Thursday, 9 February 2017

It don't matter if you're black or white.

 “White Folks” “White Privilege” 

Lately, I’ve been hearing these statements be thrown around a lot. I have been guilty of this too. Especially a few years ago.  In response a few friends – close and dear to me – deleted me off facebook. And others grew distant. This hurt and sparked a lot of soul searching.

As someone who had grown up on the receiving end of “Brown” generalizations, I was thrown off. It was quite second nature to make generalizations around race. Some of the generalizations often superseding individual distinctions. And often met with clamouring displays of amusement that the said stereotypes were true. In fact, sometimes they were.

So, initially – I was taken aback. Why had I offended? Well firstly, where the generalized statements of Brownness were in good humour – the accusations of ‘Privilege’ ‘Supremacy’ and at times accountability for the atrocities of the world can be daunting and, dare I say, perplexing. And this is because it is grounded in contextual reality – one which is not of sincere humor – but grave accusation instead.  Also because it is debatable.

Take in fact – a fall I spent working a white collar job in a nice city in Eastern Ontario. My roommate was White. Waiting tables and juggling more than one job to pay bills and make art. When the question of White privilege was discussed at home – she’d be a daunting exception to the argument. A pleasant reminder in fact. There I was making more money than her. Just a simple distinction of how we applied agency in our lives, one might say.

Or – let’s take the summer I spent in Berkeley, California visiting my visibly Brown friend who attended Berkeley University. Where beset with a camera and youthful curiosity; I’d discover a few blocks from her home a place called People’s park. Befriending backpackers with no home, those whom had been raised in foster care.  Leaving behind Parents who dealt drugs. They dumpster dived and couch surfed. And were visibly white.

How about that time during the annual office staff party? As one of four South-Asians on the team (of a team of forty) I felt the weight of being a minority in the room. I worried about what they thought of me. And at the staff party the host – who was white – decided to play a game. A list of foreign ways of saying Christmas was handed around. “Figure out who speaks the language and where it is from” we were encouraged. I’d learn how to say Merry Christmas in pig latin, gailec, dutch, polish, Spanish and Italian. But that also I’d learn something far more important - that all these people I had generalized as “White” were in fact of various ethnicities.

I should have known better. In one of my British History classes in under-grad I had already been exposed to the fact that white people have ethnicity too. Take the Scottish, Irish and those from Wales. And you’ll find that not even in the United Kingdom did white people all see themselves as the same and, at times, they weren’t particularly very friendly to one another as well.

White people have diversity too. They too have their stories of oppression. They are in fact not all privileged. It is easier – with the current climate in Canada – for some who are visibly white to easily be accepted into certain socio-cultural scenarios. They are perceived and experienced in different ways. The fact that it is suggested they are all privileged is a reflection of this. But in reality whether this is fundamentally the truth remains questionable. When we look at the situation in Canada, though it may all look “white” – certain diversity issues are being worked out (gender, class, ethnicity etc.).

Nevertheless, I recognize that being visibly white makes navigating the world much easier at times.  I understand the challenges visible minorities face.  I have met those who are visibly black and have been in this country for as long as some of the oldest European pioneers to this country. The Underground Railroad is real and a harsh reality to be grappled with. There is a lot of work to be done. It is not over my head the stories of migration of the, Chinese, Japanese and Sikhs to this land. I know as a visible minority –being one – you are more susceptible to discrimination. This sucks. And you want to understand why. You want to get to the root.   But turning around and spewing generalized rhetoric has similarity to that which perpetuates violence towards minorities and may not be the course of action to take.

All I’m suggesting is that – don’t be quick to judge that diversity – and all the challenges that come with managing diversity doesn’t exist when you walk into a room or country that is visibly white. And do not be quick to suggest someone is “Privileged” before having heard their story.  By suggesting this –potential allies to address the institutional and societal issues one may strive to solve -  may be lost along the way.   

