fetish for dressing up in women’s clothing and being tied up and locked in a wardrobe is on trial for allegedly raping a woman who regularly tied him up.

As in the headline, the first facts we read are “fetish for dressing up in women’s clothing and being tied up and locked in a wardrobe”. The word “raping” only appears near the end of the sentence, which is again book-ended with “regularly tied him up”. From this we already see that the news angle is not the rape, but the attacker’s sexual inclinations.

After the cursory stating of name/location/age/charge/plea/court (Gordon Murray White, Rotorua, 42, rape, not guilty, Rotorua District Court) the first we read about the case is as follows:

In openings yesterday Crown Prosecutor Chris Macklin told the jury Waite got pleasure out of cross-dressing and being tied up with stockings.

Then we hear an explanation about how the victim lived alone before we read:

In the weeks before the alleged rape, Waite had revealed his fetish to the woman, visiting with a plastic bag full of women’s clothing he would dress in and then get her to tie him up and lock him in a wardrobe.

“It was a bit of a game … He would give her money to let him out,” Mr Macklin said.

Then we read about the events leading up to the rape, in which Waite hid in her wardrobe and jumped out wearing “just a woman’s g-string”. We then read:

“He forced her on to the bed and said to her if she has sex with him he will pay for her divorce,” he said.

The woman said no but he didn’t listen.

“The key issue for you today is one of consent,” he told the jury.

Crown Prosecutor Macklin is absolutely on point. The key issue is of consent. Not what sex games the attacker liked to play. The voyeuristic way the RDP has reported this would have us believe that this story is about “cross-dressing” rather than the actual crime of rape. Details of Waite’s sexual  inclinations are given with morbid glee and the key facts of the actual rape are nestled somewhere between the details of the sex play and the “quirkiness” of the situation.

The way this story was presented not only suggests that the real issue is the sexual deviance of the attacker, it implies that men  who get kicks out of dressing up in women’s clothing are more deviant than rapists. This is damaging for two reasons. (1) It perpetuates a misguided notion that people who choose to engage in consensual “kink” or bondage are “bad” and “deviant”. (2) It trivialises rape and ranks its worthiness as news below the “juicy details” of “deviant” bedroom activities.

It is clear, as “cross-dresser” is the first word you read in the headline, that this story only made it as the front-page lead because of the “interesting” characteristics of the attacker. If the rape had occurred in a “normal” way it would have been relegated elsewhere in the newspaper (or perhaps accompanied by some police spokesperson saying women should learn to look after themselves).

It’s sad that a horrifying crime such as rape only gets special coverage if it’s a “novelty” kind of rape. Because, as we so often sadly observe in our newspapers, rape alone is not a crime worthy of the front page. A man who likes to wear women’s clothes, however, is.

Waite has since been convicted of rape and has one relevant historical conviction of exposing himself to young girls. He deserves to be named, shamed and punished for his sick, abusive and criminal behaviour. However, the trivial details of his fetishes are not relevant and merely distract us from his true crime of rape. The The RDP has since published statements from him.  And the victim? Your guess is as good as mine.

How to deal with being racist

Posted in Reading list by Nancy on May 31, 2010

Guardian columnist Joseph Harker hit it on the head when he wrote:

The acknowledgement of personal racism is simply a prerequisite before anyone can begin to eradicate its pernicious effects.

This has led me to think that it might be worth reviewing the way we use the “R” word. For ethnic minorities, or non-white people, who have lived experiences of racism, it is a fact that racism exists. It may be ‘new’ racism – insidious, covert, difficult to clearly find words for and expose – but it is there. ‘New’ racism slips by in the jokes made with close friends when no minorities are around, the language used to describe minorities, non-white people or less-privileged ethnic groups, and the unthinking perpetuation of behaviours and rituals that exclude, essentialise and other these people.

