‘Muslimed’ out of being white

When two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line, the simmering xenophobia and racism that lies just beneath America’s veneer of tolerance and enlightenment roared to the surface. The New York Post, a rag long known for its total abdication of journalistic ethics, posted an innuendo-laced front page inviting the dangerous speculation of every red-blooded God-fearing citizen with a gun in one hand and a poor grasp of demography in the other.

CNN, which is now known as a similarly talentless and scruple-less joke of an outfit, adopted much the same stance:

Last night CNN correspondent John King took to Twitter to offer more context on how he ended up reporting that a suspect, described as a “dark-skinned man” had been arrested in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing. CNN ran with King’s “exclusive news” of the “dark-skinned” suspect for an hour until they announced their report turned out to be false.

“Source of that description was a senior government official. And I asked, are you sure? But I’m responsible,” King tweeted on Thursday evening. “What I am not is racist.”

King offered his explanation only after the NAACPAl Sharpton, and the National Association of Black Journalists called him out for his inflammatory reporting.

In a climate when exactly nobody knew anything, people who weren’t particularly concerned about facts had honed in on a conclusion that was so obviously true that it didn’t warrant investigation: that the bombs were detonated by dark-skinned foreign Muslims who hate America because of its freedoms. It fit quite neatly into the prevailing narrative of jealous Muslims sitting in their caves, cursing the fact that America stands as a stark rebuke of liberty to their ideology of restrictive megalomania. [Read more...]

A Week In The Life Of Jamie

Jamie

 

An enormous confetti bomb of white privilege and transphobia has exploded through my entire life in the past week, and as I’ve been doing a lot of pretty important writing about it, I’d like to share some of it with you here. There are two core issues at work here. The first concerns SlutWalk, and the second concerns the environmental movement. In both cases, the best of the worst of white privilege and transphobia have precipitated. All in one week! If you’re having a bad day, I’d advise against reading this post until you’re in better spirits.

Also, profanity warning, and trigger warning for racism, mega radfem transphobia, and misogyny.

[Read more...]

Race/Ethnicity Just Isn’t Simple

A post by Jamie

Race is a social construct. It sounds like a pretty easy idea to wrap your head around, once you understand the meaning of what you’re saying. It’s the idea that the very concept of race itself isn’t genetically determined and isn’t quite as linear a relationship as simply contingent upon the colour of one’s skin (although this no doubt plays a significant role in racism and related constructs). Race as a social construct is a sort of discourse we pick up on, both consciously and unconsciously, throughout the course of our lives. Sometimes it’s literally hurled at us, and sometimes it’s very quietly and gradually written into (or out of) our day-to-day experiences. Race isn’t a Thing you can point at, reach out and take a sample of, and examine under a stereoscope. In my life, currently nothing is making this more clear than the public sphere of cyber activism in the Idle No More movement. The battlefields here are social media services like Twitter and YouTube, the comments section on online news articles, and blog posts. The battles being waged include re-education, de-bunking myths and stereotypes (watch for the Twitter hashtag #Ottawapiskat for a brilliant demonstration of de-bunking by inversion), and working towards inspiring others to start the work of decolonization from within. It can be and often is equally as exhausting as standing in the rain for four hours in the flesh, and it is an equally important tool in the greater repertoire of established tactics to counter racism, colonialism, and white supremacy.

And that’s right about where any demarcations you may have previously believed exist very rapidly become ambiguous and murky. Race/ethnicity and (anti-)racism is complicated as all fuck.

[Read more...]

The revolving door of white privilege

One of the most fascinating case studies to consider when trying to underline the point that race is socially constructed (rather than an emergent property of biology) is the gradually-shifting definition of ‘whiteness’. ‘White’ was a label that has seen many redefinitions over the years in North America, as people who were previously forcibly excluded (e.g., Italians, Irish, Jews) were gradually and begrudgingly included under that privileged umbrella. It is an open question as to what extent political expediency versus demographics versus socioeconomic power played in this reclassification, but one cannot ignore the fact that it happened.

Canada is not immune from this reclassification pattern either. While the original political power in the nation of Canada was divided between those of English and French descent, the threat of American expansion and the promise of abundant resources forced the government of Canada to open its doors to large numbers of immigrants. As that (mostly and intentionally white) immigration happened, the definition of ‘white’ faced some serious pressures, both political and economical, prompting a shift that matches the one happening in the USA.

It is this history that makes the following story worth a brief comment: [Read more...]

Settler to settler: #IdleNoMore advice

There is an overwhelming and near-undeniable temptation when presented with a social justice movement to see in it an opportunity for you to mobilize the energy and commitment of its members to accomplish one of your own goals. I remember for example, seeing a lot of passionate people during Occupy Vancouver insisting that what we should do is take all of our anger at the current political/economic system and channel it toward stopping pornography, or finding out what ‘really’ happened on September 11th, 2001*.

Now it is very much an open debate whether or not Occupy was a social justice movement per se, or whether its aims were too diffuse to qualify, or whether by largely ignoring the racial components of the system it complained about, it abrogated its claim to social ‘justice’. That’s not the substance of my argument here. What I will note, just in passing, is that Occupy Vancouver was well-attended by social justice groups, including (obviously, if you know the activism scene in Vancouver) a number of Indigenous organizations.

Which brings us around to what I do want to talk about, which is the role that settlers play in the #IdleNoMore movement; or, more specifically, roles that I want to see them (us) stop playing. First, just to establish some terminology, ‘settler’ refers to non-Indigenous inhabitants of North America (or Turtle Island), and speaks specifically to the fact that while we may live here, we are not the original inhabitants of this land. More information can be found here if you find this term troubling.

