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Entries in racism (4)

Sunday
Feb122017

This is Totally Normal

I realize it's been a while since around November 8th when John Oliver crafted the #ThisIsNotNormal thing, but I continue to have thoughts and feelings about it.

You guys, this racist bullshit that you are experiencing that's masquerading as the executive and legislative branches of the government?

IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR AMERICA. I'm over here rolling my eyes at people who are sharing these posts of people being detained at airports and hashtagging it with #thisIsNotNormal.

FOR YOU.

This is not normal FOR YOU, BRO.

Two months after 9/11, my dad was taking a flight to North Carolina. He was pulled aside, detained and questioned. This was a domestic flight from Florida to North Carolina. My father, at the time, was 67 years old, had lived in the U.S. for thirty two years and had been an American citizen for nearly fifteen years of those years. Since then, between my parents, in laws and extended family, this family has had over half a dozen encounters like this. 

THIS IS NOT NORMAL FOR YOU.

This is totally normal for US. 

So, why? Why bring this up in the first place? 

Well, look, there's two major kinds of racist/xenophobic/discriminatory paradigm:

1. Superiority Based Racism/Xenophobic/Discriminatory Paradigm: This says, "America is amazing and wonderful, white people made America, foreigners are terrible, gays are deviants, the only black people that get shot by the police are criminals, blow all of those sand people up and we'll be safe, etc."

And, then, there's:

2. Cluelessness Based Racism/Xenophobic/Discriminatory Paradigm: This says that the current climate of racism, xenophobia and discrimination is some sort of aberrant occurrence and totally ignores the pesky yet relevant fact that this triumverate of bullshit (racism, xenophobia, discriminiation) is somehow NOT woven into the tapestry of the American story.

So.

You know.

I like John Oliver.

But let's not forget John Oliver is the great grandson of an Imperialist Britain which used racism, xenophobia and discrimination to dominate over half of the world's population in throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

And then let's not forget that all those people who are using #thisIsNotNormal are the great great great grandchildren of people who appropriated North America from native peoples with their slaves in tow captured from Africa all of which was justified by racism, xenophobia and discrimination.

Barack Obama, our great hope, our American dream... was not normal.

This guy? P45? Is totally normal.

And he will never NOT be normal if you don't own him as a product of who we have chosen to be as a people for two hundred years.

 

 

Monday
Aug062012

Shooting in Wisconsin: Public Grief and the Art of Discourse

Two weeks ago, a gunman entered a movie theater and killed twelve people. In the days following the shootings in Aurora, there were discussions. We spoke of inadequate gun laws. Or we argued that this had nothing to do with guns. Mostly, though, we felt guilty because we shouldn't really be talking about it like this at all.

Grief: Personal Versus Public

When I was seven years old, my paternal uncle died. He was in his early forties and it was a surprise. There is the loss that one feels because any death reminds us that our number is coming up soon, but there's also the loss we feel because space of that dead person is unoccupied and will forever be so. In the case of my uncle, he was kind and funny and we were and still are at a loss for his presence in our lives. I remember watching the adults in my life grieve that moment, each one processing differently. Some wept and fell inside themselves. Some were angry and sought out people to blame. Some recognized that my uncle's poor diet and lifestyle choices were factors in his demise and shaped up accordingly. There was a lot of tension within the family because people were sad and didn't know how to say, "I'm sad, this thing that happened scares me, I don't want it to happen again, but I know that it ultimately will." Being angry makes you feel powerful and it offers a better alternative to feeling alone and afraid. It doesn't actually save you from feeling alone and scared, though.

Eight years later, my maternal aunt died of a brain aneurysm. Whereas my mother is a powerful, go getter type, my aunt was the kind of woman who would make your favorite food or knit a sweater for you on demand. It was beautiful to have a woman like that in my life to compliment my mother. Together they taught me a lot about womanhood. Brain aneurysms are funny things because they're not exactly easy to prevent and one rarely knows when they're coming. My aunt was a healthy woman who took care of herself in her late 50s. She was active and, well, the point I'm trying to make is that her death was unexpected. 

There's something about the unexpected that brings out the truth of us. 

Surprise strips us of the notions of who we are and we're left only with true, unfiltered expressions of ourselves. Something I noticed on the day that my aunt died is that most adults deal with tragedy and surprise in the same way every time. In other words, we all resort to the same behavior, even if the circumstances are different.