But calling out racism can sometimes be counter-productive. Rather than enlightening the person who caused offence, or eliciting an apology from them, the word ‘racist’ tends to put up walls. “I’m not racist! I have black/brown/Asian friends! I love curry!” When someone is offended by racism, and they point it out to the person who has offended them, they are likely to get one of three reactions:

1. The pseudo-apology:  “I didn’t mean to cause offence. It was a joke. Sorry if I caused offence.

2. The “explanation”, or “whitesplaining”: “I said this/did this/behaved this way because I was being ironic/trying to illustrate/racism doesn’t exist anymore/didn’t think anyone would be offended/it CAN’T be offensive because this this and this/I said it to my [insert ethnicity] friend and THEY weren’t offended…”

3. The dismissal: “You’re too sensitive/politically correct/can’t take a joke/get over it.”

The problem with the pseudo-apology is that the apology is not for holding racist views or doing something that demonstrates and perpetuates racism; the apology is made for offending someone. This equates offence caused by racism with the offence caused by farting in an elevator full of people. The person is not apologising, they are naturalising – they are simply explaining that their racism is not malicious/is natural to them. Oops, I didn’t realise my racism was showing.

The explanation similarly whitewashes (excuse the pun) the issue. It avoids the apology, the recognition of hurt caused to the person offended, and instead goes about justifying racism with a shit-ton of excuses. Instead of owning the damage done and recognising the repercussions of racism, it attempts a debate about “what is and is not racism”. This adds insult to injury – who are you, a person with the privilege to perpetuate such behaviour, to tell others how to define their experiences of racism?

The dismissal is just as frustrating as the explanation. Except, instead of pretending to engage in dialogue about racism, it shuts down the conversation completely. The dismissal is a refusal to acknowledge, or even consider, how words or actions may have caused harm or offended. Dismissal, like explanations and pseudo-apologies, reveals defensiveness. It reveals the unwillingness to acknowledge the prejudice, hate or fear that we harbour in ourselves towards other kinds of people.

This is because ‘racist’ is a scary word. To allow yourself to be called a racist acknowledges your privilege, your passivity in the face of inequality and your support of the status quo. If you are in all other respects an empathetic and kind-hearted person, of course this is a blow to the ego. To apply the word ‘racist’ to yourself can require a great deal of honesty and courage. But not all people are malicious racists. To quote Harker again, “it is naive to believe that the long history of racial distortion – which goes back to the days of slavery and colonialism – has not had a lasting effect on the individual subconscious”.

This doesn’t excuse racism or make it any less damaging, but I think it is important to consider the way we think about racism. A racist is not necessarily a bogeyman dressed in a KKK hood. Even as a non-white person, a racist could be the colleague you get along with especially well, a close friend or even your lover. This doesn’t mean they aren’t good people. It just means they harbour ingrained prejudice and privilege. This prejudice and privilege is not natural – it is instilled in us from birth. Where we are born, the colour of our skin, our gender, sex, and our physical or intellectual ability all determine how much power and privilege we get in society.

What is important is that we recognise this power and privilege, and recognise when we abuse it. There is no way to eradicate racism, or to remove personal prejudices, without first acknowledging that they exist.

The next time someone calls you out for racism, try these approaches (some borrowed from this LJ community’s list of rules):

1. Be aware of your privilege. Recognise that racism is dependent on power imbalances.

2. If someone calls you on it, don’t take it as an insult, but as a learning opportunity. Try to understand their point of view before you get defensive. Be honest about the perspective you are coming from.

2. Recognise that the people suffering from an oppression have the right to define it. Don’t mansplain, whitesplain, straightsplain, cissplain, etc. Respect people’s right to self-define.

3. Keep in mind that you are responsible for educating yourself.

4. Be grateful someone has called you out and given you the opportunity to learn.

5. It’s okay to say dumb stuff/do dumb stuff. We all fuck up. But a deliberate unwillingness to learn will reveal your true colours.

Picking on the poor little racist

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on May 30, 2010

I am desperately trying not to get into a comment war on the NZ Herald website, to explain to thick-skulled commenters why Andy Haden’s insinuation about “darkie” rugby players is not okay.

