Not that I read it that much in the first place. But let me start at the beginning.
R, my partner, loves magazines. He loves browsing those “Press Internationale” stores and buying magazines in his many areas of interest. As a lefty, he always checks out the lefty mags from the U.S. and Canada. Copies of Walrus, The New Yorker and Harper’s ends up in our house.
Although I am a lefty (duh), the ramblings of white lefty intelligentia alongside ads for luxury cars and diamond necklaces just don’t turn my crank. I’m an outsider that way. You know, grassroots.
So I flip through the mag, browse a bit and then turn to the last page, where, to my surprise, there’s an advice column authored by a man named Jeffery Goldberg. I love advice columns. “Cool”, I think (naively as it turns out).
First, there’s the image accompanying the text:
My first thought was: WTF?!? This can’t possibly go anywhere good. It really really can’t. I was right.
The first letter reads, in part:
I’m 63, but I tend to attract men in their mid-to-late 40s or early 50s. I believe in “truth in packaging,” and anyway, I don’t believe that such an age gap bodes well for a long-term relationship. So on the first date, or first encounter, I bluntly tell potential swains that I’m too old for them. If they ask my age, I tell them the truth. This is an ethical necessity, right?
Goldberg’s response, in part:
I fear that you might be pulling my leg here. I’m not acquainted with too many 45-year-old men who are wildly stimulated by 63-year-old women. Then again, perhaps you are uncommonly hot. I mean, hot-like-Sarah-Palin-except-even-older-plus-you-read-The-Atlantic hot. (The Atlantic is very sexy, by the way; in Asia, copies of The Atlantic are ground into paste and used as an aphrodisiac.)
Trying to be funny hm, Jeff? You racist idiot pig asshole! I don’t think I have time to deal with such levels of ignorance that you can make that kind of joke and think it’s funny. Maybe only your drole white lefty intellignesians find it funny. I knew there was a reason why I hate you guys so much.
And now I see the connection of the image to Letter #1. Hahaha so terribly amusing! Not. Because Orientalism is always funny, those Asian people sure do funny things, and in these times especially, it’s so very mirthful to mock an entire fucking continent.
So I read on. Why? Because it’s there, and I can get hypnotized by text, and ever the optimist, I imagine that the next letter will get better. I can be such a doofus sometimes.
I have just realized fully, after seven years, that I am married to a racist. He’s used the “N word” a number of times over the years, and we always fought about it. But he has always claimed to be directing the slur toward somebody “acting” like one, and not toward people of color generally. Well, I recently learned how he truly feels. He voted for McCain and I voted for Obama. He said, “Looks like we have an ‘N’ for president.” I was saddened and disgusted by his remark. I don’t believe I can live with anyone who thinks like this, and I’m planning to get a divorce. (snip) Do you think we can change racists’ minds?
To answer your deeper question with a question: Why try to change their minds at all? Racism isn’t a burden for us; it’s a burden for racists. In any case, trying to bring a racist to civilization is like trying to teach a dog to sing Verdi.
Let’s say the best part again: Racism isn’t a burden for us; it’s a burden for racists. Wow, just wow. Who is “us” Jeff? White left urban hipster intelligentsians? HAHAHAHAHAHA! So you aren’t racist, hm, Jeff? Nope, you know racism is bad, therefore you can’t be racist! Ever! All evidence (like Letter #1, this one, and Letter #4) to the contrary! Kewl!
Jeff, if you’re reading this, please read my post on the “get-out-of-racism free” card, that doesn’t fucking exist. It’s just below this post. I beg of you. Then read other stuff. And also, shut the fuck up.
I’ve always felt that my sense of humor has suffered because I’m not part of an inherently funny ethnic or religious group. My best friend is Jewish and Italian (a veritable font of humor), and my wife is Catholic (also good for laughs). But I was raised Presbyterian. How do I mine my psyche for better party repartee?
