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.