I am no great hand at satire. The screenplay I posted this morning was a sort of broad-spectrum attack on a bunch of different pet peeves of mine, but I’m not sure how much of that came across. So I’m writing this guide to explain the joke. If you’d rather not have it ruined for you that way, by all means skip this post. … Continue Reading
The social media world has been buzzing about Macklemore’s ‘Best Rap’ Grammy award and his subsequent self-aggrandizing behaviour immediately in its wake. The responses to criticisms of Macklemore – his win and his behaviour – have been impressive in their banal obviousness. Cries of ‘reverse racism’, the ever-popular refrain went up, Amanda Palmer said something stupid, and the edifice of colour-blind white supremacy trundled on, unfazed by the agonized screams of the PoC crushed in its wake.
With this in mind, I decided to lend my considerable writing talents to the creation of a film that finally, at long last, speaks to the suffering that white folks have to go through in our post-racial hellscape. I present a few choice scenes from a movie I tentatively call ‘Up Off The Mat’
(Setting: Harlem, New York City, daytime. Camera fades in on front steps of 28th Precinct HQ of NYPD. Music by Elvis Presley plays. MACK ELMORE jogs up front steps to door, gym bag over one shoulder, wearing t-shirt and track pants. Scene shifts to inside, ELMORE walks through police HQ. Most officers (like 80-90%) are black or Latino. They mostly ignore him as he heads toward LIEUTENANT WHITE’s office. Music fades as ELMORE knocks on WHITE’s door.)
CHIEF WHITE: (Looks up from papers) Come in!
MACK ELMORE: (Enters office) Sir?
WHITE: You must be the new guy. What was it? (fumbles with papers, searching for name) Edmore?
ELMORE: Elmore, sir. Mack. … Continue Reading
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
Depending on who you ask, I was born in Vancouver, Canada, or I was born on unceded Coast Salish land in the traditional territory of the Musqueam people.
Because there are a host of privileges and responsibilities that accompany someone based on the place and circumstances of their birth, this is not a question of mere semantics. If the land under the city I was born in was never legally ceded to the government of Canada, then there is an argument to be made that I am not Canadian. But because I grew up completely divorced from Musqueam culture and Musqueam heritage, it would be risible for me to claim that my lack of ‘true Canadian-ness’ makes me Musqueam by default.
Which then raises the important question of what/who I am.
Legally speaking, I am Canadian, and I can sleep secure in the knowledge that a land claim that would strip me of my citizenship and its privileges is unlikely to arise or become successful in my lifetime. I am a ‘status Canadian’ – Canadian by the arbitrary act of a system that grants privileges and titles based on little more than a wink-nudge agreement between powerful people. I get to travel the world as a Canadian, I get the protections and rights afforded Canadian citizens, and nobody questions the legal validity of that citizenship (even if they should). But it may, nonetheless, be worth taking a moment to imagine where I fit into a discussion of Indigenous sovereignty, since it’s a topic I follow closely.
My father was born in a British colony that had been bought from the Dutch that had been forcibly stolen from the Carib and Arawak people indigenous to that region of South America. The colony was built by slave labour stolen from people indigenous to the continent of Africa. Owing to the attitudes of the slave traders and owners who settled in that land and established that colony, we may never know where in Africa my father’s ancestry (and mine, by extension) comes from. “Africa” will have to be enough for now; possibly forever.
Because my father was lucky enough to be able to access the British-imported education system and the Roman-imported religious system, he was able to leave the (by then former) British colony he was born in and emigrate to another (by then former) British colony: Canada. A wink-nudge agreement between powerful men in Canada changed the rules for immigration to allow people from certain British colonies to come to other British colonies. Female members of my father’s family had been allowed to immigrate because the powerful men in Canada needed people to work in their homes, and they had made a wink-nudge agreement that the colour of the skin of my aunts and grandmother was no longer a de facto barrier to their being allowed to live in Canada. My father, however, was black and male, so he had to wait. Not enough winks, not enough nudges. Not yet.
But because a certain wink and a certain nudge from certain powerful men happened, my father was able to live and work in the British colony of Canada. A man whose ancestors had been stolen for labour and taken to a place where the land had been stolen was finally deemed acceptable enough, by the shifting standards of the cultural descendants of the slave traders and owners that had taken Africa from him, to contribute paid labour to a place where they had stolen the land of other people. One blanched hand of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (gods, but does bell hooks know how to coin a phrase) washing the other.
My mother’s family emigrated from Ireland and Germany three generations before her birth. They eventually settled and homesteaded in British Columbia on land that was stolen from indigenous people. Despite the colour of the skin of my mother’s ancestors, they were not considered ‘White’ enough – rather, as castoffs who were only allowed to settle here because there was a need for labour and the Irish were so devastated by famine and racism at the hands of the British that they were willing to flee their homeland for the possibility of a better life. The land my mother’s ancestors lived on was given to them by people who did not belong to it. They were, somewhat paradoxically, allowed to live there because, despite not being ‘White’, they were deemed culturally acceptable enough to be afforded second-class status.
My father’s ancestors, had they wanted and been able to, would not have been allowed to emigrate to Canada and build a farm in those days. Wrong colour, sorry.
My mother was Canadian by birth, like me. My father was Canadian by act of government. Both ‘status Canadians’ – granted rights and access by the magnanimity of winking and nudging powerful men. Both carrying the stigma of their ancestry and familiar history. Both patriotic Canadians, albeit by radically different paths that still had uncanny similarities.
I was born, depending on who you ask, in Vancouver, Canada as a result of the collision of these two lives and histories. In my identity is carried the collective history of multiple continents, multiple thefts of land, and multiple winks and multiple nudges by powerful men. Despite the convoluted historical realities, I am legally Canadian. I am a ‘status Canadian’. I am proud of my country, I am proud of my identity. I am ashamed of my country, and I am confused about my identity.