The idea that Presbyterians are not funny is a calumny propagated by Episcopalians, who are jealous of your dancing abilities. (snip) It’s true that genetic memories of pogroms, or the Middle Passage, or at the very least the Bourbon occupation of Sicily provide a crucial spark of humor. But it’s not true that Presbyterians are naturally unfunny. Here is one famous Presbyterian joke:
A Presbyterian husband makes love to his Presbyterian wife. After finishing, the husband asks, “I’m sorry, dearest, did I hurt you?” The wife responds, “No, dear, why do you ask?” The husband answers, “Because you moved.”
Okay, let’s count the levels of offensiveness:
1. Turning mass historical systemic oppression into a joke. “Let the hilarity begin”. Really? It’s 2009 last time I looked. FFS.
2. (Hetero)sexism of the boring kind that might have gotten chuckles 40 years ago. Sooo last century, Jeff.
The full page with the full letters and responses is here:
So, it all started with this article in the Toronto Star on March 25 in which a man named Percy Whiteman [I really can't make this shit up] is suing the Canadian government for not doing any screenings for HIV on new immigrants before 2001. Why? Because he alleges that his wife (who’s originally from Thailand), who he met in the 1990s and married in 1997 while she was a stripper and a dancer at the Zanzibar, was HIV positive when she came to Canada, knew this, and infected him.
There are many ways a discussion of this could go, and some of my thoughts posted on a discussion board elsewhere include: “(can people who think that white folks who get involved with people of colour are not racist please remember this story?)” because of the anti-immigrant racism, as well as the regular run-of-the-mill racism Mr. Whiteman (…giggle…sorry) was exhibiting in his lawsuit.
It wasn’t a hugely appropriate line to pop in there, since it wasn’t the topic, but I’ve heard it* said so many times, as if it’s a “get out of racism free” card, that for a white person just having a partner (or having had on in the past) who is a POC or a FN person is enough to stamp that white person “non-racist”.
But I received a message from a regular poster, indicating his confusion at that phrase, and his non-identification with the label of “racist”. He was sincere and I was in a mellow mood. So this is what I replied to him, some identifying details changed:
The level of understanding of race and issues of race and racism on [the discussion board we both post on] tends to be very simplistic. Here’s a list of “truths” that are generally agreed on at [this discussion board] that, in my opinion, experience, and learned education, are incorrect. Why I know them to be incorrect is because I live as a mixed race person, I facilitate anti-racism and anti-oppression education at the consultant level and have done so for 12+ years, and I’ve read many works by different people of colour: academic and personal, from a wide variety of ethnic, racial and language backgrounds, as well as talked extensively with people who experience far worse racism than I ever have.
So-called “truths” about race that aren’t true:
1. If a white person thinks that racism is wrong, then that person isn’t racist.
2. People who are racist are KKK types, neo-nazis, “rednecks” (I hate that word because it’s classist) and “white trash” types (ditto)
3. If a white person is romantically involved with a person of colour and/or sexually attracted to people of colour this *automatically* makes that white person not racist. Therefore, in an argument whether something is racist, such a white person can legitimately say “My partner who is (black, asian, etc) says you are wrong” or “I’m not racist because my partner is (black, asian, etc)”
4. Everyone can be racist, including people of colour
Re #1 through #3. Being mixed race, and growing up with one white parent, and one whole side of my family who are white, I lived racism from that side of my family growing up, every day. As I grew older, read more, and talked more to mixed race people, I found this to be the norm. Perhaps subtle, but there, always there.
White folks who are lefties have a very hard time “painting themselves with a racist brush”. I understand. “Not being racist” is a very significant factor in the identity of good hearted lefty white folks. I know. My (white) mom is one of them.
I don’t know if you’ve read my other posts on systemic racism, but systemic racism is imbedded in our society. Anyone brought up here in Canada has internalized these racist values, “truths” and other parts that we just don’t think about. No matter who we’re involved with and have children with. Having internalized racist values and behaviours makes all white folks racist. This isn’t negotiable. And it isn’t a bad thing to know; it’s a *good* thing to know, because once you know it and recognize it, only then can you break it down, examine your own privilege, and fight against the system, on a small day-to-day basis, and in larger ways, like becoming an ally. This leads to societal change.
