Don’t Go In There!

Hmm… I still have access to the FtB server. Apparently the whole “plugging the security loopholes” lesson hasn’t quite been learned, given that you’re reading this post right now. Anyway, just thought I’d throw this out there, since it’s something that I did in January and is finally now seeing the light of day. This was originally posted earlier today at my personal blog (which, I’m sure it will disappoint you to learn, I am not posting at very much at all).

Horror films are a wonderful source of escapism, where we can feel the thrill of terror in the relative safety of our living rooms or a crowded movie theatre. One of the all-time classics within the horror genre is the zombie movie: hordes of shuffling, shambling atrocities hell-bent on devouring the flesh of the still-living. One of the iconic images of any good zombie movie is the panic-stricken victim of a zombie bite who is slowly turning from human into monster, as all morality and reason drains from their body while their comrades feverishly debate whether or not to put their erstwhile friend out of hir ‘misery’ courtesy of a well-timed shotgun blast to the face.

Cinema.

One of the things that has always struck me about the thrill and threat of the zombie subgenre is the idea that someone can walk around ‘infected’ without showing any outward signs of distress, but at that pivotal moment they ‘turn’ and lash out. Having watched enough zombie movies in my life, I know enough that I would be far more cautious about that ‘little scrape’ on my friend’s upper arm after a fight with a horde of the undead. I’ve seen enough movies to know that that ‘little scrape’ might mean the difference between life and un-death. I suspect that, if you’ve watched these movies too, you know as well as I do what the warning signs are – the eerie music, the mysterious noise, the unexplained ‘headache’.

Much like a zombie movie afficionado does, members of visible minority communities have spent years learning to read the warning signs of racial antipathy, even from those who don’t recognize that they’re ‘infected’ with the subtle biases that affect us all. They (we) have learned to spot the danger from a long way off, ensuring that we can take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves.

In the following presentation, given in January of 2013 in Kelowna, BC, I explore the parallels between zombie movies and anti-racism, with examples drawn from classic horror scenes. I discuss how we can learn to understand racism in a contemporary context, and understand the role our subconscious plays in our interactions, and how we can use this knowledge to avoid and combat racism in the same way we use it to avoid and combat zombies. I discuss how to have more productive conversations when you, as a member of the majority group, enter a minority space. Finally, I emphasize how anti-racism is a crucial and useful part of a skeptical toolchest, and how we can use this knowledge to grow the movement.

I hope you enjoy the talk, and please feel free to share it, as a whole or in part, wherever you like:

Part 1: Don’t Go In There!

Part 2: Fighting Racism, Zombie Style

Part 3: How Not to Get Your Head Blown Off

Part 4: Anti-Racism and the Skeptical Movement

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Clips from Dawn of the DeadZombielandShaun of the Dead, and Resident Evil claimed under Fair Use principles for educational purposes.

Colour blind, deaf, and dumb

Right now, as you read this, some well-intentioned white kid on the internet is posting a link to this video. In it, the actor Morgan Freeman states that the way to solve racism is to stop talking about it. Specifically, Freeman says that if the host stops seeing him (Freeman) as “a black man”, then he will stop seeing the host as “a white man” and they can presumably just be man-friends and hold hands under a double rainbow or something. Needless to say, I am far from impressed by both the content and the ubiquity of this clip, as it serves more to confirm the “I don’t need to do anything” impulses of white people who haven’t given much thought to the matter beforehand.

For my part, I much prefer John Legend’s response to a very similar question. And I think there’s something to be gleaned from the age difference between Messrs Freeman and Legend. The former is a man who came up in a world where the consequences of anti-black racism were dramatically self-evident: vicious racist slurs coming out of the mouths of police officers and judges, blatantly and unashamedly racist laws and policies, frequent acts of race-motivated physical violence with a blind eye turned toward it by an indifferent society*. The latter is a man who came up in the world of ‘polite’ racism and “post-racial” politicking, where the fashion is to find an endless string of euphemisms to disguise racist attitudes and behaviours that, minus the drama, haven’t changed much.

Which isn’t to say, incidentally, that the kind of racism that Morgan Freeman experienced isn’t still very much alive and well today; it’s just less common. [Read more...]

Another brief thought on identity shifts

Mohamed Salim is a number of things. He’s a man, he’s an American, he’s a war veteran, he’s a cab driver, he’s a son, possibly a brother or a father or a husband. Presumably he has other identities that are grounded in his personal interests: maybe gamer or Trekkie or brony or lacrosse team captain or whatever.