I had to learn that one the hard way.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Women's March: Turns out I've been wearing a "Pussy Hat" for over a Year ...

I found myself infront of the White House way past the allotted time for the protest to end – 5pm to be precise. The sun had descended. A large group continued to yell standing adjacent to Trump’s new home. The protesting had gotten a little aggressive; “Fuck you, Trump” growing louder and louder.  

I stood to the side with a new friend I had made growing a little disenchanted. Her presence was a highlight. She had traveled all the way from North Dakota Standing Rock. “You know where that is?” she’d ask when we first met. I’d nod. And tell her of what I had heard in the news; “I heard the problem was resolved now.” “That’s what they want you to think” she’d respond. 

She and I stood to the side chanting “Love Trumps Hate” or “Sustainable change takes longer than one day”. Things like that. We weren’t as popular but we were also sans megaphone. But we acquired a few admirers and some even joined in.

A family walked by. They caught my attention. Dawning baseball hats in clear support of Trump. Bravely in the midst of a Woman’s March that was slowly turning into an Anti-Trump March. I’d approach them.

They were of a lineage titled Sheppard and had travelled to D.C. for an inauguration of a president they had elected. The family explained why they made the choice they had made. They seemed surprised that they were able to express themselves without being met by aggressive retaliation. They'd explain they had experienced some rude remarks from protestors throughout the day.

“I actually find the march quite inspiring.” His wife would say “but I wish they wouldn’t attack us for having made the decision we made”.   

In the distance a young man would call out to the crowd that we should take to the streets. To which the woman with the megaphone would respond; “This is a Women’s March.”. But I had grown tired of standing in front of the White House. So – I’d follow him and a huge crowd out into the streets.

 A young white man had begun to accompany me. An exception to the patriarchy. There he was offering to carry my bag and putting an extra few dollars in my hand when we eventually stopped to grab dinner. Albeit he was a strong Clinton supporter as well.

There an elderly white woman sat alone. An outlier. I don’t know how we got to talking but she’d start to express that she wasn’t a fan of the rally. “They would have never survived in the 60’s”. “In the 60’s the rally was about spreading love and peace.” She felt the current rally was just aggressive disownment of an individual actor, in endowment of the positive faculties of another individual actor. 

She wasn’t a fan of Clinton; “I just didn’t like her”. She approached the conversation apprehensively. Expressing herself all the while looking at us waiting for us to say something. We just listened. She grew more comfortable to express. Including the stories of how her husband had served in Vietnam and had never been the same since. 

There we were in the midst of the largest Peaceful Assembly that Washington D.C. had ever seen. And there were people afraid to express alternative perspectives to that being spewed through the streets of the city. Eerie Tyranny of the Majority vibes. On the way out, the young man turned to me "that's the first time I've ever spoken to a Trump supporter". 

The protest would be a first for many. Like the young woman I met in transit in New York, New York on my way to rally. They had purchased tickets to depart at 3:45am and would be still standing there when I arrived at 7 am waiting for a bus to depart. That’s how many people had come through. And when I asked them whether they had protested before they had not.

Hours later I exited Union Station in Washington D.C. I was amused to hear individuals calling out to me; “purchase a pussy hat”. It held an uncanny resemblance to the hat on my own head. One which I’ve been wearing for over an year. But only that mine was purple, rather than pink. I had not purchased it with any desire of making a statement. And here it was a growing trend.

I was truly touched by the large congregation of women and the chants along the lines of “Her Body, Her Choice.” To “No Hate. No Fear. That’s what makes America Great”.  To seeing young white women and men carrying posters which said “Respect Women of Colour”. Considering the personal challenges I have faced, loosing friends, and lovers over the past few years as I articulated my concerns with inclusivity. It was powerful to be surrounded by several young white women saying things I had begun to learn to silence. 

