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I am saddened and ashamed.

A Muslim woman was picking up her children from Grenoble Public School on Monday when she was attacked. Two men approached the woman and started hurling anti-Islamic and racist profanities at her. Police said the men started calling the woman a “terrorist” and said “go back to your country.” One of the men started punching the woman in the stomach and a second man ripped off her hijab during the assault.

A Toronto couple put a sign on their property, asking Muslims if they were sorry for the attacks in Paris.

Police are investigating a fire deliberately set at Peterborough’s only mosque. Police and fire officials arrived on Saturday at around 11 p.m. at Parkhill Rd. west of Monaghan Rd. to Masjid Al-Salaam after receiving a call of smoke coming out of the mosque. Peterborough police have confirmed that the fire was deliberately set.
Police in Kitchener, Ont., are investigating vandalism at a Hindu temple. Ram Dham Hindu Temple president Dilip Dav says several windows at the rear entrance of the temple were shattered late Sunday night.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall wants the federal government to suspend its plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year.

And this is just what I know about, what has been reported in the news I've read so far. It's not only that responses like this mean the terrorists have won. It's that when we act in this way, it shows that we are lost, lost to the light, lost to humanity and empathy and compassion. Doing evil in the name of good is still evil. We may think that we are defending something, protecting something, avenging something - but in truth, when we respond to hate and fear with yet more hate and fear, we are destroying light, destroying love, and destroying ourselves.

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I want to talk about something that troubles me greatly.

Why do so many white Western people keep insisting that all Muslims actively disavow the actions of a small number of religious fanatics who want to see the world in flames, when we don't ask the same thing of all Christians? Is it because we believe that Muslims are somehow different from us, that they are inherently more likely to choose and approve of violence? That they need to prove they are not bloodthirsty savages who delight in killing and creating chaos? Because that's what this demand looks like to me.

I have heard people say that Islam is a religion of misogyny and violence, but you know something? I've read both the Bible and the Qu'ran (admittedly, both in translation) and they really aren't much different on those counts. Both have passages that speak to love and peace and compassion, both have passages that seem to counsel violence and intolerance and revenge. Yes, in recent years we have seen much violence done in the name of Islam, but we are also living in a world in which much violence was, and continues to be, done in the name of Christianity.

I've heard people say that Muslims are barbaric and uncivilised, but I've studied history and I know that based on every measure of culture and enlightenment that I know of, by art and law and government and the creation of civil, caring societies, Muslim peoples have not been any less civilised, less cultured, less humane, than other groups of people.

Are we saying, then, that Muslims as a whole are not quite like the rest of us, that they do not feel empathy, compassion, horror and love they way we do? That they lack the breadth of emotions that we have? That they are not quite as human as we are, and hence we expect them not to feel as we do when a tragedy occurs?

What does it say about us, that it is so easy for us to think of others as not just different, but inferior? Perhaps it is we white Western people who lack empathy, compassion, breadth of feeling. We certainly have a long history of being unable to feel empathy toward those who are not white and Western. Maybe it's time for us to become more civilised, more humane, more human.

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In the wake of the Bernie Sanders Seattle appearance incident, I've seen a lot of white folks on the Net lecturing black folks on how misguided their criticism of Sanders is, because he marched with MLK and he's a good guy who wants justice and equality for all and they should be happy to work with him because he's far more an ally to them than all the other politicians running. And the hard thing for them to understand is that while all they say about Sanders is true, it's not relevant in the way they think it should be.

Which got me to thinking about one of the most insidious aspects of white privilege - insidious because it's primarily found among white people who are honestly trying to be allies, to work for social justice and equality, to fight the good fight.

And that insidious aspect is that we white liberals start thinking that we're doing all this work, all this fighting, "for" other people, and that we deserve something in return - gratitude, a pat on the back, a bit of slack when we backslide, some acknowledgement of what we're doing.

I totally get that. Sometimes I feel that way myself. And then, because I'm a white woman who is therefore lacking privilege on that axis (and a few others, but let's not get complicated here), and have known men who want some kind of acknowledgement for what they think of as their efforts on my behalf, I get myself out of that space of white fragility pretty damn quickly.

Because there's no way I am going to - or should be expected to - thank a man for not raping me, for not harassing me, for not limiting the work I can do, for not thinking he owns me or has some kind of natural rights to my emotional work or sexuality or submission and service, for not doing any of those things that demean, devalue, or limit me as a woman. There is no reason why I should have to be grateful to another human being for treating me, and others like me, as human beings. You don't get accolades for the basic social requirement of not being a total jerk.

It's easy to understand why white people (and indeed anyone in a position of privilege who is working to be an ally and bring about social justice) feel they deserve something in return. It's hard work, coming to understand your own privilege, rooting out all the institutionalized racism we imbibed with the very air we breathed as children. It's difficult, challenging yourself, your friends, your family, your community, your government. And we live in a society where things we define as work - even if they are things that are enjoyable, or personally rewarding, or obviously the right thing to do, receive a return. We are paid for the work we do for employers or clients, and if we do a particularly good job, we expect bonuses or promotions or raises or repeat business. If we do community or church work, we expect to be recognised for it. We want the acknowledgement of our peers for our generosity, our charity, our kindness, for the things we do for others.

But there are kinds of work we don't expect praise or perks or payment for. No one is going to reward us for keeping our house clean, for washing our dirty socks and underwear. We do these things for ourselves, because a house with shit on the floor is not a great place to live, because clean underwear feels better than crusty underwear. We do these things because they are part of the basic life functions we engage in for ourselves.

