SICK SAD WORLD

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.

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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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Anti-immigration: flipping the script

Posted in Fuck yeah! by Nancy on May 30, 2010

Why Gaga’s ugly sells

Posted in Uncategorized by Nancy on May 30, 2010


the ability to be ~transgressive or subversive or creative or outside-the-box is a privilege because it assumes you aren’t already viewed that way

– quoted from a comment somewhere here

There is, unquestionably, something to admire about Lady Gaga. Her refusal to bend to sexualised feminine ideals, to take pop music in a new direction and play with the possibilities of different mediums is to be commended. She works hard and, from what I can glean from interviews, she has a good, working brain under all that gear.
But it’s worth looking deeper into why Gaga’s ‘subversiveness’ has become so successful, and saleable, for mainstream audiences. Why does a ‘genderbending’ artist, who once may only have made it as an ‘alternative’ cult figure, suddenly find such acceptance in a Western society that has narrow ideas bout gender conduct? How did young female
audiences go from lapping up coquettish Britney Spears-esque hyper-girly sexuality to Gaga’s transgressive, foul-mouthed and ‘bent’ sexuality?
Like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper before her, Gaga has risen to fill the need for something ‘new’ and controversial in the arena of blonde pop sensibility. But, like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, Gaga has the privileged starting point of whiteness from which she can deviate. Like the white, blonde pop divas before her, Gaga has the opportunity to deviate from her ‘clean’ image. Her natural appearance represents a ‘pure’ starting point to subvert.
Designer Gary Card unwittingly illustrates this in this comment:
“She’s brave enough to let herself be a canvas for a designer to go and really express themselves. Nothing is off limits! With Rihanna and Beyoncé there is an end result of desirability and unattainable sexiness, whereas Gaga is a really interesting bridge between the desirable and the grotesque.”
Rihanna and Beyonce are interesting comparisons. Why not Taylor Swift or Katy Perry? Rihanna and Beyonce are already othered by the colour of their skin. They cannot be ‘art’, but sexualised identities, as attractive black women so often are (whether as ‘video hoes’, hypersexualised rappers or ‘sexy divas’ such as Tyra and Beyonce).
When was the last time you saw a photographer’s ‘whimsical’ image featuring anyone other than small, cutesy, white, size 8 females with typical haunted/coquettish/awkward expressions and poses? When was the last time you saw a fat girl, or a black, brown or Asian girl, posing in some hipster photographer’s shoot? Indians, blacks, latinas are all denied the possibility of subversion, because their very existence subverts what the music industry (and fashion and news industry) sells to us as ‘normal’/the starting point.
look how white and twee we are!
Gaga, as a cute, small white girl, has the choice to be ‘grotesque’. Take a look at Beth Ditto. Why is she not as widely praised as a ‘subversive’ figure? Because her body and identity already subvert the image required for a successful female musician. Her subversion is not a choice. But Ditto doesn’t get praise and worship for her refusal to be invisible (although fatphobes wish she would be) – she gets slammed for not conforming to the feminine model of beauty.
kiss her fat ass, haters.
At first, I was angry at Gaga for receiving the kind of props other artists will never receive because of their appearance (especially women such as Grace Jones, one of Gaga’s direct influences and inspirations),  but she can’t help her privilege. However, it is up to her fans to acknowledge that she is not ‘tearing down the system’, merely cashing in on it, although she may be exploring it in a more novel way. It’s worth remembering that privilege allows Gaga to be possible.

somebody’s children

Posted in Uncategorized by Nancy on May 30, 2010

A 4-year-old Iraqi child cries as older boys stage a mock execution Monday in Baghdad, Iraq. Children’s games are under a heavy influence of ongoing violence in the country. One of the more popular games is the clash between militias and police.

source here

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Is Chimbalanga a ‘gay man’? Getting it right

Posted in Fuck yeah! by Nancy on May 30, 2010

A fantastic update on the Malawi couple story:

Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika announced on Saturday the pardon of the jailed gay couple who were sentenced to 14 years earlier this month.

The decision was made at a press briefing at the state house after Mutharika met with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday.

“I’ve pardoned the two on humanitarian grounds but what they did is criminal and against our culture,” Mutharika told journalist.

HOWEVER, I have a problem with how this couple have been described by the news media.

Here are some clues on why we should rethink the “gay” label for this couple:

1. “[Tiwonge] Chimbalanga, 20 (on the right in the photo), who dresses as a woman, spoke defiantly of his love for the man he plans to marry.”

2. “Dressed in a blouse and describing himself as a woman, [Chimbalanga] said that they became engaged after “my darling, Steven, proposed love to me and we agreed to get married”. Unlike Mr Monjeza, he refused to accept that he had broken any law. “Which laws? I am a woman, I can do what a woman can do,” he said.”

Of course, the fact that Chimbalanga identifies as a woman and presents herself as a woman is FAR too complicated for cut-and-dry news reporting, and far too  “confusing” to accomodate with a different pronoun. Apart from the label “gay” being much easier to fit into tight headline spaces, a trans person may not have attracted as much sympathy and reporting in the Western media. As in the case of Caster Semenya, news about intersex, third-gender or trans people results in muddied and confused reporting, as these people don’t fit nicely into our neat little narratives.