For our generation, whom is quick to rush to the next best music festival or trip abroad, I feel it is important we also take the time to assemble together as a society to remind ourselves of the fundamental constitutional rights we adhere to. To remind one another of the values that have attracted countless individuals to the shores of North America in hopes of; Equality and Freedom. This might be what inspired me to be a part of the largest peaceful assembly in America. That and a deep understanding of the intrinsic connections between American policies and culture on Canada.

 But when the protesting was about Trump's small hands and orange skin I felt uncomfortable. When it became about hating on one man as the representation of all the problems of America – I felt disheartened. The problem is far more complex than the size of his hands or colour of his tanned skin I’d like to think. We should be able to peacefully assemble, standout for what we believe, without attacking and demeaning others. I hadn’t come out to be a bully.

When we look at the issues of power and inequality we must recognize its systemic nature. What we need is more mutual understanding and recognition at the very grassroots. What touched me were the one-on-one conversations I was able to have with individuals whether they were anti or pro trump. I think It’s important to understand both perspectives in order to objectively address the issue at hand.

Those who voted for Trump have their reasons for having done so. By demonizing and ostracizing Americans who have done so will never get to the heart of truly understanding with an open heart and mind what drove an electoral college and a large mass of individuals to make the decision that they did. It may appear absurd to the “popular vote”. But clearly there is another narrative unfolding in America that needs to be dissected. This cannot be done by proposing the opposition is insane, racist, sexist or uneducated.

The protest was ineffective when it held an overwhelming focus on demonizing an individual actor, his said organized social group and institution. It failed when it did not acknowledge that societies and institutions are made up of human relationships. 

In order to truly understand what is going on in America, we hold a collective responsibility of exploring varying perspectives. That embodies the true nature of democracy. This left uncheck might lead said protest towards a bias of maintaining the status quo, rather than truly being about addressing the systemic issues that inspire resistance.  

In the end, my poster which read “Hate does not make America Great” wasn’t just for all the Trump supporters out there. But also for some of my fellow activists that had come out.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

May this ignite the spirit and calling for Real Change.

I haven’t been a fan of Clinton from the start. But l sincerely believed she would win. And last night when I watched America light up red for Trump I was shocked. The lesser of two evils sounded really good in that moment and I felt my heart sink.

I must remind myself that I have been carrying this sadness around for a while now. All the problems this election revealed about the state of humanity has weighed heavy in my heart for far longer than this election.

For all the things I have learned about American Imperialism. And for all the ways our generation and this world continues to support and invest in it.

Nevertheless, this morning my spirit of grounding faith in the possibility of change ignited within. A feeling of the silver lining arose. The wolf in sheep’s skin has fully revealed itself, I thought. I watched on my social media as people were collectively agreeing there is a problem in America.

Had Clinton won, with the backing of the media and celebrities galore, our generation might have gone to bed tonight thinking there isn’t a problem down south. We would have remained compliant to a status quo that is defining the direction of this Earth and its people. We might have celebrated.

America has been leading its nation and the world’s culture, economy and foreign policy in a certain direction for a while now.

Now that Trump has won; might we as a people collectively begin to agree that this direction is something we do not want to perpetuate or participate in? 

Might we as people and nations awaken into a sense of responsibility and self-leadership? Will we realize that it is more imperative than ever before that we forge new pathways and alliances? That we, at the grassroots, take this world and its people in a new more promising direction.

Will this inspire in the hearts of all that the state of things is far more serious than we lead ourselves to believe? Will this inspire us to think more before we invest in America and the perpetuation of its influence?

Will we finally be a part of a process of leaving American Hegemony behind for good? 

Some interesting and provocative perspective from my social media and some of my Progressive American friends:


Thursday, 9 October 2014

A Grandmother in Berkeley

Learn more about this amazing spirit at her website:
I never grew up with my grandparents. A byproduct of being a first generation Canadian, I guess. They were left behind, on the Tropical Island my parents parted ways with for the industrial urban American jungle. 