And that is what white liberals sometimes don't realise, or remember. We aren't engaging in social justice action "for" other people, like a white knight or lady bountiful, we are not saviours who deserve cheers and special considerations - we are doing it because not to do it would be to fail at the basics of being a human being.

There is no reason why anyone should be grateful when I treat them like human beings, because that is the bare minimum to be expected of one human being in relation with another. And there is no reason why I should get a break when I fail to respect the humanity of others, just because there have been times when I didn't fail. It's my own responsibility to behave like a human being, and my own reward when I get it right is knowing that I did.

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Or, why I finally decided to watch The Help and what I thought of it.

I had originally thought that I would not bother watching The Help. I'd read enough reviews to think that the whole thing was pretty problematic in terms of the framing of the generally unvoiced lives of black women within a story about a white woman finding her voice and getting a cool job.

But then I watched the Oscars - one of my little vices - and realised from her speech how proud Oscar winner Octavia Spencer was of her work in the film, and decided to honour her and the other black actors in the cast who had chosen to devote their talents to this less-than-ideal vehicle.

And I am glad that i did, because Spencer, and Oscar nominee Viola Davis did very good work in this film. And it is a film about women's lives and thus passed the Bechdel test with flying colours, always a good thing.

But I still would rather have watched these fine actors in a film about black women working as domestics in the southern US during the early days of the civil rights movement, and their relationships with the white women they worked for and the white children they cared for, without the framing story about a white woman's aspirations.

Not that we don't need more films about women of all races, situations and backgrounds following their dreams and succeeding, because we do. But to frame the story of black women with a story about a white woman who gives them voice, catalyses their actions... nah, we don't need any more of that.

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A Thunder Bay woman is demanding an explanation after a teacher's aide at her son's school cut his long hair — an action her lawyer says is clearly assault while the Crown insists there are no grounds for charges....

The seven-year-old boy had chin-length hair before the incident last month. His mother said staff at McKellar Park Central Public School were aware her son was letting his hair grow so that he could take part in traditional First Nations dancing.

I've heard more detail on this in TV reports. The boy reported that the teacher's aide took hold of him bodily, placed him on a stool, cut off his bangs, then took him down and made him walk to a mirror and look at what she had done. In what world is that not a physical assault - to say nothing of an act powerfully and revoltingly evocative of the way that Aboriginal children were shorn of their hair when they were taken to residential schools.

Oh, I forgot - the boy is First Nations, and that means it's just fine for a fucking teacher's aide to grab him and do anything he/she wants to him to make him look "acceptable" to white eyes.

TV reports are also saying that the same person has done this before, cutting the hair of an older First Nations boy becasue his hair was too "feminine."

Gah. Not just physical assault, but continuation of cultural genocide - imposing white North American cultural assumptions and standards on Aboriginal people. Forced assimilation all over again.

And all the school had to say was that it was a "regrettable incident." And the Crown says this isn't assault.

Fuck that. I hope the family's lawyer takes this as far as they have to, to get recognition of just what was done to both of these boys (and I wonder how many others at this school, and others, have been treated the same way).

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In the comments on the post in which Patricia Wrede's book, The Thirteenth Child, is being discussed, Tor user Alo, in comment 196, quotes from a rec.arts.sf.composition post by Ms Wrede, discussion her own (then) work-in-progress:
The *plan* is for it to be a "settling the frontier" book, only without Indians (because I really hate both the older Indians-as-savages viewpoint that was common in that sort of book, *and* the modern Indians-as-gentle-ecologists viewpoint that seems to be so popular lately, and this seems the best way of eliminating the problem, plus it'll let me play with all sorts of cool megafauna). I'm not looking for wildly divergent history, because if it goes too far afield I won't get the right feel. Not that it'll be all that similar anyway; no writing plan survives contact with the characters, and it's already starting to morph.

I repeat my subject line:

She said WHAT?

::head explodes::

It seems that, according to Ms. Wrede, at least on the occasion of the quote:

1. The best way to eliminate sterotypes of marginalised people in writing is to eliminate the marginalised people from one's writing?

2. Eliminating whole nations of people with thousands of years of history and rich, diverse cultures when writing alternative history isn't "widely divergent history"?

I know something about being erased from cultural representations of both history and modern society, and about people who are in certain ways like me being presented as often profoundly insulting and disturbing stereotypes when they do appear in cultural narratives - after all, I'm a woman, a queer person, a person with multiple disabilities, both visible and invisible.

And this just makes me sick at heart.

This isn't even a case of someone not thinking about the implications of making such a decision in developing her created world. No, she actually thought about ways in which the indigenous peoples of North America have been portrayed in settler literature, identified what she saw as problems, and deliberately decided to make the indigneous people vanish so she wouldn't have to apply herself to trying to do a better job of representing indigenous peoples that the problematic literature she identifies as the genre she's working in.

I say again:

She said WHAT?

::head explodes::

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I want to talk about what is possibly my favourite book, Margaret Laurence's The Diviners. It's the story of Morag Gunn, who grows up in a small Canadian prairies town in the period between WWI and WWII, and eventually becomes a respected middle-aged author dealing with her own daughter.

