Archive for the 'Racism' Category

Uzma Shakir Quotes

Last week Uzma Shakir, GTA activist, visited Windsor to talk about activism, feminism, Islam, immigration, community, and violence against women, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, Sharia law, and the imperiled Muslim woman. I kept a running list of quotes from the talks I attended.

Here they are:

  1. “Kids don’t drop out of school, they’re pushed out because the knowledge is not meaningful.
  2. Multiculturalism is not just food, music, and dance. I call it Sari and Samosa Syndrome. We’re not talking about power — let’s talk about my right to wear hijab, about power and privilege.
  3. Activism is not about convenience. I cannot be antiracist all day and then go home at 5 o’clock, put my feet up and be a bigot.
  4. As a white person you can walk away when you get tired about talking about white privilege. A person of colour cannot walk away.
  5. Not all rappers are about guns and bitches.
  6. I can speak English. The gift of 200 years of colonialism: you come out of your mother’s womb speaking English.
  7. I had an arranged marriage. I arranged it myself.
  8. My family turns into a nuclear family by virtue of Immigration Canada.
  9. I was liberated in Pakistan, based on my class and family support. In Canada I feel very oppressed, marginalized. Here I had no daycare and all I can get is a shitty job.
  10. Contract work is precarious employment. It is contingent, temporary.
  11. Mothering [as a new immigrant] is about going through hell and having no one to talk to.
  12. I do parenting workshops to deconstruct the other parenting workshops.
  13. Social justice is hard work and messy work.
  14. Language is not neutral. Language is political.
  15. The Sharia Hysteria: if you want it you’re a Neanderthal, if you don’t want it you are a liberal.
  16. Muslims do not have a monopoly on oppressing women.
  17. I don’t get offended anymore. If I’m continually insulted I am frozen into inaction.
  18. If I am the standard and you are different from me then I have the power.
  19. When you get tired of anti-racism and social justice, remember those who cannot walk away. You’ve got to stand with them.
  20. I don’t mind being an immigrant. But my children were born here — their imagination of home begins and end in Canada. I can go home to Pakistan but this is home to my children.
  21. Pakistan has been colonized for 200 years but the colonizers went home. They left behind their cronies to watch over us. But in Canada, the colonizers never went home.
  22. I didn’t know I was being a feminist until I came here a week ago. I thought I was just a woman who liked to fight.
  23. We have to fight together. We have been marginalized and oppressed and if we’re not careful we’re going to marginalize and oppress someone else.
  24. Everyone wants to save the muslim woman. Some want to put the hijab on me and save me; some want to take hijab off me and save me; some want to bomb us and save me. Just give me a break man! I can save myself! I don’t need Western imperialism to save me or Western feminism riding on the coattails of Western imperialism to save me. I can save myself.
  25. Just because we are doing social justice does not mean we are socially just.
  26. We [immigrants and refugees] don’t come here to live in poverty. We don’t come for the weather and we don’t come for the food – we bring the food! We come for the democracy.
  27. To hurt someone is to sin. To watch someone else get hurt and do nothing is a greater sin.
  28. If you are a man you can be a feminist – if you are a man you
  29. must be a feminist because if you’re not you’re part of the problem.

  30. I wish all I had to worry about was [my son's] baggy pants and who he dates. I have to worry if he’s going to get arrested, if he’s playing basketball, out with his Black and Arab friends. This is part of mothering for black mothers, aboriginal mothers, and now it is true for Muslim mothers.
  31. My children keep me grounded and I keep them political.

More about Uzma’s visit here:
Sari and Samosa Syndrome

and here:
Uzma Shakir is Spending this Week in Windsor

Sari and Samosa Syndrome

“Sari and Samosa Syndrome.” Coined by Uzma Shakir and shared at one of the stops on her visit to Windsor this week , this is what happens too often when people attempt to organize multicultural events. People are invited to wear their “traditional cultural dress” and serve “ethnic” food. There’s music and dancing and before you know it we’re all diverse and tolerant and there’s no more racism. Right?

Shakir argues that these are not transformative, anti-racist events. Without a discussion about power, equality, and social justice — real issues — what are we changing?

Windsor is guilty of this. Multiculturalism is more than Carousel of Nations. Multiculturalism is not a weekend field trip. Who at Carousel talks about poverty? About discrimination, violence, about a woman’s choice to wear or not wear hijab? What about forced marriage? Having years of education rejected, being unable to transfer skills and training? About being both an engineer and a cab driver?