There I was born in a high-rise apartment in downtown Toronto. In a Jewish hospital nonetheless. And I was raised by my parents as best as they knew how. Moral, righteous loving beings they were. 
Taste of liberty came late in life. In my early twenties I’d journey out to the west coast. Not knowing then that it was where most Americans gravitated towards as they fleeted from conformity to liberty. 

As a wanderer-vagabond-traveler, life was light at first. But the dark side of it all was there as well. Kids from troubled-broken-homes hitting the road in search of joy or peace. 

And it was on one of those journeys you can say that I found Andree. An elderly half-Jew who’d be the closest experience I’d ever have to a Grandmother daunting over me. She’d set meals in front of me and never left me hungry. 

She lived in Berkeley. She'd moved in during the 60's, as the land near her home was excavated and North Berkeley Bart station was born. Her home held a large expansive Garden. Chickens laid eggs out there amidst the vegetation. “Help yourself to the Garden” she’d tell me. And I would. Making myself garden salads whenever she disappeared off on one of her many social engagements. 

She was an active woman. A social activist to be specific. She taught an Eco-Art class at Laney College and held happy hours at her kitchen table every evening. Intellectual discussions about climate change and environmental destruction ensued. Her house was always brimming with life and activity. 

She'd invite me to stay for awhile up the stairs and into her attic turned bedroom. Books alongside the walls, old family pictures and her personal office. She’d show me to the back to a small room that would be mine for the days that I’d stay. Sun light streamed in through the windows up on the ceiling. I’d fall in love with the space immediately and count my blessings that she’d offered for me to stay.

As someone who strongly believes that the revolution for change must begin at home, her life unraveled before me like the very inspiration and light I needed. It was quite evident from the moment I met her that I was destined to cross paths with her. Her Garage converted into an art-studio where she made the plates and cups we ate and drank from. Her house covered in hand-crafted art. A powerful example of how one person, one home can make a small shift in reality.

I’d celebrate Rosh Hashana with her. We’d light the candles and dip apples in honey. Her son would come over and enthrall us over dinner with humor. She’d hug me, as we prepared dinner, “thank you for helping me”. And I’d be overwhelmed. It was rare that elders hugged me. It was rare that I was commended. 

I didn’t know how to show her I loved her. She’d walk past me and my heart would brim. I’d want to stand and hug her, rub my hand against her soft skin. But I had just met her. So I’d hold it all back. Holding the love and admiration within me. 

It was interesting that my first extended time with a Grandmother that she’d be a Jew. I always joked that I was partially Jewish. Growing up in upper-middle class neighborhoods where Jews predominated. 

“So you were Rich” she’d inquire. I didn’t know how to answer the question. The economic state of my family had fluctuated from poor, to rich, to middle class all in one life-time. To explain my economic status was complex. I felt affiliated to every economic bracket that humans adhered to. And I’d have to branch into history to truly explain it all. 

Nevertheless, I could have simply have said that though I’d grown up amidst wealthy Jews that it didn’t mean I was always as wealthy. Instead I kept cutting up the egg-plant placed before me and continued preparing dinner. 

How to explain why I lived with bare minimal simplicity. What I was doing on the road this time around, I didn’t truly know. I’d left a burden of pain and confusion in South Asia. Another story I’m still waiting to write. 

But she’d catch me. Catch me as I wandered through hunched over from regret. She’d catch me the way Grandmothers do. And she’d make it clear that she’d tasted pain as well. But she hadn’t let it hold her back. It had turned her into a woman with a mission. A woman that was aware of the struggles of the Earth. And was committed to making a difference. 

In the little ways of course, extinct animals painted on her car. “Stop Bitchin’ and start a revolution” written clearly on one of those weekend T-Shirts she wore. Inviting me to the class she taught at Laney College on Eco-Art. And by giving a hand to whoever seemed to be in need. By being there for me, when I needed her the most. 