Patterns make processing easier. I mean, here's this bad thing that has happened to you, so are you going to sit around ruminating about how you're going to process it and how your patterns might not even be appropriate here or are you going to just feel what you feel? I don't know about you, but I find feeling what I feel more time efficient. I like to have my grief processing out of the way as soon as possible.

But. I don't know that this is appropriate in terms of its application to public tragedy.

We've been surprised by a turn of events in which a sacred space has been violated by unnatural and violent death. Yesterday, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, seven members of a Sikh gurdwara were killed when a lone gunmen armed with semiautomatic handguns opened fire into a crowd of worshippers. Like the two major "surprise deaths" that occurred in my family, the shootings in Aurora and in Oak Creek exist as our unwanted little "What the hell just happened?!" twins. Given the close time proximity of their occurrence, we're naturally falling back on our patterns. Those of us, myself included in this group, who tend to grieve through addressing policy reform (read gun control) are doing that, those of us who grieve through actual grieving are doing that and some of us are adopting the "this is definitely the end of the world, I'm buying freeze dried food" plan.

Subpar Discourse #1: The Art of (Un)Fairly Targeting a Minority

Some things you can't do much about -- in this case, you can't do much about the fact that you're going to feel sad when people die or that you feel scared when places like worship spaces and movie theaters are now suspect. There are, however, small things that we can do that don't require large amounts of effort except in that they require navel gazing and verbal discipline.

For example, the discussions that are differentiating Sikhs and Muslims: are they borne out of simple good intention to help people who may misperceive the two as being similar, or is the media using the distinction to imply something Rinku Sen of ColorLines pointed out:

 "He kept saying that Sikhs were not Muslims, but were often mistaken for Muslims and “unfairly targeted.” The first time he said it, I thought, wow, that’s unfortunate phrasing and he’ll stop using it after he realizes or someone points out the implication that Muslims can be “fairly” targeted." 

Link brought to my attention by Fatima Price Khan, aka my personal identity news aggregator, who you MUST follow on Facebook if you're remotely interested in conversations like this.

This discourse of how a Muslim is not a Sikh and how Sikhs are a "peace loving people" distracts from the more important point that even if Sikhs were awful, war loving people, it's horribly unfair that someone just walked into a temple of theirs and shot at them. Nothing they are or are not will ever justify or negate what has happened to them. This particular discussion distracts from the point that they were targeted because many Americans have been living on a free pass that exempts from the crime of ignorance regarding the different.

When my husband was a child, Indira Ghandi, the Prime Minister of India was shot by her bodyguard who was a Sikh. Tariq watched as the adults in his life stood watch outside of their Sikh family friends' homes with the intent of protecting them. Tariq, unlike you and me, has an intimate familiarity with the targeting of minorities, the violence and fear that accompanies it, but also of the love and bravery it can inspire within us. "I don't understand why the media here only takes opportunities to discuss people in the context of these events," he said to me tonight. "Why don't people already know about Sikhs, why do they wait until something bad happens to take that opportunity." I'll add to his sentiment by saying that if I met a genie who were willing to grant me three wishes one of them would be that the media would assume their responsibility to educate the population of America regarding her diversity so that we wouldn't be distracted with having to play catch up when something like this happens.

Sikhs have been in North America since 1848. CNN just told you about them. Chew on that for a while. When CNN juxtaposes Muslims and Sikhs and talks about "peace", it highlights two ways in which it has failed us as an information service to the public.  First, they failed when they didn't teach us about how "peaceful" Sikhs (or Muslims) were before these events took place and second they fail when they create an environment in which the discussion of a group being "unfairly" targeted is remotely legitimate. Our participation in the failed discourse and refusal to call out its absurdity is, of course, our failure. Finally, this is non-sequitar but the other two wishes have something to do with exorbitant wealth and my children happily being able to make and serve five course meals while I write blog posts.

Subpar Discourse #2: Oh, He Was Just Craaazy. Whew!

As someone who has a medical diagnosis based on anxiety and who's close to individuals with more "dramatic" diagnoses, I'm irate with these conversations. They offer an artificial sense of absolution that is very far from helping us discover the real truth behind these incidents.

