It is one of those sad and yet iron-clad laws of the internet that if you talk about race long enough, someone will accuse you of being a “race baiter” or “race hustler”. And because the people who say this aren’t terribly creative, you will also soon thereafter be accused of worshipping/fellating Al Sharpton, as though he is the only black person on the planet who discusses race. Perhaps more likely is that he’s the only black person on the planet they can name who isn’t an athlete or artist of some kind. So it goes.
When I have had this lazy accusation thrown my way, I have adopted the practice of asking my interlocutor to actually define what a “race baiter” is, as though I hadn’t heard the phrase before. Most of the time, unused as they are to having to actually think about the things they’re saying, the person will bluster their way through a series of insults and unimaginative aspersions before either quitting, or giving some form of the following definition:
Race-baiter (n.) – a person who inserts racial content into a discussion where race is not relevant for the purposes of winning the argument based on sympathy rather than the merits of their position.
I have, of course, translated the various responses I’ve received over the years into intelligible English for your sake. … Continue Reading
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.
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 NAACP, Al 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. … Continue Reading
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: … Continue Reading
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. … Continue Reading
Our beleaguered and religion-soaked cousins south of the border may, from time to time, look northward with envy at Canada’s largely non-religious civil society. Our politics are not replete with the same invocations to the intercession of the supernatural that plague the American landscape; indeed, it is considered somewhat gauche in most circles to make large public shows of one’s private belief. Canada’s approach to religion is largely a ‘live and let live’ one, with the exception of certain rural areas where religious affiliation is held in the same grip as one’s self-identity.
As I’ve discussed at various points in the past, this laissez faire approach to religion has not stopped the Republican North government of Stephen Harper from deciding that Canada’s international role should be to protect religious freedom, despite the repeated warnings of those American officials who have tried the same and realized what a mine-field it becomes. An entirely unnecessary ministry has been created in order to oversee Stephen Harper’s desperate attempt to look after the evangelical base that he needs to be re-elected, but whose actual priorities (destroying women’s health care, legislating Biblical morality) he cannot espouse for fear of triggering a centrist backlash.
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 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.
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. … Continue Reading
I mentioned this story briefly in passing on Tuesday, but an atrocity has occurred in Nova Scotia (trigger warning for suicide):
Rehtaeh Parsons had a goofy sense of humour and loved playing with her little sisters. She wore glasses, had long, dark hair and was a straight-A student whose favourite subject was science. On Sunday night, the 17-year-old’s family took her off life-support. Three days earlier, on Thursday night, she hanged herself in the bathroom.
Suicide of a young person is always tragic (of course I would be remiss if I failed to point out that suicide rates are highest among Canada’s Aboriginal youth, and highest in the world among Inuit youth), but in this case the details are particularly gruesome (trigger warning for pretty much everything): … Continue Reading
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows what my position is on “intent” when it comes to things like racism and misogyny. Intent lies on an orthogonal axis to racism – someone doing something intentionally racist just adds bad intent to bad action. If we are of the opinion that racism is harmful in and of itself, we have to identify something as ‘racist’ or ‘not racist’ based on its own merits, regardless of whether the person “meant to”.
This appears to be a major sticking point for people. They have bought, either consciously or unconsciously, into the myth that racism is something perpetuated by “racists”, and that if someone didn’t mean to do it then it can’t really be racist – just “ignorant” or “an accident” or whatever euphemism they prefer. This myth has a lot of popular currency and is fairly ubiquitous within North American discussions of race. The problem, of course, is that people can be and are discriminated against based on their race in ways that have nothing to do with ill intent all the time. Demanding that intent be consubstantial with racism precludes us from taking any action against these kinds of racism.
In a stunning display of well-intentioned cluelessness (and what could be called willful ignorance), country star Brad Paisley has decided to step into the fray by teaming up with LL Cool J in a ballad called “Accidental Racist”. Here’s a sample: … Continue Reading
I went to a high school with an incredibly diverse student body. While I didn’t really recognize it at the time, I was incredibly lucky: I was surrounded at all times by people from all over the world with a wide variety of experiences and beliefs. It didn’t “force me” to be tolerant or anything like that – like all things that happen during youth I just took it in stride. It wasn’t really until I got to the largely monochromatic environs of my undergraduate program* that I realized what it was like for major parts of the rest of the country – surrounded by people who look like you, and taking it in the same stride that I took my variety of classmate.
The idea that someone would want to segregate schools is, thus, very foreign to me. My education benefitted immensely from being cheek-by-jowl with people whose backgrounds were dissimilar to my own. It broadened my world view and allowed me to reflexively challenge a lot of racist and xenophobic assumptions about people who weren’t born in Canada in a way that the classes I took couldn’t hope to approach. The idea of someone choosing to rob someone of that kind of opportunity is baffling.