SICK SAD WORLD

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.

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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.

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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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.

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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If black women were white women

Posted in Reading list by Nancy on May 17, 2010

Food for thought, in case we all  still want to wake up tanned, blonde and thin (like every character on the Hills etc).

Here is the Source

In “If Men Could Menstruate,” Gloria Steinem makes the persuasive argument that “Whatever a ‘superior’ group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever an ‘inferior’ group has will be used to justify its plight.”

For too long the definition of racism has been a fight between white and black manhood or “who’s the bigger man”, so to speak. We’ve trivialized the existence of gender between both groups of men in favor for discussion of the “bigger issue”.

This has historically enabled white female supremacy—the most unchallenged form of white supremacy—to escape any critical thought.

What if suddenly, instantly, the power of white femininity were transferred to black women?

The answer is clear: Black women would represent value, purity; and based on their natural traits would be worthy of protection and instantly become the objects of universal desire. White women would represent the opposite.

“Beauty tar potion” would become globally popular to get the “black look.” “Dove” would be replaced with a black soap called “Raven” to help exfoliate the skin and bring out subtle hints of melanin.

White female features would be declared violent. Their “jagged” thin lips, “knife sharp” noses, and “harsh” jaw lines would be nature’s way of expressing why men have a natural preference for the soft features of black women. Soft lips, soft cheekbones, and soft, round noses would be proof of natural femininity. Full, pink lips and large, dark eyes would become associated with virginal black girls whose purity must not be compromised. Black female features would thus be said to represent youth.

Straight, blond hair would be considered “wild and unruly” because when the wind blew, it did not stay in place. Women with naturally straight hair would hide their “unruly” and “wild” stick-straight hair in public. The desire for “lightweight hair” that defied gravity would permanently end the use of blow dryers. Keeping one’s natural blond hair wild and straight would become indicative of a political statement.

The anti-aging properties of black female skin combined with soft, curvy bodies would be proof of the overall reproductive health of black women. Scientists would argue that black women were naturally preferred as long term mates and mothers because they were “healthier.” Men’s attraction to women is based on overall health and fertility, after all.

Suddenly, biracial women would be “in” because the hard features of white women wouldn’t prevent the fragile genes of “black beauty” from peeking through. Men would suddenly have the desire to date “ethnic,” non-black women since they would look “closer to black” than blond women—at least they wouldn’t look like white women.

Statistics would equate the fact that white women make up the majority with their “overpowering” and “strong” population. This would be proof that they could handle unsafe neighborhoods. The “strong culture” they would have created amongst themselves would enable them to withstand their lack of protection from predators and criminals. Statisticians would argue that men were attracted to black women innately because they made up a small percentage of the population. “We tend to value what is rare,” they might say.

Men would proclaim that white women deserve sexual objectification because “flat buttocks” allow for deeper penetration. In ghettos across America, men would stand on street corners and yell “Damn! You got a flat ass!” to remind white women of their sexual status in society.

Upper class women would be afraid that their “asses looked flat” since it would represent animalistic and sexual deviance, like white women. Black women’s buttocks, said to protrude farther from the body, would prove that their natural vulnerability made them “less equipped” to handle hardcore sex and rape like white women could.

“I need a strong white woman!” would become a popular “empowering” slogan for exploitative men who rationalized the emotional, financial, and sexual overburdening of white women.

Overweight white nannies would become the “acceptable white women” in popular culture as they do not pose a threat to black female superiority and privilege. Conventionally attractive white women would serve as a sexual threat to black women for single-handedly breaking down the beauty hierarchy.

Hip hop videos would feature men throwing money at “white bitches” bent over in front of the camera to showcase their white asses, eager for deep penetration. Entire songs would be devoted to hatred of “white gold digging bitches” who believed that they were entitled to the financial security in marriage to which black women were entitled. “Penetrable white asses” and “pale-faced hoes” would become the cash commodity for selling entire musical genres.

White women’s “hard” bodies would be deemed more “capable” of fighting off sexual attackers, while the soft curves of black female bodies would become worthy of police protection. White women, despite being at high risk of being victimized by violence and sexual crimes, would not “need” police protection.

Movies would feature black women as the main objects of men’s desire across racial lines while stereotypes of evil, bitter, and oversexed white women would further prove why men of all races simply did not prefer blonds. “We can’t help those to whom we’re attracted,” men would say. “Preference” would become an unconcealed acceptance of discrimination against white women. White women’s anger towards and sadness about the status quo would show their unreasonable jealousy of the innate superiority of black women.

Republicans would ban abortions to protect the virtue of pure, black motherhood and liberals would advocate increasing the number of abortion clinics in “low income” neighborhoods where white women would be the majority. Liberals would claim that white women had “culturally” approved of sexual objectification and were “safe enough” without outside help since they were warned not to touch “in-group issues” with a ten foot pole.

And so on and so forth.

The most important reality is that black feminists would eventually grow tired of being seen as innocent and vulnerable in patriarchy and would fight to erase the commodity of black femininity. “The innocent, submissive, and vulnerable representation of women is what puts us in danger. The rigid category of femininity has contributed to our oppression,” they might argue.

In the back of every black feminist movement we would hear the quiet and dignified pleas of radical white feminists. “But, we do not represent femininity. We are considered strong, incapable of feeling pain, and sexually deviant—but all this has done is increase our likelihood of being in danger. And aren’t we women too?”

As Gloria Steinem wrote, “In short, the characteristics of the powerful, whatever they may be, are thought to be better than the characteristics of the powerless – and logic has nothing to do with it.

What remains universally evident is that the many justifications for power and privilege are always inherent, always scientific, and always permeate society to the point that they remain deeply buried within our collective consciousness.

Until someone challenges them.

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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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