"Well, that person was, you know, crazy." Is it too far fetched to assume that everyone who has ever killed someone is either a little "mentally ill" and maybe a little stupid? Who, I ask, in their right mind would take another person's life without considering the ramifications of their behavior? Forget the esoteric, "I shall not take a life" argument against murder, and just focus on the pragmatic "I don't want to be someone's prison bitch" argument. When you engage in the palliative effects of blaming a tragedy like this on "mental illness," the conversations that need to be had are suffocated beneath the rhetoric. When we blame mental illness for a shooting like this one or that of Aurora, there are two things that happen: mental illness becomes further stigmatized and we absolve ourselves of the responsibility of exploring the contexts in which these deaths occur. 

How We Get There is As Important As Where We're Going

The details aren't out at this point, but it's clear that a white, middle aged man walked into a gurdwara and shot seven Sikh worshippers. He most likely did this because they were foreign, strange and represented threats to the sense of order he needed to survive. Maybe he did think they were Muslims, but maybe he didn't. I don't know. He killed them because he felt their differentness was a threat to his survival. He may have killed them because he was angry about a world that was changing too fast or out of a sense of duty. I will tell you this, though, his actions don't exist in a vacuum. He breathed the air that we all breathe and participated in the same discourses that we do. 

There is no, pardon the phrasing, silver bullet when it comes to discussing surprise tragedies. There is no one answer. And there are factors that led to this shooting that did not have anything to do with Aurora and then there are factors that intersect with it. Our job as a conscientious members of society is to thoughtfully and carefully evaluate the way we talk about this moment. These talks and how they occur are actually more important than the conclusions we come to, I think. The emotional distance that exists between us and the strangers who lost their lives in Oak Creek offers us an important opportunity to reenvision our personal approaches to public grief.

We should, to honor them fully, take it.

 

Photo Credit: ljlandre via photo pin cc

Tuesday
Jan032012

The Help... in Mississippi or in Pakistan

I finally read (and watched) The Help a few days ago, and I liked it.  Sue me. Because, apparently, the movie and book are, according to some, racist and condescending in its portrayal of African American women of the 1950s.

Our own sensibilities regarding discrimination are certainly highly informed by, if not limited to, our own experience. I may perceive something as Islamophobic whereas you might feel I'm grabbing at straws.  To deny that our identities do not play a crucial factor in that disagreement feels naive to me.

I am not an African American, I did not live through Jim Crow or the "civil rights era," so I'm not comfortable dismissing the opinions of those who find fault with this book's treatment of those subjects. Except. I do have a very unexpected and highly personal experience with one important facet that's portrayed in this book.

I spent most of my summers in Pakistan when I was growing up.  I have memories of family, laughter, lush gardens, and great food. I also have very distinct memories of the help.

From cooking food to the basics of rearing children, young women and sometimes young boys participate in the management of Pakistani homes to the extent that daily life for the families who inhabit those homes would be near impossible without these individuals.  By my last count, my paternal home in Pakistan had about twelve "domestics" working in it.  These people clean the house, cook the food, buy the groceries, do the laundry, and tend the gardens. As much as my own family, these people are an intrinsic part of what I associate with Pakistan.

There is a scene in The Help where Minnie, a woman incidentally deemed a neo-Mammy character, is reminding her daughter that as a domestic in a white household that she should quickly establish a cupboard with her own plate, cup and silverware.  As I watched that scene in the movie, a long forgotten memory that took place in a humid Pakistani kitchen nearly sixteen years ago rushed to the forefront of my mind.

It was a hot summer day, and I was thirsty. One of my favorite things about drinking water in the subcontinent is that when folks want to be real casual, they use cups made of polished steel.  There's something about grabbing that shiny cup and filling it with cold water that acts as a sensory appetizer to the refreshment that will soon be eradicating the dry, dusty feeling that only a Lahori summer seems to be able to infuse into your bones.

I grabbed a steel glass on top of the fridge, poured out cool water from the fridge into the glass and relished the coolness on my fingertips as I slowly drew the steel to my mouth. And then I heard my aunt scream like someone had pulled out a gun, "Noooo!! Not that one!!"

My older cousin was also in the kitchen and immediately solved the problem.  She grabbed the glass from my hand.  "That's Tahira's glass....  don't use that one."