I don’t follow rugby (or any other sports, for that matter), but some things are offensive no matter what interests they relate to.

Here are the facts:

1. Rugby World Cup ambassador and former All Black Andy Haden goes on Murray Deaker’s show and says the Crusaders franchise has a maximum quota for “darkies”.

Once they’ve recruited three, that’s it. That’s their ceiling. Three darkies, no more. In the Crusaders manual, there it is, it’s enshrined in their articles and they’ve stuck by that. And they know damn well that that’s the case. And it’s worked.

2. Haden insinuates this contributes to the team’s success, feeding theories that teams perform better with less non-white players.

3. Haden apologises for the “darkie” comment causing offence.

4. Fiji-born All Black Bernie Fraser agrees and says “bloody coconuts” need “simple concepts”.

5. Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says this all more evidence rugby is mired in a racist past.

6. Haden keeps his position as ambassador, people feel sorry for him because everyone is “too bloody PC” these days and “took his comments the wrong way”.

Despite the mind-blowingly racist insinuation that ‘browner’ teams = dumb teams, Haden’s recent apology is a typical un-apology, paying lip service to the fact that he offended without realising the gravity of his fuck up as an ambassador. This is supported by Rugby World Cup minister Murray McCully.

“Look, some people are going to be happy, some people are going to be unhappy with the decision we have made today. But if we were to take out everyone that made a mistake and shoot them we would sooner or later run out of people to do things in this country … I think we have to accept that a mistake was made, it’s been addressed by Mr Haden and I’m satisfied to leave it there.”

How very lovely it is for Haden to use his prestige and privilege to go on television and stoke the fire, essentialise and suggest discriminating against brown players, and then back off after the damage has been done. How easy it is for Minister McCully, a white man in a position of power and influence, to dismiss the concerns of those who have been offended with a flippant ‘everyone makes mistakes’. Not only does this downplay the offence caused, it  paints victims of the racial stereotyping as hysterical and too sensitive (as usual).

Was Hone Harawira given such lenient treatment when he angrily used the word ‘whitey’? Harawira was labelled divisive, dangerous and radical, and the Maori party wasted no time in distancing themselves from him and apologising deeply and sincerely for the offence and damage caused. Did any minister leap to his defence and say to white folks, ‘get over it’?

It saddens me that Fraser jumped on board to say, in Haden’s defence: “I mean, Christ, when I was playing I was the biggest racist outI regard myself as a coconut and I call every other Polynesian a coconut.” Just because he is comfortable using racist terms towards himself, displaying a sad acceptance of self-hate and racism, does not mean it excuses others who perpetuate that damaging mentality.

Bernie Fraser labels himself a ‘coconut’

Watch this video, Andy Haden on Polynesians in 2009.

Love that he refers to the issue as ‘the Polynesian thing’.

I typed out a part of it as best as I could:

I’m not saying that polynesians are a lower IQ, but the white boys think about the game differently than the Polynesians, the Polynesians do think about it like their body type, explosive, physical, high-energy, shorts bursts, whereas the white boy probably trucks on and finds a way to get to deal with the issues to get around them rather than through it, so thats a tendency to be something thats not been well addressed.’

It wasn’t that whitey was doing the thinking and those guys were playing the physical side of the game …We got on and did it very well and we can do it .. And thats what the game is about, being able to get on with someone who is swinging a hammer during the working day just as well as some guy whose got a barrister’s wig on, and thats one of the fascinations of the game … that Polynesians and white cultures can get together and work well on a rugby team.

Oh of course, essentialising aside, it’s all because “those” Polynesians swing hammers and white people become lawyers.

How would it feel to a young Polynesian male to have this message reinforced by successful former All Blacks: “Son, you’re brown, so although you won’t be a leader on our team we can certainly use you for your brute, animal force – but failing that, you’ll do well in manual labour”.

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