Once one understands systemic and institutional racism, one won’t ever believe #4 on the list.
* “My boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife is black/asian/latin@/Arab/Aboriginal so there’s NO WAY I can be racist!”
There seems to also be this mythology that if someone is engaged in anti-racist action, such as say, writing a book about the racism of the far-right fringes in Canada, that somehow this makes this person an “anti-racist” person. I’m saddened, but not surprised at the low-level of this analysis. This hypothetical person (who is hypothetically a fairly high-up person in the ranks of a particular major federal political party) was recently in the news for making racist remarks about Asian food. What I read was a sincere and downright naive level of shock and surprise that this man, let’s call him Wally, would be racist! “Isn’t he the finest example of anti-racism there possibly is?” “If anyone gets a stamp of non-racist aka get-out-of-racism free card, isn’t it him?”….etc.
Even if he hadn’t been caught saying those remarks I would say no, writing a book about extreme fascistic right-wing neo-nazis is not fine anti-racism. It’s pointing out the frikkin obvious and making money off it. Maybe it’s one step up from white folks who visit countries in the global south, take pictures of brown people and sell those pictures for profit back home. Maybe.
So, hypothetical dude said some classic, regular, I would even venture to say, since this is my blog, unremarkable anti-Asian racist bullshit. My bar is so low, this doesn’t surprise me. For the love of cats, if I freaked out everytime this sort of vanilla racism happened I wouldn’t have time to do anything else!
So some rhetorical questions about this hypothetical person: Has he been active in grassroots movements that are fighting racism on the ground? Even from his position, has he been working at the policy and governance level to enact changes that would benefit POC and families of colour and immigrants of colour? No? Oh, he only wrote a book about those bad bad leroy brown neo-nazis? Sorry, that ain’t no get-out-of-racism-free card, or a stamp of the non-racist. In fact, those cards don’t exist, those stamps don’t exist and we really should stop talking about them.
The problem with talking about the neo-nazis is it focusses on the individual, and again reinforces that racism is about bad behaviour and bad people. There’s no systemic analysis, nothing to indicate that the fringes are on the fringe of a larger continuum, the other end of which isn’t “non-racism” or “anti-racism” but “striving to rid ourselves and our world of racist bullshit for the rest of our lives”.
It’s the equivalent of Godwin’s rule, you know, the rule on discussion boards that if you invoke the name “Hitler” you automatically lose to argument, as hyperbole proves nothing.
Well, there you go. Hyperbole proves nothing.
[Note from Maysie: Surprisingly this post isn't about race and racism in any way. Except a bit at the end. ]
So I’m early for a meeting and I’m hanging out in College Park in the mall area. I decide to poke around in the Carlton Cards store because it’s my sister’s birthday today and we’re celebrating tomorrow. Maybe I can find something.
Why do I think such excursions into mainstream society will be non-problematic? Do I live in such a bubble? Apparently.
So first, the “sisters” cards.
Sweet jebus high atop the thing. What the hell is wrong with people?
Either cards have the sappiest bullshit text ever, that I can’t even be pomo about, and generally accompanied by toxic sparkle crap that ends up all over your fingers, or cards under the “humour” banner which bascially make fun of the person you’re giving the card to. Never mind “jokes” about getting older. Goddamn it.
The regular cards aren’t any more helpful.
Then I thought, hey, the blank cards, sometimes they have something good. Now, I can enjoy a fluffy kitten card as much as the next gal, but those weird CGI kittens with gigantor eyes? They’re just frikking scary. We’re trying to have a celebration here! Not frighten the birthday woman!
But all of that is normal. I forgot. And really, I deserve to be assaulted in such a manner. I went into the damn store didn’t I? I try to buy cards for local artisans and now I’m being punished. No, what put me over the edge was a series of cards called “Blue Mountain” cards.
Have you seen them? They all have a metallic trinket/charm type things on a string with various “inspirational” words on them, like “love” and “hope”, embedded into every card. I glance at them, clearly no longer in control of my brain, and my eyes land on the “soulmate” card.