"No, I'm fine. I like drinking out of steel." I thought they were trying to tell me it was gauche to drink from a steel cup or something. I think I assumed they thought I was American and somehow I should drink out of glass instead.

My cousin took the steel cup from my hand and replaced it with a glass of water.  Then without the slightest hint of subtlety, I looked directly at Tahira, a girl three maybe four years younger than me, and mumbled, "Oh, unless, I'm sorry, do you mind, Tahira... I didn't mean..."

I thought maybe she was one of those people that are particular about who drinks out of their special glass or something. Yes, people like that exist.  I happen to be married to one. Tahira just smiled sheepishly at me and looked away.

My cousin who is an extremely intelligent and astute young woman approached me later to discuss the incident. "See, Faiqa," she looked into my eyes earnestly , "I know it's different in America, but you don't know about these people that work in our homes.  They have different personal habits than us, it's better that they use their own glasses and such."

I wasn't sure how to respond, but I will tell you this: I was not angered by this when it was explained to me.  Maybe it was because I was only 19.  Maybe it was because the young woman who was explaining it to me was a person I loved and a person who I have seen engage in some of the kindest acts that I have ever seen human beings perform. Maybe because the way it was explained to me was with such a sense of certainty.

I watched that "neo-Mammy" remind her daughter about having her own glass and plate and I began to remember more things.

I remember one of the girls being sent home because her clothes looked like they hadn't been washed properly, and I distinctly remember the look in her eye right before she walked out.  I remember the woman who gave her baby up to American missionaries so that he would have a chance to become educated. I remember being told to lock my things away when a servant who had worked in a home for over twelve years cleaned my room.

I remember not feeling right about these things.

And, yes, I remember these people having their own bathrooms in homes wealthy enough to accommodate that.

Up until that scene, I basked in the righteous indignation that many of us whose parents were not born here feel when we watch these movies about racism and injustice.  As if this is something that is exclusive to the history of the new land that we inhabit and that our pasts are somehow unsullied by the extreme unpleasantness of it all.

In my family's defense, they are not the exception -- they are most definitely the rule in this part of the world.  As a matter of fact, servants in our home are treated so well, that some of them have been with the family for decades, and, again, I would not presume to postulate on the emotions between African American maids in the 50s and the women they served.  However, I do remember that when I got married, Tahira, the little girl who stood in that kitchen years ago hugged me the day I got married and asked me to please not forget to come back to Pakistan.

Maybe the book "The Help" is racist and condescending.  I have no idea.  All I know is that as I read that book, I walked away from it understanding that discrimination does not only victimize the people who are on its receiving end.

There is a price that your soul pays, I think, for believing that because someone is poor, black, whatever that somehow they are unclean, untrustworthy or unable to take care of themselves. There is something very sad about observing people who have read many books, have been afforded so many opportunities and possess such goodness in their hearts as they lie to themselves about the fact that things are the way they are because this is the way they have always been.

Books and movies are valuable for many reasons, and while I appreciate the criticisms of this book as valid identity based positions, I am grateful for what the book taught me about my own.

Photo Credit
Monday
Jan022012

How to Talk so People (or Racists) Will Listen

This video is around four years old, and you might have seen it already. I've seen it before, but I still thought it was terrific when I stumbled on it a few weeks ago.  Mr. Smooth explains a concept here that is so simple that it often escapes us at the crucial moments that we need to remember it the most.

Everyone has prejudices and stereotypes stuck in their brain about how the world works and who people are.  Prejudice isn't the problem because it's always going to be there.  The biggest problems arise when it comes to matters of race, multiculturalism, politics, or even "tastes great, less filling" because people forget how to talk to each other.

We're trying to go for the kill when it comes to discussing controversial topics.  "The kill" is not the end game. Attacking someone with a zinger might feel good, but, forgive me for bursting that bubble, but it achieves nothing. In the end turning a discussion about race or politics into an exercise in promoting one's own feelings of self righteousness is of no value.

The end game is not feeling good about yourself, you know? It's compassion, harmony, a pluralistic understanding of humanity. I will go so far as to say that watching what you say and how you say it is at the core of achieving that. Let me add here, though, that living in a more compassionate world is likely going to make you feel good about yourself.

Watching this video might be the most important three minutes you spend today.

Unless you're a heart surgeon or a pilot or something.



How to Tell People They Sound Racist