While its wonderful that this couple’s right to love has sparked sympathy around the world and attracted UN intervention, the framing of this story as a “gay” issue is simplistic and incorrect, as one half of the couple does not identify as a gay man. Chimbalanga seems quite clear on the fact that she is a woman, but this has not been made clear/has been rendered unimportant in these stories.

In the same way gay male and lesbian issues are often lumped together in a big rainbow file, the failure to acknowledge how Chimbalanga views herself shows a refusal by the media to think outside of binary heterosexual/homosexual constructs. Chimbalanga has been blatantly misgendered.

I don’t know if Malawi has a “third gender” (the way India, Samoa and Thailand do that is radically different to Western ideas of transgender), but either way it is absolutely incorrect  to use the label “gay man”. In the same way, if the story was about a man’s relationship with a fa’afafine, I wonder, would the Western media report it as a “gay” story although homosexuals and fa’afafine are completely distinct? I guess so.

Just another fun example of how reporting eliminates identities and how Western media reduces the complexities of gender to black-and-white binary categories.


Month of pride

Posted in Fuck yeah! by Nancy on May 30, 2010

President Obama is often accused of not doing enough, or doing too little too late to make progress on issues he campaigned on. One issue was the repealing of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” bill, which bans gay people from serving in the military if they reveal their sexual orientation.

Just last month, Obama was heckled by angry gay rights activists at a Democratic fundraiser. Fair enough – politician’s legacies are filled with broken or unfulfilled promises. But they didn’t have to wait too long for change: “the Senate armed services committee and the full House of Representatives in quick succession on Thursday approved measures to repeal the 1993 law.”

He’s now gone a step further and declared June 2010 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.

Obama Pride sure hedged their bets with the right guy.

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A woman’s work is never done

Posted in The Good Word by Nancy on May 29, 2010

Because women’s work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious
and we’re the first to get the sack
and what we look like is more important than what we do
and if we get raped it’s our fault
and if we get bashed we must have provoked it
and if we raise our voices we’re nagging bitches
and if we enjoy sex we’re nymphos
and if we don’t we’re frigid
and if we love women it’s because we can’t get a ‘real’ man
and if we ask our doctor too many questions we’re neurotic and/or pushy
and if we expect community care for children we’re selfish
and if we stand up for our rights we’re aggressive and ‘unfeminine’
and if we don’t we’re typical weak females
and if we want to get married we’re out to trap a man
and if we don’t we’re unnatural
and because we still can’t get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon
and if we can’t cope or don’t want a pregnancy we’re made to feel guilty about abortion
and ….. for lots and lots of other reasons we are part of the women’s liberation movement.

– Joyce Stevens

Some help for heterosexists

Posted in Reading list by Nancy on May 25, 2010
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Recognise the new racism, the new sexism, the old homophobia

Posted in The Good Word by Nancy on May 25, 2010

Dr Omi Osun Joni L Jones has many wise things to say in her speech on ‘6 rules for allies’. By ‘allies’ she refers to people who are sympathetic to those affected by racism/sexism/classism/homophobia/ableism/transphobia and other kinds of oppression.

The video is worth watching but I will sum up some key points that stood out to me.

1. Being  ‘liberal’ is not enough

‘The liberal position is the hegemonic force of the academy . . . which means racism, sexism, homophobia . . . and a commitment to class structures cannot be undone in the academy.”

“The liberal position says that those of us with legitimate observations about injustice are really exaggerating, paranoid, and unwilling to see how we are creating the problem we expose.”

2. Speak up, name it and say it

“If you are male, YOU be the one to tell your department chair that the women’s salaries in your department must be brought line with those of the men. If you are white, YOU be the one to advocate for the qualified grad student of color applicant over the qualified white grad student applicant.”

3. Recognize the new racism, the new sexism, the old homophobia

“It is institutional and structural. Learn to walk in a room and count the people of color . . . Allies know that racism, sexism, and homophobia are real and NEVER tell people, ‘You could be wrong, you know’. Such a statement presumes that you have greater insights than those with lived experience inside of multiple oppressions.

4. Welcome getting called out

“When called out about your racism, sexism or homophobia, don’t cower in embarrassment, don’t cry, and don’t silently think “she’s crazy” and vow never to interact with her again . . . We are all plagued by racism, sexism, and homophobia. Be grateful that someone took the time to expose yours.”

All too often, calling out an injustice can seem more offensive than the injustice itself – it is easy for the privileged to brush off legitimate concerns.

From the transcript, I see Dr Jones also read a 1951 poem by Beah Richards. It is still as relevant today.

They said, the white supremacists said,

that you were better than me

that your fair brow should never know the sweat of slavery.

They lied.

White womanhood too is enslaved.

The difference is degree.

And what wrongs you, murders me.

And eventually marks your grave

So we share a mutual death at the hand of tyranny.

He, the white supremacist, fixed your minds with poisonous

thought—

‘white skin is supreme.’

Set your minds on my slavery

the better to endure your own.

Cuddled down in your pink slavery

and thought somehow my wasted blood

confirmed your superiority.

Because your necklace was of gold

You did not notice that it throttled speech.

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