Morag is orphaned at an early age, and is adopted by the town garbage collector, who served with her father in WWI. She grows up poor and socially stigmatised, and all her adoptive father Christie has to give her for pride is his legacy of settler culture - the stoy of the Scots who left the British Isles under some duress and hardship, and established new homes and hopes for the future in the new territories, a trek made by both his and Morag's ancestors. He tells her stories of Piper Gunn, a heroic (albeit mythical) leader of the Scottish settlers in the Red river region of Manitoba. These tales not only help to sustain her pride, but eventually lead her toward her ultimately successful career as a creative artist.

But there's more to this book than an unquestioned revelling in the adventure of the colonial project. Becasue early on in her life, Morag meets her Aboriginal counterpart. Skinner (Jules) Tonnerre is Métis, and he too is poor and socially stigmatised and at the same time bright and creative with gifts too large for a sleepy prairie town to hold, but as a Métis, his options are very different. Yet he too has a mythic family legacy that gives him pride - the legends of his ancestor Rider Tonnerre, who fought in the Riel Rebellion at the side of Gabriel Dumont.

This is a book that tries to look at the settler culture of Canada from the perspective of both indigene and immigrant. And that doesn't shy away from rubbing the painful truths of Aboriginal experience in the face of the poor and socially outcast, yet at the same time privileged because of her whiteness, protagonist. Skinner and Morag are lovers at certain points in their long yet sporadic relationship, and for every step up the social ladder that Morag makes, there is some counterpoint in Skinner's life that kicks Morag - and the reader - in the gut, becasue no matter how hard it's been for her, she never has to face what Skinner and his sisters face.

And it's important that she try to learn, even though she never really does, because she and Skinner have a child, and no matter how hard Morag tries to pretend otherwise, her daughter is always going to be on the other side of the racial barrier, as her father was.

It's a subtle and complex book, one that explores a great many things at once - the power of story and myth, the struggles women face in being themselves (it's an intensely feminist book), the writing life among others - but this unrelenting juxtaposition of settler romance and Aboriginal realities is one of the things that lies at the heart of the novel.

As a white woman (and one of settler Scot background myself, and therefore having a personal inclination to be carried away by the tales of the heroic Piper Gunn) I don't know and haven't the experience to make a definitive assessment of how well Laurence did at this - but it's clear that she wanted to tell this story as a part of her creation, and that she tried very hard to do it right. And it's certainly had a powerful effect on me. (I have more to say about the book from a less directed perspective here.)


Among my positive memories of the last few iterations of RaceFail was the opportunity to find many wonderful recommendations of books by people of colour.

Reading about a book that has erased Aboriginal peoples makes me only more eager to read books that don't erase the indigenous peoples of entire continents like North and South America or Australia and New Zealand, and that deal openly with settler/colonialist issues instead of handwaving them aside.

I'd love to hear about what you have read and enjoyed/appreciated/learned from about the settler invasions that isn't about an Empty Continent.

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A platform-spanning discussion of Patricia Wrede's new book, Thirteenth Child, which originated at on with a review by Jo Walton, is taking place.

The discussion focuses on the ways in which the book, an alternate history fantasy in which First Nations people never arrived in the Americas, leaving the book's analogues for European peoples the luxury of settling in reality the Empty Continent that so much North American literature and popular culture seems to assume was there anyway (thus "vanishing" whole nations of indigenous - i.e., first arrival - peoples).

I have a suggestion for readers of fantasy who want to look at the other side of the Empty Continent trope. First Nations (Cherokee) author Daniel Heath Justice has written a trilogy of fantasy novels from the perspective of a people who have been colonised. It is heavily influenced by his own heritage. I've only read the first volume so far (the other two are sitting on my TBR shelf), but not only did I enjoy it, it made me think. My own review of the first volume can be found in my book journal, here.

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The Internets are talking a lot about racism and science fiction and a host of related concerns these days. There’s even a name for it – RaceFail 09 (aka The Cultural Appropriation Debate of Doom 09, because there has to be a pseudonym) – because so much of it has been about, in one way or another, how white fans and writers and editors and publishers are failing to even try to do the right thing when it comes to race.

I haven’t written much about it here or in comments in other posts, because I am wary of perpetuating the trope of the white defender riding to the rescue of the helpless oppressed person of colour. And there are so many powerful voices of colour speaking strongly and clearly and bravely and wisely and passionately and truthfully, they don’t need my help. They are not victims in need of saving, they are the heroes I hope to emulate.

But it’s also true that in many eyes, silence equals consent - with the oppressor, of course, never with the oppressed. If I do not speak, no one is going to assume that my silence means I agree with those strong, wise, brave, true voices of colour.

And so I say this: I do not consent to the silencing of different voices, even when they say what I am afraid to hear. I do not consent to the derailing of discussion on race and power and privilege, even when the discussion demands that I examine myself and find the unacknowledged racism and classism, the internalised sexism and ablism and heteronormativism, all the other influences that come from living in a society built on oppression and exploitation and protection of privilege and othering and dividing those who would resist in order to conquer all.

And I say this, too: I want to live in a world where we all can celebrate the differences of equals, where there are no Others, only different ways of being Us. But I know that’s not the world we live in, so it is incumbent on me to do what I can, in the best way that I can, in spite of all the internalised garbage I carry with me, and the racism of the world around me to try to make that world I want to live in a reality.

Here and now on this battlefield, for this white person who hopes to be a good ally, that means supporting fans and writers and editors and publishers of colour. It means honouring, savouring, learning from the words and thoughts and experiences that fans and writers and editors and publishers of colour have shared in the course of this engagement. It means taking the good that has begun here – the new ventures, the new understandings and awakenings, the new alliances – and building on them.