As you might well conclude from his name, Mohamed Salim is also a Muslim. And though it would not be so in a sane world, Mohamed Salim is also therefore a victim of violent assault: [Read more...]

‘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...]

The threat of blackness

I was with a few friends watching an episode of a show called Just For Laughs: Gags. It’s something similar to ‘Candid Camera’, where random passers-by are placed in comical situations, caught on hidden camera. The humour of the show is watching people try to react appropriately to an implausible situation: a man’s car is ‘stolen’ after he has asked someone to watch it for him; a woman dressed as a lion tamer runs in fear past some unsuspecting person, pursued closely by a confederate dressed in a lion costume. The payoff of the show comes at the end of each segment, when the unwitting participant is shown the cameras, and everyone has a good laugh.

The recent episode I was watching presented a pair of men dressed as police officers with a WANTED poster of a thief dressed as a clown. They approach the unwitting ‘target’, who has just agreed to hold a garbage bag for a confederate as they go into a store. The police open the bag, find clown garb (including a big red nose and a rainbow wig) inside, and begin interrogating the ‘target’, dressing hir in the attire and remarking on the resemblance. Ignoring the ‘targets’ protestations of innocence, the faux police produce handcuffs and announce that the person is under arrest.

Of course, the police then point out the hidden cameras, and the ‘accused’ people share a relieved laugh with the actors. I turned to one of my friends and remarked “notice how they didn’t show any of the black people laughing”. She shot me a wry smile as we reflected on the fact that being stopped by the police and threatened with arrest for a crime you haven’t committed is no laughing matter when you live in a community where the colour of your skin makes you suspect. Indeed, I would imagine that if I had been one of the ‘targets’ on the show, this kind of thing would be very much at the front of my mind: [Read more...]

Is criticism of Islam racist?

No.

Now let me explain why it’s not that simple.

In any dispute among atheists (or non-atheists) about Islam, the chances are pretty good that someone will make some kind of off-side claim about what “Muslims” do or do not believe, or that we need to curb the civil liberties and human rights of Muslims to protect “Western society” from “Muslims”. In many of these cases, the rejoinder will come back that such policies or beliefs are racist.

In these moments, the accused will oftentimes develop (almost supernaturally) an encyclopaedic knowledge of what racism is and how it works, or at least ze will behave as though ze has that knowledge. “Muslims come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds,” they say “so they’re not all the same race. Therefore it can’t be racist!” That brand of dismissal has become so commonplace that it is, more often than not, run through with a vein of long-suffering annoyance, not entirely dissimilar from the one heard immediately before the words “race card” or “political correctness police” are uttered. It is the reflexive, elusive, near-thoughtless evasion of the issue, so that one can stand behind the original criticism, regardless of its quality or accuracy.

There are two principal issues I have with this evasive response: [Read more...]

Lessons to be learned from the Boston tragedy

I have just returned from a trip to Boston. These posts have been waiting for a while to publish, and this is as good a time as any.

Over the past month*, I have repeatedly found myself in the odd position of defending Islam and Muslims from fellow atheists. As an atheist, I am certainly strongly antagonistic to Islam, as I am to all religions. It is, therefore, unusual and counter-intuitive for me to step up in its defence. After all, the critics and I share a fundamental belief that the world would be a better place if fewer people adhered to Islam. We share the belief that Islam is false, that it holds up dangerous beliefs in such a way as to preclude criticism, and that it is a major contributor to human suffering worldwide.

My departure from the opinions of anti-Islam critics happens when I perceive those criticisms to be grounded not in factual appraisals of the damage caused by Islam, but in a lazy conflation of ‘Islam’, ‘Islamism’, and general distaste about brown foreign types. These criticisms come quickly in response to any circumstance in which Islam is implicated. Even in cases where Islam is not explicitly mentioned, like in the case of so-called “honour killings” where the murderers are most often operating within cultural norms grounded in extreme patriarchial entitlement, Islam gets the credit by diffusion.

In the case of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged bombers in Boston, the anti-Islam screeds began to pour in well in advance of the suspects even being identified, let alone their motivations being known. When the news broke that the bombers did indeed profess Islam, I could almost hear the sound of a million Islamophobic cocks standing immediately to full attention. Finally, some vindication of the facts they had “known all along” – that a random act of terrorism was in fact religiously-motivated by the worst religion in the world, and there was no need to stop stigmatizing any and all people who are Muslim (or ‘Muslim-looking‘), or to examine our own policies and behaviours – it’s because Muslims. Full stop. [Read more...]