Now, I’m a huge sap, I cry at mainstream rom coms (that’s my big activist secret), I’ve cried at every wedding I’ve ever attended (even though I will never get married myself), not because I believe in forever, but because I believe in believing in forever.
But I have a humungous problem with the term soulmate and how it’s heterosexually constructed, and nothing can snap me out of a good cry (”why can’t those two just work things out?”) like the gratuitous use of that frikking term.
I draw the line here.
So I stare that the card with some sappy shit about having found one’s soulmate, and I reach over to pick up the card, thinking, what could be on it, that trinket’s so tiny, and sure enough, it’s the goddamn word “soulmate”
So, let me get clear here. Someone is going to buy this for their main squeeze and what, the recipient is going to take this manufactured piece of crap and what, WEAR IT?!?!?
So, that’s what made me sad today.
P.S. Why are all depictions on greeting cards of people are of WHITE PEOPLE?!?!?! Grrrrr.
In 1966, the year I was born, the UN passed Resolution 2142 (XXI) that reads:
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid “pass laws”. Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
Links are here and here.
I can argue both sides of this. On the one hand, there’s international recognition of race-based systemic discrimination (which is a mild word for events that have transpired both in the past and since that resolution was adopted), but on the other hand, it’s been 43 years since it was adopted and what changes have happened as a result?
Colonialism, imperialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples continues to happen in Canada, and “racial discrimination” would be the mildest, blandest, most whitewashed way to describe that ongoing disgrace.
The problem with UN resolutions is there is no force or power to make countries adopt pro-active measures, to compel countries to prioritize resources for this and other initiatives, which would benefit the poorest and most marginalized. We need radical change, and we need it now. Technically we needed it decades ago, but that time machine project is still not working out for me.
This is the question. I finally figured it out.
I grew up biracial, in a house with a white Jewish (non-religious) mother, and a Chinese father. This was normal to me. It was normal to eat Chinese food at home (that my mother cooked), to have chopsticks in the cutlery drawer alongside the forks and knives and spoons, to hear my dad speak in Cantonese and Mandarin, and for it to be normal to not understand him, or the Chinese books and magazines he had that I couldn’t read. All normal.
Around 9 or 10 I realized that we weren’t normal, and not in a good way. We lived in white neighbourhoods when I grew up, moving from a white suburb in Montreal when I was in Grade 2, to a white far suburb in west-north Etobicoke, that had a sprinkling of some people of colour, but not many, and the racism was very out-there, at least among the 9-year-olds. Pretending to be white was what I did, mostly successfully. For grade 6 we moved to another suburb, this one very Anglo. We had eggs thrown at our house and I was harassed and teased by the kids at school, although I had no word for “racism” back then. For grade 8 we moved to High Park, and the white neighbourhood was Polish and Ukrainian. Racist and anti-semitic, how lovely.
In public I learned to try to blend. In private I learned that my white mother did not understand racism, difference and what being a white mother of biracial children meant. As I grew older and found words and language to describe my experiences, and particularly after I stopped identifying as white when I was around 25, I took it on as my mission in life to educate the white folks.
Of course, I’m now able to do this work on a professional level.
But on a personal level, I feel that if I can just explain something in a certain way, show a certain power connection, then white folks will get it. Hell, I got it, after identifying with white feminists and equality feminism, and I moved on. Wasn’t I in a perfect position to help others along that path? Yeah, I see the problems with that reasoning. Now.
But I continue to be compelled to “fix” and “teach” white folks. Maybe because I need my mom to be an ally so much, that despite all history of her not being able to go there with me, it doesn’t stop the need. Since I’m close with her and care for her, visit with her regularly, and connect with her on many progressive issues, this makes it even more difficult.
But I have stopped trying to fix the random white people. It’s just like a bad habit, sometimes I can notice it and catch myself and to do the healthier thing, like Saturday night. Other times I fuck up and end up mired in stuff, and don’t notice until it’s too late.