- - - - - - - - - -

Reading and learning:
The many links of [personal profile] rydra_wong
[community profile] 50books_poc

[community profile] verb_noire
[profile] fight_derailing

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OK, I have finally seen Iron Man, and while there was certainly lots of cool comic book geekery and a pretty, if superficial message about greedy corporate merchants of death, I'm tempted to suggest that the movie should be subtitled "A white American hero's adventures in the land of swarthy threatening people."

There are a lot of swarthy threatening people in this movie. They seem to be living in caves somewhere in Afghanistan, and have international connections that allow them to obtain weapons from the afore mentioned greedy corporate merchants of death (specifically, our wastrel hero's business partner at Stark Industries, the biggest and sexiest purveyor of weapons of almost mass destruction around). I guess that means that they are Taliban fighters, or maybe Al-Queda, even though they seem to be a gang who use ten rings as a symbol, and there's some throwaway lines about them being nasty swarthy people from all over the world, not just from Muslim countries. Hey, maybe they're some of the warlords, who were well known for terrorising the people... oops, no I forgot, the remaining warlords are good guys now that they're in Karzai's government.

Basically, the point I'm trying to make here is that the situation in Afghanistan, the real country, is very complex, and pretending it's as simple as frightened villagers, swarthy frightening terrorists and noble heroic American soldiers really does a massive disservice to a tragic situation.

Anyway, whoever they are, the villains kidnap our soon-to-be great white hero Tony Stark who is in Afghanistan showing off his latest weapon of not quite mass destruction to the American army, who he wants to sell it to. And here's where the movie really annoyed me.

Because here is where we meet Yinsin, a character who apparently was East Asian in the comic books but who is portrayed as Central Asian and Muslim in the movie. In this relatively short sequence, we learn that Yinsin really has no plotline of his own. He is Tony Stark's fellow prisoner so that he can save Tony's life, help Tony communicate with his kidnappers, assist Tony in his escape (note to some extent it is Yinsin's method of preserving Tony's life that gives Tony the idea for the super-powered suit), and then nobly and courageously sacrifices his life for Tony, surviving just long enough to assuage Tony's fleeting moments of guilt by assuring Tony that he always knew the escape attempt would end in his death, and he was willing to do that, because Tony is a great man and all Yinsin wants to do is rejoin his family in Paradise.

Now I may be wrong, but doesn't Yinsin seem an awful lot like the Muslim cousin of the Magical Negro?

And I know that this movie has been praised for its stand against the arms trade, but I found myself thinking that for a movie that purports to be about how war is evil, it was very convenient for the conscience of the Western audience that it was only the nasty men hiding out in those caves who used weapons against helpless civilian villagers, and not, as has been the case far too often, the Western forces currently in Afghanistan.

So, yeah, the action sequences were cool and there's nothing like watching two CGI
Transformers fighting it out in the streets of LA, and the noble sacrifice of Yinsin made it possible for Robert Downey Jr. to skillfully portray Tony Stark's character development into a post-modern superhero with flaws and a suspect past as well as a conscience and a desire to do right (permit me, though, to express some doubts as to whether working with a shadowy organ of the American government that calls itself Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division is going to do the world as a whole all that much good).

But despite the frothy geeky goodness, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

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Does it really need to be said that one valid response to reading something that you find profoundly angering in exactly the same way as the last fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand times you read it somewhere else, is throwing the book against the wall and writing about why that thing you read, in the book you threw against the wall, and in all the other books that you didn't throw against the wall because you hadn't reached your limit yet, made you so profoundly angry?

And even if someone comes to you and says, "that book you threw against the wall, it's written by someone who wanted to explore those issues that make you angry and try to expose them as what they are," it's perfectly reasonable to say "Just seeing it makes me angry and I don't want to see it, even in the context of trying to expose it for what it is, BECAUSE I ALREADY KNOW WHAT IT IS."

And I say this even though this particular book is one that I enjoyed, and that made me think about some of these things, because I am one of the people who doesn't know enough about those issues and hasn't been hurt by them and I wanted to see how they were dealt with and I had the privilege of knowing that anything that writer wrote about that issue could not hurt me. Plus, it had a lot of other stuff in it that was really interesting to me. So thanks to my privilege on this issue, I could read this book and not want to throw it against the wall.

But, you know, there was once this TV show that I loved. It said some wonderful things about female power, and it was lots of fun to watch. And then this TV show did something that made me profoundly angry in exactly the same way as the last fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand times I read/saw it in other places, and I didn't want to watch that show anymore. Because a lot of people seem to think that rape is such a wonderful dramatic vehicle, and getting raped by a god is even more dramatic, and they can give me all sorts of reasons why this rape was exactly the right thing to have in this TV show. But just because everyone and his metaphorical dog has used rape as a dramatic device, and sometimes they do it to show how nasty rape is and how surviving it can make a woman so strong, that doesn't mean that as a woman who has been raped, I'm not entitled to be profoundly angry and just say no to rape as a character development McGuffin.