Ray Bobb: To The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Re-Posted With Permission)

A brief note from Jamie on the piece of writing (by another author) that takes up the majority of this post:

For readers who are unfamiliar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this is a government-implemented program in Canada, which visits indigenous communities primarily for the express purpose of hearing the experiences of residential school survivors, which are then reported to the Canadian government along with any insights shared by those communities about how the government can take steps towards reconciling with indigenous communities. Residential schools were geographically isolated institutions initiated by the Canadian government and run by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, in which more than 150,000 indigenous children over the course of more than a hundred years were forced to face horrific physical, sexual, and spiritual abuses while being racially and culturally brain-washed, in a campaign of systematic cultural genocide. Many children were assigned Anglicised names or even referred to only by numbers, many healthy children were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis, and countless children died alone in remote wilderness trying to escape. The last Canadian residential school closed in 1996, in Alberta. A majority of Canadian public schools do not even acknowledge this facet of Canadian history, and as a result, a significant majority of settler Canadians have literally no understanding of the continued legacy of trans-generational violence within indigenous families and greater communities. As a result, that majority tends to harbour dehumanizing and blatantly racist attitudes towards this country’s indigenous peoples, which prevents reconciliation between indigenous peoples and settler society, continues to maintain serious social barriers against the social growth and empowerment of indigenous communities, and prevents the Canadian government from being held accountable for its actions and racially selective policies against indigenous peoples (thus contributing to the perpetuation of debilitating racial injustice on the scale of genocide, merely repackaged to appear otherwise). This is all especially important given that indigenous populations across the country are once again on the rise (e.g., it is estimated that within the next ten years, up to a third of the province of Saskatchewan will be of indigenous heritage) and yet currently, approximately one half of all children currently in the custody of child care services are of indigenous heritage (i.e., child care services taking custody of indigenous children has become the new residential school system — there are now more indigenous children separated from their families by this abuse of power than there were during the 60s scoop). The following is a two-page essay that was handed to me by the author (a residential school survivor) at a recent consciousness-raising rally for indigenous rights.

[Read more...]

Go Home, Arab

One of my favourite standup comedians is a guy called Hari Kondabolu. He talks about race from a non black/white standpoint, and does so in a way that is consistently hilarious. Yesterday, he Tweeted this:

I'm a brown dude in New York City & I'm nervous to walk around alone today. This is how racism works.

“I’m a brown dude in New York City & I’m nervous to walk around alone today. This is how racism works.”

I thought this was a particularly sad commentary on reality for many Asian Americans, forced to pay the price for the ignorance of the violent reactionaries among their countrymen. Hari, born in New York, has Indian ancestry, which would (in an even slightly less-insane world) preclude him from being suspected for a crime – a crime whose author we don’t know. However, because those who would reflexively blame “Muslims” for pretty much everything aren’t going to spend a whole lot of time studying the history of India, or devote too many brain cells to the parsing of the likelihood of a random person with brown skin being actually connected to anything unsavoury, Hari’s caution is warranted.

Especially in the wake of how even people who are supposed to be responsible adults are behaving: [Read more...]

Possibly foreign

As you’ve no doubt heard from countless media sources, two devices exploded yesterday at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing two and wounding dozens. No group or individual has claimed responsibility for what appears to be an attack. I am trying to cage my language as much as possible here, for reasons I will make obvious over the course of this post.

Boston is my favourite city in the United States. It is also home to my closest friend, who was thankfully nowhere near the site when the explosions happened (although he had biked the route earlier in the day). Obviously there are no words sufficient to the task of expressing the shock and grief that Bostonians and Americans are feeling today, so I won’t waste much time in trying.

I did get a bit of a taste of it yesterday though, when I wasn’t sure if my friend was okay – standing at a marathon finish line sounds like something he’d be into, and when he didn’t answer his phone a part of my brain decided, despite having zero evidence, that he had been killed. The next half hour was black hell for me, as the thought refused to be shouted down by the voices of reason detailing the 90,000 other places he was more likely to be than at the epicentre of a bomb blast. He was fine. Working in his lab (a logical place for him to be on a Monday), with no phone reception.

That fear, that grief, that terror that was rampaging through my brain and playing fun percussive tricks with my autonomic nervous system, is not something I would wish on anyone – not even whoever is responsible for engendering it in me. [Read more...]