Black is black is not black

Someone recently asked me in a comment if I consider myself African American or Afro-Canadian. I cheekily replied ‘no’, because the option is not so binary as that. However, in light of this morning’s post, I suppose the question deserves a more detailed response. As I have laid out before, I call myself ‘black’ despite having one white parent. I tend to use that label when I am talking to a white audience – among other black folks where the racial signifier is superfluous, I identify as ‘Caribbean’ or ‘Guyanese’ when discussing my background. That being said, more than being a black Canadian or a Caribbean Canadian or a Guyanese Canadian, I am a Canadian.

As we can conclude from our discussion this morning, ‘black Canadian’ is not a particularly useful term. While it is true that all groups enjoy an important amount of internal diversity, this is particularly true of black Canadians, who are from radically different cultural backgrounds. This can be contrasted against African-Americans who, overwhelmingly, descended from slaves and can thereby claim a domestic pedigree far more than the majority of black Canadians.

The great shame of this reality is, for black Canadians at least, that the majority of black scholarship on race and race issues happens within the United States. Those of you who have paid particular attention to my posts about race will notice that most of the journal articles and peer-reviewed studies are from the USA, with very few from Canada. While I do try my best to feature Canadian race stories, it is somewhat slim pickings to find authoritative and compelling items to feature. This flies directly in the face of the fact that black Canadians are very different, historically speaking, from black Americans. [Read more…]

Ask Crommunist Anything

Many of you may not know that I am fairly active on Reddit. I discovered r/atheism just over a year ago and began branching out to other subreddits shortly after that. For all the (mostly justified) criticism that r/atheism garners, it is a wonderful place for atheists who can’t be part of a physical community. There is a lesser-known subreddit called r/blackatheism that aggregates content relevant to black atheists. One of the moderators suggested that I post an AMA (Ask Me Anything – an open-ended opportunity to ask questions and have them answered).

So I did.

I don’t know if any of you have questions that you’d like to ask me about being a black atheist, about blogging, about personal stuff in my life, or whatever. If you do, head on over to the linked AMA and submit your question.

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Black Canadians: who

This is the third in a series of posts I am writing in my annual commemoration of Black History Month. My inspiration, and source of historical material, is a book by Joseph Mensah called Black Canadians: history, experiences, social conditions. As I work my way through the book, I will be blogging my reactions and things that stand out. You can read the first post here, and its follow-up here. The second post is here.

While black Canadians come principally from the Caribbean and Africa (obviously), it is important to note that these areas are far from homogeneous. The Caribbean, made up of a fleet of island countries (and my father’s mainland home), enjoys a great deal of cultural diversity. While they share the distinction of being formerly (primarily English) colonies, each island has its own distinct flavour. This is even more true of the countries of Africa – with borders drawn by colonial powers and centuries of tribal development that is unparalleled anywhere else on the planet.

Consequently, it is nearly impossible to fully or even adequately describe the full cast of characters that comprise black Canada. Indeed, even describing them (us) as a group is fallacy layered upon fallacy. However, because we make up such a small population and face certain commonalities with respect to being seen as a unified group, it is useful and reasonable to speak in these terms. That being said, there is important information to be gleaned from understanding some of black Canada’s constituent groups. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Can I have yo’ number?

So as I get more immersed in the literature of anti-racism, feminism, class structure and sociology, it becomes harder and harder for me to enjoy jokes. For example, I used to find this video hilarious:

And it is funny – it’s a comedically exaggerated version of an interaction that happens between men and women all the time. Here’s the thing though: knowing what I know about sexual harassment and the pressures put on women to be “nice” to men who are overstepping their boundaries, it’s hard to laugh. Knowing that women are often “nice” because there’s a risk of violence if they aren’t, it’s hard to laugh. Knowing that some clueless dolts interpret anything that isn’t a clear and brutal “no” as an invitation to try harder, and that those same dolts will react to a brutal “no” as though it’s the woman’s fault for being a “stuck up bitch”, it’s hard to laugh.

Knowing that Darrel’s social awkwardness is exacerbated by his race, and that the same approach (modified for dialect) from a white guy would likely seem less obtrusive, it’s hard to laugh. Knowing that even if Darrel were successful in getting Yvonne’s number, the two of them have clearly different social backgrounds and would struggle to find acceptance in their respective communities, it’s hard to laugh. Knowing that Darrel could possibly face violence for walking down the street with Yvonne in the wrong neighbourhood or town, it’s hard to laugh.

Basically what I am saying is that thinking about things ruins jokes. So… I’m sorry I guess?

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“Birth control? Just keep your legs closed, you sluts!”

Yeah… I am pretty much FULL of rage right now:

Appearing of MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell today, Foster Friess, the main donor to the Super PAC backing Rick Santorum’s presidential bid, dismissed the controversy surrounding President Obama’s new birth control rule by suggesting that women should just keep their legs shut. Asked if he worried that Santorum’s Puritanical views on sex and social issues could hurt the candidate in the general election, Friess offered a more home-spun family planning scheme:

FRIESS: On this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s so inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.

I need people to say soothing things to me today. Video below the fold.

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[Read more…]

Classic Crommunist: I have a perfect face for radio!

Writer’s block continues apace. Not going to lie – I’m not a big fan of it. However, since the vast majority of those reading are new to the blog, and I have a fat slab of archives that stretch back 2 years, I figure it won’t do too much damage to repost some stuff that 99% of you haven’t seen before. My apologies to those who have – I anticipate being back to normal tomorrow.