And then there was this other TV show that I loved. It said some wonderful things about female power, and it was lots of fun to watch. And then this TV show also did something that made me profoundly angry in exactly the same way as the last fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand times I read/saw it in other places, and I didn't want to watch that show anymore either. Because there's only so many times a queer girl can read/watch things that written by people who think that it's the height of great drama to kill off the lesbians or turn them into insane and evil murderers, until she just doesn't want to see that anymore. Even if some people assure her that it's just because that writer never lets anyone be happy in a relationship, it's not like he's picking on the lesbians. Because lots of stories let straight people have happy endings, but they always kill the lesbians, or drive them mad.

So, yeah, I know something about lacking some kinds of privilege and getting so angry when privileged people use me and people like me in hurtful ways in books and movies and TV shows and cultural stuff in general. And I know that it's the right of anyone in that situation to throw the book against the wall, and write about why it hurt, and be as loud and angry as they want to be, because it is valid to get hurt and angry when someone is standing on your foot and not only won't get off, but tells you that they're standing on your foot so that people will see how bad it is to stand on someone's foot.

And it's the right of anyone in that situation to get even more profoundly angry when people tell you that you can't see that there's a good reason for that person to stand on your foot so people can see what it's like and learn from it because you're too emotional and not a good reader and haven't the critical tools to properly analyse what's happening in this brilliant piece of performance art in which someone is STANDING ON YOUR FOOT AND WON'T GET OFF. Or that you're being manipulative and abusive when you use strong and angry language to tell people that you're tired of people STANDING ON YOUR FOOT AND NOT GETTING OFF and you aren't going to smile, and take it, or maybe ask them politely if they wouldn't mind moving a little further away any more.

And I say this knowing that I may well be standing on someone's foot all unknowing myself, and can only ask that please, if I am, and am so stupid that I don't see it, then I would be grateful if you would tell me so I can try to do better at not standing on people's feet, because I know I don't like having my foot stood on, and I so don't want to stand on anyone else's foot either.

(If you need it, you can find context for this post here.)

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I am getting so bloody sick of mainstream North American entertainment deciding that I, as a white person, am so empathy-challenged that I can't possibly identify with a person who is not white.

I assure you it's not true. I've watched dozens of movies (I'd watch more, but they're not all that easy to find) where the characters aren't white, and you know what - I've understood the characters' motivations, I've felt that I could identify with their struggles and their triumphs - in fact, I've enjoyed all those movies just as much as - and sometimes even more than - movies with all-white casts that are supposed to - what? reassure me? make me think "my people" run the universe? protect me from seeing difference?

And I bet you have, too. Even those of you who are also white like me.

So why do things like this keep happening? Who decides that if the source material, which is popular enough that you want to make a movie out of it in the first place, happens to have most or all of the characters be people of colour, that has to be changed for a North American audience?

When are we going to start having real-life casting? When will the people doing their thing in the movies and television shows I watch look like the streets of the city I live on, where there's more than just one black person, one Asian person, and maybe one Aboriginal person at a time?

I've got an idea.

Why don't we decide that for just one year, no movies or TV shows will be made that have white actors in them unless you can "justify" why the person playing the character is white. Let's have people of colour as the default, and only cast white people because it's a major plot point and there's no way to avoid it without making the piece meaningless, or because, well, you have to have one token white person. Who is, of course, either the sidekick or the mentor, and who of course sacrifices hirself heroically to save the non-white hero. Oh, maybe we'll allow two or three big-name white actors to make a movie, just to prove we aren't racist.

Let's see what our most popular forms of entertainment look like to those of us who are white, once we're the ones you hardly ever see. It might actually, you know, teach us something about being the person who's defined as the Other.

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So The Canadian government has finally, formally, fully and respectfully acknowledged the deep and damaging consequences of the decades-long policy of family separation and forced integration of aboriginal peoples, the cornerstone of which was the Indian Residential School system, and apologised to Canada's Aboriginal peoples on behalf of both the government and the people of Canada.

It was a powerful moment. All business of the day in Parlianment was set aside, so that only the speech of the Prime minister, the responses of the leaders of the opposition parties, and finally the voices of selected representatives of the major organisations of Aboriginal peoples would be heard in the House this day.

It was an emotional moment. Many of the politicians appeared to be profoundly affected. Many Canadians, Aboriginal and otherwise, have been quoted in the media since, saying that they were touched, that they choked up, that they cried, that they felt some kind of visceral response to the public naming and owning of one of our greatest national shames.

It was a deeply symbolic moment.

But I can't help but wonder what's coming next. We have acknowledged the stolen children, but we're still trying to avoid returning the stolen lands, still fighting land claims. We set up a racist system of reserves and did our best to force Aboriginal peoples who would not assimilate the way we wanted them to, to become a marginalised people living under a paternalistic governance that eroded self-confidence and self-reliance. We allowed conditions on those reserves to fall well below the minimum health and safety standards of any other part of this country, to the point where many aboriginal communities live in substandard and often unhealthy housing, have no safe drinking water, have no local industries where people can work and no recreational facilities where young people can play and learn. And on it goes. The list of injuries committed against the native peoples of this land we call "ours" is a lengthy one.

We have apologised. For some of what we've done, anyway.

When do we start making meaningful, long-lasting amends?

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I've been watching a very interesting 4-part series on the American PBS channel for the last couple of weeks, called African-American Lives.

The set-up is that a group of about a dozen high-profile African-Americans, including Tina Turner, Don Cheadle, Chris Rock, Morgan Freeman, Maya Angelou and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (these being the people I was familiar with through the media) agreed to have their family histories searched, making use of every available methodology including genetic testing and comparisons with several different genetic databases.

