SICK SAD WORLD

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.

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.