Perhaps I have not been blessed to truly live and be with my genetic grandparents, but I surely believe I have found a Grandmother in her. And oh how very grateful I am that it is a Grandmother with a spirit for life, positive change and human evolution. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Buddha Flow

There have been so many great American adventures, thinkers. On those silent days where the mind’s past memories and conditions fade away I remember within me a piercing radiant light that just wants to feel what it feels like to be alive. A distinct unique phenomenal existence that should be remembered.

I want to be one of those people that remind people to wake up and seize the day. This could be your last day on Earth, make it beautiful. Praying, ruminating and thinking about Death helps me remember how precious and fleeting this glimpse of eternity can be. And fearlessly I recon I might as well become comfortable about being dead and free. 

So, I leave alone to places where I know no one. I sit on planes praying for all those I left behind, less I return to find them no more. But letting go I set forth into the unknown in hopes love will be found there too on the other side. And it usually is in the arms, hugs, support, and kindness of the humanity I have found everywhere. 

Humanity is what has kept me going for so long. So that I can build healing community centers, civic hacking projects for a new world paradigm, a world where working a prestigious 9 to 5 doesn’t encapsulate your day and life. Rather, perhaps that there are other things that one wants to put time to. To ride your bike a distance further than yesterday,  to sit by the ocean and feel it crash beneath your feet. These moments provide for me a glimpse a life of a Buddha amidst the chatter of material. 

Something keeps pushing me forward over the hill and into the arms of a hand glide up in the air over the Pacific Ocean. And you begin to wonder whether you’d ever want to stop living an exciting exhilarating life.

Especially when it seems to happen so effortlessly the more you let go of your mind, plans and to-do lists and just let life happen for you. The way a tree bares mango. The magical wonderful experiences that will make you as valuable as the sun - come naturally, organically. As you keep smiling and growing and accepting all the gifts life wants to share, seeking out to see the genius and intelligence in every precise moment that makes you whole and complete.

You remember. Life is easy. Life is precious. Life is awesome.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Free Space for a Free Bird

The day of my 24th birthday I’d whispered out to the Earth from the top of a hill in Berkeley: ‘Universe I want to know now what exactly you strive to teach me’. Hours later, with the night sky for company, I’d venture to meet a friend at a pop-up civic venture project at Mission and 7th in the Somo District of San Francisco.

A four-storey building would reveal everything I’d ever searched for. Free Space they’d call it, a project for the month of national civic-hacking. A property owner would decide to pass over his property for a month to some of the most experienced civic-hackers. Four stories high and spacious, in days they’d transform the space. Cultural-hacking they’d call it.  A massive network of burners and civic-hackers painted the walls and filled a month’s calendar with more than a 100 free workshops. Allowing me to taste first-hand what it would feel like to live in a free-world.

All my needs were met. I’d attend the contact dance classes, yoga and book-readings. Rummage through a free-cycle of clothing; I’d find new outfits to replace those lost on the road. And food-hackers ensured boxes of food were donated in the second floor kitchen. I’d even find a place to stay just blocks away for free!

The abundance of social engagement and goods to be shared for free uplifted me to heights of elation. It was the best gift the universe could give me. After months of living out of my back-pack to prove some inner intuitive knowing that humanity can be as free as the birds in the sky… This social-project settled beyond my imagination my inner-stirring that believed that we could live for free.

Free with value and worth. The project would go on to be recognized by the White House for its innovative nature. And to think all it took was a pure intention, a wish and a well-placed coincidence for me to discover magic. It was one of those miraculous experiences that would prove beyond all doubt that all dreams can be manifested!

In front of  Free Space in June 2013. This whole wall was painted in less than 10 days for free. Check out the video below to get a virtual tour of the space! You can find me in the video below at 6:29.

Friday, 28 February 2014

I'd pack one bag and set forth...

I’d go to work, swirl in my chair and watch my heart pace. Something was calling me in the direction that he had left. 

Three days would pass before I worked up the nerve to book a ticket to catch him in Calgary. I’d pack one bag and set forth…