As a Canadian, I didn't (and still don't) know much about the specific history of black people in the U.S., but watching this has taught me a lot more than I used to know. It'a also brought home to me once again how powerful is the emotional impact on a whole people who must, in order to examine where they came from, face the fact that their mothers and fathers were the property of others, and that for many there is no way to go through the loss of family connection to the past and to a place that has been an almost universal experience of the African diaspora.

Watching it has made me think again about a book I read a couple of years ago, Dionne Brand's A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging (my original review is here).

Even though my ancestors were driven from their homes, forcibly loaded into boats for a voyage across the Atlantic during which many died from the poor conditions and brutal treatment, only to disembark in a country they had never heard of before, at least I can trace my family names back to specific places in the outer islands of Scotland, and my family, when they arrived in Canada, were poor, but they were not property. I can imagine, but I can't understand in my heart and in my gut, and probably no one else who can say what I can say, can understand either, what it means to have those two facts overshadowing anything and everything one knows about one's past, one's family, one's history, one's roots.

Which is part of what makes certain moments of this TV show so powerful: watching the faces of these people as they are shown the records of family members identified in the slave schedules, or listed in wills ot bills of sale, as they visit a piece of land owned by a free ancestor, or find a marked grave, as DNA evidence links them to a particular African people and gives them a past that stretches beyond the darkness of the middle Passage.

morgan_dhu: (Default)

OK, we all know that a huge swath of popular culture is in reality a massive slough of despond when it comes to racial, ethnic, religious, gender and other kinds of stereotyping. In fact, sometimes it seems as though the mainstay of much popular culture is poor and/or lazy conceptualisation, design, art and writing that depends on stereotyping of one sort or another to communicate its message.

But seeing as how all sorts of people who are regularly stereotyped have been watching, analysing and complaining about this sort of thing for a very long time now, you’d think that somewhere along the line, the folks who create this kind of stuff might have toned it down just a little.

Well, you’d be thinking wrong.

First, there’s this mindboggling plotline in a children’s cartoon based on the Legion of Superheroes, in which a prospective new member is made to prove his worthiness to join the Legion by doing all the other superheroes’ laundry. Apparently it did not enter the writers’ minds that this might be a touch inappropriate, considering that the prospective member is an Asian character.

Wanna join our society as a full member with equal rights and priviliges? Maybe, sometime in the future – but for now, just shut up and do our laundry.

Then there’s the clothiers Abercrombie and Fitch, which in 2002* released a line of designer T-shirts sporting offensive caricatures of Asians:
One has a slogan that says, "Wong Brothers Laundry Service -- Two Wongs Can Make It White." Beside the prominent lettering are two smiling figures in conical hats harking back to 1900s popular-culture depictions of Chinese men.
More laundry. How original.

And then there’s the advertising for an international fast-food take-out and delivery chain that features a happy black family sitting down to partake of their featured fare. Just one bite, and the main character can’t help himself – he just has to jump up and start singing and dancing about how much he loves Kentucky Fried Chicken. (I have no link for this, but if you’re in Canada and watch English-language TV, I’m sure you’ve seen it.)

So, what have you seen lately in the realm of blatant in-your-face offensive stereotyping?

*I originally thought this was a recent product, becasue I do not always notice dates, but [personal profile] jenwritespointed out that this occurred in 2002. No matter when they did it, it's still some weird racist stereotyping shit.


Aug. 11th, 2007 09:57 pm
morgan_dhu: (white privilege)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what would be appropriate for me to write about for International Blog Against Racism Week.

I thought about collecting links about Canadian racism – because there’s this comforting little bullshit mantra we white Canadians keep repeating to ourselves, that Canada isn’t nearly so much of a racist country as, say, the U.S. is, which is false, because it’s not better here, it’s just different – but due to some health issues, I haven’t had the time to search for all the links I’d want to include. So I’ve decided to save that for next year, and prepare it in advance, because it needs to be said.

Then I thought about doing some sort of autobiographical piece, on how I noticed that there were people of colour in my world and when I started figuring out that there were differences in treatment, and how being raised by a well-intentioned liberal mother to believe that all people are the same, no matter what their race, religion or ethnicity (the good old colourblind approach to racism) might have made my behaviour different from that of some other people (because, when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, there wasn’t a lot of colourblindness going around, and I think, it may have been an essential step in the evolution of white recognition of racism and white privilege) but at the same time blinded me to the realisation of how important it is to recognise and respect difference, and to realise that saying “la-la-la, this is how I think it should be in a perfect world” does jackshit about how it is right now. But then I realised that this was that kind of shifting the focus of the issue away from racism and onto me, me, me, the well-meaning white person, that so many well-meaning white persons do so very well. So I’ll do that some other time in some other post when focusing on me is more appropriate.

Instead, I’m going to post an expanded version of some comments I made in response to an IBARW post about anger on [personal profile] oyceter’s journal.

On the Uses of Anger and the Resistance of the Privileged

I’ve been running into a lot of discussions of anger and how it is received when it is part of a protest against social injustice (such as acts or speech grounded in sexism, racism, ablism, heterosexism, transphobia, and other institutionalised systems of Othering, oppression, repression, prejudice, and privilege), especially when it is shown by someone who is a member of the Othered group.

