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.


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.

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.

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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true colours

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on May 22, 2010

Just your friendly neighbourhood Tea Partier.

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Foreign bodies as sexual playgrounds

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on May 22, 2010

This fantastic post on how race and ethnicity become commodified as it becomes ‘cool’ to be ‘in touch with’ ‘other cultures’.

I’ll just re-post sections of it but read the whole post here

So there was this American guy, Jake, who sat with Gareth and me at lunch last Saturday and was telling us how much he wanted to go to Malaysia because it’s apparently a great place to meet women, and claimed that the country is chockfull of hot-bodied beauties. He also didn’t waste time to explain that the reasons behind his quest was down to his general lack of luck with women and self-confessed socially-inept ways. And so like the many sad, lonely white men with money to squander, he’d like to try his luck with Asian women because they, y’know, love white men, are ultra-feminine and so willing to please, and all that BS.

So what makes an otherwise well-travelled, highly-intelligent Harvard-Oxford-educated man like Jake essentialise Malaysian women, and most ‘Asian’ women, as beautiful and ever-compliant? The answer is likely to lie in how we see our world and how we ‘consume’ it. In her essay ‘Eating the Other’, bell hooks articulates the way we are fed with media images in advertising, mainstream film-making, and general consumerist culture that fuel our imagination with the allure of the ‘Spicy’, ‘Demure’, and ‘Uninhibited’ Otherness. These images do nothing but reify the racial and capitalist power that are in favour of very specific groups:

Gareth asked me last night that surely where Jake comes from there are plenty ethnic-Asian women around to de-mystify his idea of ‘oriental beauty’. My thoughts about this are that women from distant, foreign lands are perceived to be and treated like untouched, uncharted territory. The last frontiers of MANkind, so to speak. I say ‘untouched’ in the way Madonna had once sang about, in that they haven’t been corrupted by feminism and modern, progressive attitudes about love and romance. Cross-cultural virgins.

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oops, they did it again

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on May 17, 2010

In defence, the mag said:

“Due to an extremely regrettable production error, an inappropriate and indefensible response to a letter has appeared in this week’s issue.

“ZOO editor, Tom Etherington, apologises unreservedly for any offence the response may have caused and has launched an internal enquiry to ensure lessons are learnt.”

As a newspaper sub, I know the sort of attitudes prevalent that would let this sort of stuff get through. I’ve subbed many things I have found offensive to me as a genderqueer person or a person of colour, but those things would not cause others to bat an eye.

Of course, they argue, he is not seriously endorsing this, it’s a ‘joke’. Yes, a joke only the privileged get to enjoy, because they will never have to deal with this:

Once I used to laugh along at domestic violence jokes, and maybe riff off this theme myself – it felt essential to prove I had a non-threatening male-friendly identity (I was certainly not a ‘hysterical feminist’) to gain some sort of access (although limited) to a boys’ club. It is, thankfully, a club I’ve grown out of.

Sadly, over many years it becomes hard to get surprised or shocked by misogynism, racism, sexism, classism or ableism, unless you keep an eye open for it.

It’s great people have complained about this, but more insidious forms of prejudice and discrimination slip through every day and will probably continue to do so as long as journalism remains an intellectually conservative, anti-academic institution that refuses to critique and hold itself accountable (without first causing shitstorms, most often created by lazy, hamfisted reporters).

News reporting will always be reductive. So I call bullshit when they call this a ‘production’ error.

Whose nude?

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on May 17, 2010

According to what the fashion press say, for those who find femininity attractive, nude garments have a provocative, but subtle, appeal on the female body. I don’t dispute this – whether in leather or soft chiffons, ‘nude’ (much more fun than ‘beige’) has been embraced into celebrity wardrobes and designer collections.

When you think ‘nude’ (in colour terms), what do you think of? I think of this:

I’m sure you do too. But whose nude is this? When Michelle Obama wore a ‘nude’ colour, it looked like this:

Gorgeous, yes, but not nude. At least, not for her. The term ‘nude’ appears to only be appropriate for white skins, yet it is used globally. As a brown person, I have also used the word ‘nude’ to apply to colours that would not look nude on me. The use of this tricky and insidious term has so far continued undetected (at least by the majority of people who use it in a fashion context). But now it appears to have sparked some healthy controversy.

Dimewars wrote: This is what happens when white people are considered people and black people are considered a special kind of people, black people.  “Flesh-colored” becomes the skin color associated with whites and darker-skinned peoples are left out of the picture altogether.

Fighting battles over words is often dismissed as ‘political correctness’ or ‘hyper-sensitivity’ on the part of those who are being excluded. But language and words are powerful signifiers of meaning – we use words to express and to think. Any terms that manage to exclude millions of people, while being applied as a ‘universal’ label, need to be updated and revised.

A conversation with my (white) friend on the topic went something like this:

Me: What do you think of when I use the term ‘nude’? In a colour context.

Him: I know it’s a very hegemonic way of thinking but I guess an off-white light sort of  colour.

Me: Me too! I never thought about it before. Another example of insidious ‘othering’. I’m finding new ones every day.

Him: I guess so, although the meaning has changed over time and the word is more neutralised now? Sometimes academic ideas aren’t realistic in the real world.

We didn’t get the chance to pursue the conversation, but my ultimate argument would be that things that don’t grow and change are dead. And I would very much like our languages to keep evolving to reflect our growth.

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Lazy reporting #1

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on May 17, 2010

Today Americans have a new Miss USA, the beautiful Rima Fakih.

My co-worker alerted me to the news. The first headline he saw was “Brunette wins Miss USA“, on the Stuff website. He likes comparing headlines in different publications (I guess it’s a quirk of being a sub-editor), and the headline he saw on the Herald website was: “Arab woman crowned Miss USA.”

He knows racial or gender qualifiers in newspapers are my number one pet peeve, so we went to town with this one.

Sure, it’s a routine and fairly tepid news item – pretty hard to drag out a juicy angle for the headline. A brunette winner? Alright. An Arab woman winner? Now we’re talking. Obviously Stuff took note of this opportunity to embed a meaningless ethnic and gender qualifier into their story. And what’s a story without some good qualifiers? They have since changed their headline to: “Arab-American wins Miss USA“.

These headlines would be fair enough if her ethnicity was brought up anywhere else in the stories, but it isn’t. So they aren’t anything but pointless qualifiers.

But TVNZ went one step further with their headline: Arab Muslim crowned Miss USA 2010.

But it backed it up: “Fakih is the first ever Arab-American to win the title, the first ever Muslim-American Miss USA.”

And provided some context: “The win is being seen as a welcome event especially at a time when Arabs in the US have been stereotyped in a negative light ever since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.”

But (as usual) Stuff and the Herald missed the opportunity to make their headlines relevant, or show the significance of those qualifiers to the story.  It would be preferable for the stories to mention something like: “With even US-born Arabs subject to harassment and marginalisation, Fakih took the crown of Miss USA.”

Well, better luck next time.

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