Yesterday I was privileged to join Ethan Clow, the Vancouver chapter president of CFI Vancouver (the handsome devil you saw talking to Deepak Chopra) on his radio show “Radio Freethinker” on UBC’s campus radio. This is a weekly skeptic podcast that looks at skeptic issues in the news and discusses various salient skeptic topics. I was present as a special guest, along with Jakob Liljenwall, head of the Simon Fraser University Skeptics group.

We discussed, among other things:

  • Belgian police raiding a Catholic Church;
  • Organic pesticides being worse than synthetic for the environment;
  • The G8/G20 events; and
  • Confrontation vs. Accommodation in the skeptic movement

Of course Ethan, Jakob and I have similar views on things, but we had a fairly lively discussion nonetheless. As you listen to the podcast, you’ll immediately notice two things:

  1. Some of the things I talk about have appeared (or will appear, depending on when you’re reading this) on this blog, and
  2. There is a reason I prefer writing to speaking – I backtrack a lot while trying to explain myself.

So if you’ve ever wondered if I have a sexy voice, or you’re a friend of mine and you miss my sexy voice, give “Radio Freethinker” a listen. If the subject matter interests you, check it out Tuesdays at 3:30 on CITR 101.9 FM in Vancouver.

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By the way, Radio Freethinker is still doing its thing. If you’re looking for a new skeptic podcast, this is a good ‘un.

Classic Crommunist: Being Creative without a Creator

So apparently I am, for the first time in nearly two years, afflicted with a case of writer’s block. I am obviously not too thrilled about it. Here is an older post of mine, in which I get explicit about my life as a musician. I suppose it’s appropriate to talk about where inspiration comes from, in a time when I can’t seem to find mine.

A friend sent me a link to a 20-minute talk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the novel Eat, Pray, Love. I’m not a big fan of the book (I got through about 25 eye-rolling pages before giving up and reaching for the remote), but I am a big fan of (my friend) Claire, so I gave it a chance. I was right with her up until 8:30 when she started in on “creative mystery” and an external, supernatural source for creativity, and then the rest was invocations of magic and self-indulgent privileged pap, the likes to which Jim Carrey would be a fervent subscriber.

I do not know if Claire’s intent was to murder my neurons; I doubt that she was trying to lobotomize me through the intarwebz. She did ask me to write about some of my thoughts on the creative process from the perspective of an atheist. I suppose I have some claims to qualifications in this regard, given that I do spend the non-science half of my life playing and creating music. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on this subject, but first I want to address some of the themes that came up in Ms. Gilbert’s talk, which is available below:

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Classic Crommunist: Judeo-Christian Heritage? Hardly!

A number of factors conspired to rob me of my blogging time this weekend, and my life didn’t get any less busy during the week. Many of you have been with this blog for a while, but most of you will still not have read this re-post. I will try to be back to normal as soon as I find time.

I’m really tired of hearing people say “we are founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs” or “we have to remember that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.” It is a phrase that often comes out of the mouth of Sarah Palin, that ridiculous walking ball of Silly Putty (who is so loved because she has no personality of her own and simply imprints the image of whatever is around her). Knowing at least a smattering of history, philosophy and theology, I know this not to be the case. While the country was originally founded by people who were Christian (that fact is not in dispute here, although many argue that many of the founding fathers of the United States were deist or agnostic), the principles that make Canada the country it is have at best coincidental resemblance to Judeo-Christian principles. At worst, they are in direct violation of biblical commandments. [Read more…]

All that is old is new again

I don’t really like suspense movies. I think they’re wildly inaccurately named, because they’re about as suspenseful as an egg timer. The plots tend to be mundanely formulaic, and the “startling” moments can often be predicted within a 5-second window – not exactly shocking stuff. One of the most common tropes within the horror genre is the moment where the monster/killer/villain falls under a hail of bullets/magic spells/thrown puppies and appears to be finally defeated. Tentatively, the hero inches toward the prone corpse and nudges it to ensure that it’s really dead. Relieved, ze walks away. The camera cuts to the face of the villain, whose eyes suddenly and “dramatically” open, revealing that the evil has only been temporarily slowed, not ultimately defeated.

As trite and cliche as these moments are, we do see parallels in our political life:

A Ugandan MP has revived a controversial anti-gay bill but says the provision for the death penalty for some homosexual acts will be dropped. A BBC correspondent says MPs laughed, clapped and cried out: “Our bill, our bill,” when its architect David Bahati reintroduced the draft legislation on Tuesday. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was shelved in 2011 after an international outcry. It still increases the punishment to life in prison for homosexual offences.

Yes, the infamous “kill the gays” bill has once again reared its disgusting and bigoted head in Uganda. Fueled by endemic homophobic attitudes, anti-gay rhetoric from the United States, and a (somewhat justified) paranoia about colonial control of an African democracy, lawmakers in Uganda are trying to revive a bill that received widespread denunciation from the international community. Interestingly, though, the bill does not have the support of the government: [Read more…]

Temporarily suspending Empowered Health coverage

So I have been, happily, let down by the Vancouver Sun. I was relatively sure that their “Empowered Health” series was going to be chock full of ample fodder for my skeptical scalpel, but so far it is simply “diet and exercise” repeated ad infinitum, mixed with a few exercises in lazy journalism. As a result, I am going to suspend my weekly examination of the stories, since it makes for boring blogging (and I’m sure boring reading too).