It seems that it’s not nice for women to get angry about sexism, or for people of colour to get angry about racism, or people with disabilities to get angry about ablism, and so on. And when your inferiors aren’t nice to you, what do you do? Well, at first you ignore them, because as a superior person, you’re too nice to pay attention to their loss of proper subservience. Then you try to get rid of them – sometimes you even have to call in the servants to toss them out. You disparage them, talk to all your equally nice and superior friends about how horrible it is that all these inferior people are going around shouting and screaming and using foul language and sometimes even getting physical. You pass laws to keep them from acting up. You refuse to have them anywhere in your nice house, neighbourhood, workplace, playground, school, gentleman’s club, and so on.

It has been argued that this is why oppressed peoples should not allow themselves to be seen as angry, because then no one will listen to them, and nothing will change.

But then, one must ask, just how far does an oppressed group get by being quiet and polite and reasonable, and never, never angry? [profile] bellatrys has, I believe, covered this scenario very well. You don’t get far.

And yes, it’s very true that, if you then show your anger, you will encounter a great deal of resistance. But resistance is part of a process. If they are resisting, that means they have been engaged. They are no longer able to ignore, to pretend there is nothing happening. And that, I believe, is vitally important for change.

It is my belief that anger is important, that anger should not be set aside in the struggle for justice and for change. It is my belief that it should be harnessed, used to fire the spirit and support the body while you fight, even while it is controlled and channelled so that it feeds the message rather than rendering it incoherent. It seems to me that anger is how people respond when they are hurt, injured, mistreated, betrayed, belittled, excluded, done an injustice. It’s a healthy response. It means that you know something is wrong, and it has to be fixed. It gives you the energy to resist, to fight, to save yourself. Anger is not something to be denied. And using it effectively does not necessarily mean using it with violence, which is something that many people seem to think is true. Anger is energy – how it is externalised is up to you.

And yes, people who think of themselves as good people may – and probably will – get upset if you tell them by your righteous anger that they have at the very least benefited and been complicit in such injustices. In fact, they will probably go a lot farther than that. They’re going to resist. They’re going to call names, to excuse themselves, to say it happened a long time ago and it wasn’t their fault. They will argue that whatever is hurting you is hurting them too, to point out places and times where you, or your ancestors, or people like you, might have done something bad, or times when bad things happened to them, or their ancestors, or people like them (and all that might well be true, but some truths are not always relevant). And they’re going to be very, very hurt and dismayed at how angry you are, and how that’s just not like you, and they’ll try to persuade you that anger is not a valid approach, that you should be nice and calm and sensible and rational, just like them. They may even talk about how your anger is a sign that you’re not ready for, or perhaps not even capable of, being treated as equals.

But they can’t ignore the anger of the oppressed any longer. They have responded, and that is the beginning of dialogue.

(Time for a shift in POV and a narrowing of focus.)

Speaking as a white person in the face of anger expressed by people of colour, our reactions to anger are our problem. Not the problem of the people who are oppressed by the society we live in and benefit from, the people whom we indirectly and often directly oppress. We’re the ones who have to work though all the bullshit our privilege allows us to think and say and do. The anger of people of colour is what it is – the only honest response to what white colonialism, racism and imperialism has done to them. The fact that it is also a gift to us, if we chose to see it, is for us to understand and use.

Because people in power, people with white privilege - are, for the most part, not going to give up, or share, power and access, or let go of all the apparatus of lies and mystifications and covertly racist policies and all that shit that keeps us comfortable and unaware just because someone makes quiet, calm, logical, rational, nice arguments and appeals to reason. Because we can come up with just as many calm and logical arguments why it shouldn’t be done, why it doesn’t need to be done because the laws of god or history or the free market will do it in the right time and you’ll just have to wait for it, why it can't be done, at least right now, or why it wouldn't be right or fair or proper, or it would harm something important like the economy or national security or making whites feel good about ourselves, and all the other bullshit arguments. We have a million of them.

Most of us will not really be moved until we see and feel the anger of those we have oppressed, and understand it, and its consequences, in our gut. We are not going to change if we are asked nicely. Why should we? We have power, and privilege. It’s comfortable for us to stay that way. We might be poor, or women, or disabled, or queer, but at least we’re not people of colour – no matter how bad it gets for a white person, there’s always that little bit of privilege we can hold onto. (Of course, the intersectionality of oppressions means that many of you out there, regardless of your chromatic status, can say “at least I’m not a woman/disabled/queer/poor” – but this post is about racism, and we don’t need to fight about a hierarchy of oppressions, because there isn’t one.)

We’re not going to give this up without a struggle. We’re not even going to think about trying to give it up until we are forced to feel it. And we can’t feel a rational argument, or a polite observation. But we can feel your anger. And realise that this much anger has to come from something that hurts. That really, really hurts. And if we have any empathy left at all – and many of us do, it just that we don’t often engage it for people who we think aren’t like us – that’s going to eat inside of us, because we get angry when we’ve been hurt, and it will make us realise that you are like us, because you get angry when you’ve been hurt too. And then we, at least some of us, will start thinking about trying to give it up (in fact, some of us already have, and its because injustice makes us angry, pain makes us angry, and your anger made us understand that you are experiencing injustice and feeling pain).

Because it is about pain and empathy. This is why we make up myths about how certain kinds of people “don’t feel pain that way we do” or “don’t care about human life the way we do” or "hate our freedoms.” Because if we let ourselves realise that we're not the only ones who love life and freedom, and feel pain, that we're not special and refined and more evolved than all those other people we think are inferior, then we couldn’t sustain the illusion for ourselves any longer.