There are two general patterns of behaviour that I want to comment on, because of how often I see them and how deeply they annoy me. [Read more...]

Those poor Wall Street CEOs

One of the fascinating aspects of privilege is the way in which it totally skews your perception of what ‘average’ is. I would think, for example, that things like street harassment or sexual assault or other forms of misogynistic abuse are fantastically rare. After all, I’m a guy who spends a lot of time with and around women, and I almost never see street harassment or hear stories of people getting assaulted. It wasn’t until I actually asked the women in my life about their experiences that I saw just how widespread and pervasive these behaviours are – they just don’t happen when guys like me are around to see them. My male privilege makes the ‘norm’ of a safe and fair society seem plausible, when the lived experience of my friends and family is anything but.

So when one is confronted about their privilege, or when their privilege is even simply discussed openly, an interesting thing happens. From the perspective of the privileged, the critics are attacking what is right and normal! Why on Earth would someone criticize a just world? There’s certainly no rational reason to do that. Nobody without a particular axe to grind, or maybe even an outright hatred of a particular group would level such accusations against the norm, right? And when those criticisms continue unabated, there’s only one possible way to see it: as demonization: [Read more...]

A textbook example of racial privilege

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I am a big believer in the power of diversity. I’m not only referring to racial diversity, but I am of the belief that our racial identities inform our day-to-day experiences and the lens of how we see the world. A variety of experiences means a diversity of perspectives, which means in turn that any problem can be approached with a variety of solutions. It just makes sense – a group is smarter when it can rely on a variety of skills, even if the problem doesn’t have an explicitly racial component to it.

As a result, I am a supporter of affirmative action (AA) programs as a method of creating a more adaptable, agile, and smarter workforce. Whether that workforce is in academia or industry, we all benefit from being surrounded by people who are capable, but who also have life experience and perspectives that give us a better chance for a multi-faceted problem-solving approach. At the same time, I recognize (as do most supporters of AA programs) that it’s a non-perfect approach to the serious problem of racially supremacist systems. We have a history that has, at times explicitly, given the bulk of the benefit to some groups at the direct expense of another, resulting in a lopsided distribution of wealth, education, political power, and popular perception. There’s no way to re-balance the scales without someone feeling like they’ve had something taken from them.

Of course opponents of AA say that rebalancing the scales thusly is manifestly unfair. What we should do, they say, is just start treating everyone according to merit, thus ensuring that those who are “most qualified” will succeed. If we take race out of the equation entirely, we won’t be giving unfair advantages to one group, but nor will we be taking away opportunity from those who happen to be in a group that, once upon a time, had members that were wicked. By forcing race into the equation, affirmative action is being just as racist as those wicked ancestors were, just in the opposite direction!

Henry Yu explains the problem with that line of reasoning with a parable: [Read more...]

Looking at it sideways

We often use college course abbreviations to describe the various levels of social justice discussion. Someone might refer to a “101-level” conversation when we’re talking about identifying racism as a social construct rather than a biological reality. Trying to access the specific ways in which racial constructs impact the lived experiences of people might qualify for “200-level” status, since it requires us to understand and accept the conclusions from the 100-level stuff before we can move on to the real-world implications. Discussing things like intersectionality and the consequences of multiple identities that intersect race is maybe your “300-level” stuff, which is more or less the level I think I can comfortably converse.

But then there’s other stuff that, quite frankly, baffles and confounds even me: [Read more...]

No noose is good noose

Hey folks! Remember that time that Clint Eastwood did something hilarious?

Clint Eastwood did end up stealing the show at Mitt Romney’s formal appointment as his party’s choice for the US presidential election but perhaps not in the way he or the candidate would have wanted.

The 82-year-old’s rambling gravel-voiced conversation with an empty chair – supposedly supporting an invisible Barack Obama – proved a bizarre and confusing warm-up act for Romney.

“Mr President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them? I mean, what do you say to people?” he asked. He berated Obama for not learning from the Russian experience in invading Afghanistan. It was George W Bush who ordered US troops into the country.

For your convenience, the word “hilarious” has been temporarily redefined to mean “sad and pathetically embarrassing”. Eastwood, in a fit of improvisational zeal, decided that it would be an effective strategy to bring out an empty chair to symbolize the President and then have a one-sided conversation with him/it in front of an international audience. Columnist Jamelle Bouie noted that the image of an old white man angrily lecturing an imaginary Obama was a perfect encapsulation of the entire Republican election process.

So that happened, and it was weird, and after a couple of weeks we all just kind of moved on from it. Well… almost all of us: [Read more...]

Catching them being honest

One of the pieces of political language that drives me absolutely nuts is the term ‘illegal immigrants’. The system of immigration in both Canada and the United States disincentivizes documented immigration by making it nearly impossible and subject to interference by the capricious whims of the party in power. Looking at it cynically, one could make the argument that there is a huge economic benefit to the elite class, who can exploit undocumented immigrants for what is essentially slave labour, secure in the knowledge that threats of deportation are usually enough to quell any resistance to the illegal working conditions. The system punishes the exploited, not the exploiters.

Of course, there are few places in the USA that are more openly and notoriously malevolent to undocumented immigrants than the state of Arizona. Despite the blatant racism inherent in their newly-minted anti-Mexican law that they try to pass off as a way of handling “illegals”, they are still legally allowed to detain and deport anyone who looks ‘foreign’ and can’t prove their non-foreign-ness to the satisfaction of the towering legal intellect of folks like Joe Arpaio.

And, apparently, this lady: [Read more...]