Two years ago, when I sat at a table at a social justice conference with a bunch of high school teachers this is exactly what I witnessed. In attempt to deal with their frustrations with racism in the classroom at their school and a desire to recognize the diversity in the school’s population they set out to plan a Sari-and-Samosa event. I’m sure it was very successful too. So-and-so was a dancer, so-and-so could bring food — it’s so delicious, you know! — but the event was planned to be entertainment not issue focused. Ah well, who doesn’t like a samosa now and then? And at a elementary school last year the local grade school sent home information about their multicultural fair: bring in an ethnic food to share and to tell about your “culture”. Sorry, but culture is a lot more than food. Food is something we share, a point where we can recognize similarities, not a place to emphasize difference.

Why are we so afraid of the dialogue people?

Addressing race, class, and sexuality in the environmental movement

The environmental movement has inadequately addressed issues of race, class, and sexuality. The feminist movement has only recently identified the need to consider race, class, and sexuality, and made concentrated efforts to be inclusive in their concerns, structures, and practices. As the environmental movement faces increasing pressure to align itself with social justice issues and to adopt a human welfare ecology model, the relationship of environmental degradation and human degradation will come more and more to the forefront.

Dorceta Taylor identifies that the environmental movement’s early history focused on issues of conservation and recreation (53). These were issues of concern primarily to white, middle-class people with disposable income and time for leisure. Some people interpreted this as people of colour’s apathy regarding the environment (Taylor 58, Seager, 182). Their issues sat outside recreation and leisure, instead focusing on community survival and social injustice. The narrow focus of the early environmental groups resulted in a movement that precluded the participation of people of colour. The founding environmental movement had a romanticized notion of the wilderness and a need to protect and preserve it as a place of relaxation and freedom. It was not until the 1980s that environmentalists’ interest turned to social justice and human welfare ecology (Taylor, 53). When environment was redefined as the space around us, rather than a romanticized, distant place, people of colour and of lower socio-economic status identified the environmental hazards and toxic dumping grounds, which poisoned their work and home lives as environmental issues (Seager 183, Taylor 54).

The environmental movement has a history of tokenism. Many environmental groups have wanted to present a face of diversity without adopting inclusive mandates and projects. Discrimination also takes the form of groups looking for ‘white’ people of colour: those who are English speakers, educated in the West, and who are less likely to challenge the status quo of a mostly white group, concerned with mostly white issues.

The least powerful people in society are the hardest hit by environmental degradation (Alston and Brown 179). Alston and Brown identify the less powerful as those populations who are non-white, uneducated, and/or have lower socio-economic status (Alston & Brown 179). Often this family will be forced to choose between earning a living and protecting themselves from environmental health risks. These groups face a greater risk of exposure to toxins, environmental hazards, and mysterious illnesses (Taylor 54). Environmental groups are only just recognizing technology practices that place marginalized groups in proximity to dangerous toxins.

War causes death and the environment is among the casualties. Procedures like the “scorched earth policy” cause massive deforestation (Alston & Brown 180). War also causes soil erosion, climate changes, a destruction of natural resources, and water shortages, leading to disease (Alston & Brown 180). Wars displace people to urban areas further stressing the land. The lasting effects of chemical defoliants and weapons cause birth defects (Alston & Brown 180). The victims of war suffer during and after war: deaths of loved ones, loss of property and for women war often brings rape and pregnancy. Treatments and surgeries for diseases and birth defects are only available to those with resources. Most victims cannot afford treatment which making class an environmental justice issue. Environmental groups are realizing the relationship between the environment and victims of war. Newly politicized groups like Doctors without Borders realize that they cannot heal people who are surrounded by warfare and lacking resources like clean water.

Less powerful groups of people are often exploited for their land and resources. No one asked the First Nations people of (now) Nevada to allow underground nuclear testing on their land (Alston & Brown 183). They and many other indigenous groups have seen their land destroyed by nuclear weapon testing (Alston & Brown 183). International waste trade ships the refuse from privileged groups to other countries that are only beginning to object (Alston & Brown 185). Medicinal flora is harvested and patented by industrialized countries without consultation with the indigenous people who cultivated its use in health and healing (Alston & Brown 190-91). All of these practices exploit marginalized groups for the profit of others. These environmental issues need attention.

There are still women’s issues that need attention. Sexual health issues, for example the impact of xenoestrogens on women’s reproductive health, have barely been addressed. Also saddening is the history of sexism in the environmental movement. As issues are mainstreamed, men take over and profit from women’s volunteer grassroots organizing (Seager 178). The environment is big business and men run the large environmental organizations (Seager 178).