And that’s why anger will work, does work, has always worked. Constructive anger, anger that focuses the fire of justice on the pain that the unjust are trying to conceal, until even we can see how much pain you feel and how unjust we are.

morgan_dhu: (Default)

Every once in a while, someone I know on the Netz finds a website that does work with Implicit Association testing, and I go and test myself again. I've been doing this for a long time, longer than most, because I used to know via a particular fandom one of the students of the original researchers on this particular methodology and I took a test she had developed for her own research project.

So I have a fairly long history of taking them. I may be testwise by now, but I try to measure that by, whenever I find a new site that tests some new set of implicit associations, finding one of the first tests I ever took and retaking it to see if there's been a change in my results. There hasn't been yet. And I try to approach each new test I take with a clear mind, focused on the task and not on what the results will be.

So today I wandered through my flist and followed some links to the Harvard IAT test site. There were some new tests that I hadn't taken before, and a few that I had, so I took some new ones and retook a couple of them.

As usual, I am bothered by some of my responses.

My responses to one of the new ones I took was perfectly understandable. It turns out that I have a strong automatic preference for fat people over thin people. Seeing as I am fat, and that society is obsessed with thinness to the point of unhealthiness, especially for women, that's likely a good thing. It probably means that while I'm concerned about health issues, at least I think fat people can be good.

I also have always demonstrated a moderate to strong automatic preference for gay people over straight people. Again, being bisexual, I tend to identify with gay people more than I do with straight people, in general terms, so that one makes sense, too.

It also turns out that I do not have an automatic association between men and science, as opposed to women and science, which makes sense because I'm a woman who has always been interested in the sciences and has spend a lot of time thinking about anti-woman stereotypes and assumptions and I think in my time I've managed to get over a lot of them at a pretty deep level.

Here's the stuff that I don't get.

Over the years I've been trying these tests out, I have consistently been told that my responses demonstrate a strong automatic preference for black or dark-skinned people over white or light-skinned people. My responses also apparently indicate that I automatically associate North American Aboriginal people with being American to a much greater extent than I associate whites with being American and that I don't appear to think Asian people are "foreign" compared to white people. I'm apparently neutral in terms of religions - I have pretty much the same pattern of associations with Judaism as I do with other religions. I apparently also have a moderate automatic preference for Arab Muslims over other people. All of these responses are apparently anywhere from somewhat to very uncommon - for instance, my response to the preference test for black people vs. white people is found in about three percent of the American test population.

Here's what bothers me. I am white, raised in a predominantly white environment. While it is true that over the years I have had colleagues, friends and lovers of other races and religious groups, I was, like every other white person in North America (at least) raised in relative privilege and raised to be racist.

So when I look at these results, I wonder, and I worry. Am I unconsciously faking out the tests to reassure myself that I'm "not really" a racist? Have I fetishised people of colour? Or am I just so disgusted by the history of white people’s behaviour in general and American/North Americans in particular that I automatically favour any other group of people in a context where I am thinking about prejudice and race? I'm not sure I understand or trust what may or may not be going on in my head, especially with respect to the responses to race-based tests.

And the literature I’ve found online isn’t much help. Most of it seems to be focused on either reassuring me that I’m not a bad person because my results show bias against minority groups, or arguing that the tests are invalid because they make almost everyone appear biased against minority groups. There’s nothing that I can find about people who appear to be consistently biased against majority groups, even the ones that they are members of.

But there have to be other people like me that have a consistent anti-privilege bias, because that’s what seems to be the connecting thread in all of my responses over the years. This would even explain my response to the religions test – if I was unconsciously faking it, you’d think I would have come out strongly pro-Judaism, but if I’m being anti-privilege, then I’d be expected to get confused with this test, because it’s not comparing responses between two religious groups with unequal privilege in North American, but rather comparing Judaism on one hand and a collection of several other religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and North American Aboriginal spiritual traditions as well as Christianity, on the other hand. And while I’m well-known to be severely critical of Christianity as the privileged religion in North America, I would expect that I’d tend to favour the other religions included as much as I’d favour Judaism.

But I wish I could find more information on how to interpret consistent responses like mine on race-based tests coming from white people. Does it make sense to think what’s going on in my head is an anti-privilege bias? Or am I just trying to justify some unusual manifestation of inherent racist thinking? Or am I overthinking the whole damn thing?

morgan_dhu: (Default)

I am totally boggle-minded. The paintings of an American artist, Clara Maria Goldstein, have been labeled controversial because they depict Jesus as a Jew.

Goldstein has created a series of paintings showing such "controversial" images as: Jesus as a baby, being lovingly prepared for circumcision by Mary; Jesus as a boy, reading from the Torah; Jesus dressed as and in poses associated with being a rabbi; Jesus wearing a yarmulke pictured next to a menorah. Now I know that the contemporary evidence (outside of Biblical texts themselves) on Jesus is rather slim, but all the sources I know of seem to agree that Jesus was a Jew. Apparently it's even in the Bible, what with the whole being descended from the House of David, and debating with the wise men in synagogue as a child, and calling the Temple "my Father's house" when he was doing that bit of housecleaning, and other such events.

However, these paintings are being denied display because "Gundersen Lutheran [the hospital] is trying to be more patient-friendly and it doesn't want anything controversial to potentially upset patients."

Let me get this right - portraying Jesus as what he actually was, a Jew, is controversial and might upset people?

The stupid. It burns.

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