Women’s experiences of oppression share many parallels with the experiences of marginalized people and the environment: the story of exploited people and resources. As environmental activists realize that environmental justice is interlinked with social justice they will be able to learn from the lessons of the feminist movement. The lessons from and the politicization of women’s lived experiences (Heller 41-42) demonstrate the need to make room for the lived experiences of people of colour and people with less privilege (Taylor 58). As we approach this reality, the same dilemma will face the environmental movement that faced feminists: uniting people in different geographic locations, with differing concerns and facing different barriers, but all at the hand of those with power. Combined with the necessity of the privileged to reject middle-class consumption, it is through alliances that environmental recovery will be possible.

Works Cited

Alston, Dana & Nicole Brown “Global Threats to People of Color”
Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots.
R.D. Bullard, Ed. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 1993. 179-194.

Heller, Chaia. “Reflection on the Ecofeminist Desire for Nature”
Ecology of Everyday Life: Rethinking the Desire for Nature.
Montréal: Black Rose Books. 1999. 39-66.

Seager, Joni. “The Ecology Establishment.” Earth Follies: Coming to Feminist Terms with the Global Environmental Crisis. Kentucky, USA: Routledge. 1994. 167-221.

Taylor, Dorceta E. “Environmentalism and the Politics of Inclusion”
Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots.
R.D. Bullard, Ed. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 1993. 53-61.

Racism in the bathwater

Background: Canada funds two school systems: the public and the separate (Catholic) in both official languages, French and English. Incidentally, there are private Fundamentalist Christian schools, a Mennonite school, and an Islamic school in the local community that receive no government support. Parents whose children attend these schools are still required to pay taxes to support either the public or the separate school system.

A friend’s (former) employer revealed to her that he sends his kids to separate school (Catholic) because the students there are all white children. He doesn’t want his kids around people of colour and so even though they are not Catholic they’ll go to Catholic school to get away from “those people”.

This should be reason enough to cease funding to separate schools – something I’ve never supported. The last thing the school systems should be doing is facilitating racism! Because there are multiple choices, parents can choose to segregate their kids. On the surface we can say that Canada is diverse and multi-cultural but the reality is that we are pockets of isolated communities. Individuals do not have to encounter, accept, understand or empathize with anyone who is not the same as them.

I have heard all kinds of reasons for why people send their kids to Catholic school: to be taught immersed in their religion (if they are Catholic), to learn morals and values (if the family is not Catholic), because the special needs programs are superior, because the school is closer than the public, because we want to access insert special program offered at the separate school nearby – French immersion for example. I’d argue that none of these are enough to warrant public spending either but I digress.

I hate that this man is filling his children with these ideas of hate. No matter what teaching happens in the classroom, these kids are growing up with a racist father. I would hope that nothing in the school or the teaching would further the seeds that the father is planting, but I know back when I was a kid in small town Ontario, the only people of colour I ever saw were on the collection boxes for Unicef. I certainly needed my brain stretched to realize the racism surrounding me and that I was complicit in as I grew up. This happened when I left small town Ontario and entered the larger world and even more so when I entered the Women’s Studies program. I hope the teaching in elementary school is better these days. Given my kids’ experiences so far I really really doubt it.

The Myth of Mammy in The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts

The novel The Bondwoman’s Narrative recounts the journey of a fugitive slave woman named Hannah, from enslavement in North Carolina to freedom in New Jersey. She struggles through a life filled with cruel masters, lost-and-found-again friendships, and basic physical survival. Readers will find her positive outlook inspiring, but the amount of coincidental good fortune Hannah encounters sometimes makes the novel less than plausible. Of particular interest is the novel’s representation of Mammy. The Bondwoman’s Narrative has many illustrations of this cultural icon, particularly the main character Hannah. Careful examination reveals however, that the people who stand in Hannah’s path to freedom or who contribute to her oppression frequently become victims of misfortune themselves.

Read more »

Guilty of Appropriation

Every summer I take my children camping with a group of homeschooler families. This year’s trip is to a 17th century reconstruction of an Iroquoian village. The trip includes observing a ‘day-in-the-life’, performances of traditional Native dance and storytelling, canoeing down the river and sleeping in a longhouse. The goal of the village is to preserve and educate people about Native culture. I have never been there but have compiled information based on the promotional materials provided by our group organizer, the village website and discussions with people who have visited the village in the past. A year ago I never would have questioned going along with the group and would have seen the opportunity as fun and exciting. Now I wonder if this would be cultural appropriation and if going on this trip perpetuates stereotypes of Canada’s indigenous peoples. Starhawk, in “Cultural Appropriation” writes, “we can experience and learn from a multiplicity of cultures and spiritual traditions” but that “issues of entitlement and authenticity need to be addressed” (201).

It would be simple to say that camping at a historic site is an educational opportunity. Read more »