The land I was born in was stolen from the people who belong to it. But it is still my home. I still belong to this land, because there is no other land on Earth that I could claim as mine. I have no connection to either Ireland or Germany. My father is not indigenous to Guyana, despite belonging to that land in the same way I belong to this. We don’t know where in Africa his ancestors may have called home, and if we did there is enough of Canada and Ireland and Germany in me that I wouldn’t belong there either.
For better and for worse, I am Canadian.
A major crux of the conversation about Indigenous sovereignty in Canada is the gap between ‘settlers’ and Indigenous people. I am a settler. My mother’s family settled here. My father emigrated here by a wink-nudge act of a settler’s government. I was born here, and have no other home, but I am still a settler. I have no difficulty accepting the truth of that appellation – regardless of the fact that I was not in the room when the winks and nudges were exchanged, I still derive my status from the results of the resulting agreements. For better and for worse, I am Canadian. I am a settler.
What complicates this conversation, however, is the confluence of ‘settler’ and ‘White’. In much the way that racism in the United States is plotted on a ‘Black/White’ axis, the struggle for sovereignty here is plotted on axes labeled ‘Indigenous’ and ‘White’*. Looking at the issue from a systemic level, the colonial system that makes Canada possible is white supremacist and white descended, and it is entirely reasonable to recognize it as such. However, the reality of Canada is that it is a country literally built by people who were neither white nor ‘White’. Chinese, Hungarian, Ukranian, Italian, Caribbean, Indian, Japanese, Métis, Indigenous, Aboriginal… Canada owes its existence to the efforts of people who fell outside the social category of ‘White’ (at least at some point).
And into this paradox comes the fact that my father owes his status as a Guyanese and a Canadian to a white supremacist colonizing ideology. Add to this the fact that my mother’s people weren’t white enough to be ‘White’ when they first came here. Victims both of the same settler colonial mentality that makes me a Canadian born on Musqueam land. Born Canadian to an African man and a German/Irish woman.
I was discussing the idea of patriotism with two friends who are African immigrants. They both, as is typical of immigrants, believe that newcomers have a duty to adopt the practices and traditions of the land they have moved to. Not total assimilation, mind you, but rather a recognition that you are a welcomed guest and that you have an obligation to repay the invitation with such courtesy. My father believes the same. I’m sure my maternal great-grandparents did too.
I am a ‘status Canadian’. I am not an immigrant to Canada, but I am a settler. I am not White, but I do derive a great deal of privilege and protection from a white supremacist system that has taken much from Indigenous people. My question to my friends was this: whose practices and traditions should I adopt? As a Canadian by birth, I am not an immigrant and owe no duty of courtesy to my hosts. This is my home. I have no other. According to that model of belonging, I have no obligation to anyone. I am, however, also a settler. I am a (welcomed?) guest living in the territory of Coast Salish people. Do I have a duty to adopt their practices and traditions? Do my immigrant friends also have that obligation? To which nation must they ally themselves?
Inasmuch as I am here because white colonialists stole my father’s ancestors and made them work stolen land, I am a victim of white colonialism. Inasmuch as my mother’s family was here because they were allowed to settle on stolen land, I am a participant in and beneficiary of white colonialism, and part of the same settler system that Indigenous sovereignty protests against. I owe my status to the theft of land from Indigenous people by colonizers and settlers, and in the same token the theft of land and labour makes me a hereditary victim of that same process.
When lines are drawn between ‘Indigenous’ and ‘White’, am I not simply written entirely out of the equation? I am not Indigenous, but I was born here and have no other possible home. I am not White, but I carry with me and in me the products of white settler colonialism. It is not a question of being ‘a bit of both’, as I might consider myself when discussing ‘Black/White’ racism, but of being ‘neither one nor the other’.
As much as I want to add my voice to the chorus of people demanding justice for Indigenous people, I am in a very uncomfortable position. I am nowhere on the ‘Indigenous/White’ axis. I don’t exist on that continuum. I am not an immigrant, which would (in some ways) be easier – if I were, I would have made a voluntary agreement with the nation of Canada. As someone who was born here, I made no such agreement – the agreement was made on my behalf before I was born. I am not White, which would (in some ways) be easier – if I were, I would embrace my own heritage for its flaws and faults and advocate as an ally. I am instead a non-white settler who owes his status and privilege to the same system I protest against, and who represents both criminal and victim in the historical theft of the land and labour of non-white people.
I am still, obviously, working my way through these ideas. I think this kind of reflection also extends to people whose parents are immigrants from European countries, albeit with a different historical context than that of my father’s family. This is definitely not a ‘poor me’ kind of piece – considering the number of problems it is possible to have, a bit of existential jiggery-pokery is a really light burden to bear. This has just been on my mind since I started really tuning in to conversations between my fellow settlers and Indigenous activists and adovcates.
*Obviously it is more complicated than that. There are identities like “Aboriginal” and “Indian” and “Native” and “First Nation” that make any attempt at classification an exercise comprised entirely of smoke and mirrors. And winks. And nudges.
This is a phrase I use often in my work: “All models are wrong; some models are useful”. A meaningful portion of my job involves using statistical methods to create models. Some of those are the kind that one thinks of when you use the phrase “statistical model”, which is often some sort of regression analysis – you take a bunch of variables, apply some kind of mathematical rules to them, and then interpret the results. I’ve made vague reference to this before.
The other kind of model that it’s common for someone in my field to build is referred to properly as a ‘Health State Transition Model’, but colloquially called a ‘Markov Model’, or even more colloquially simply as ‘a model’. In these sorts of models, a matrix or array stands in as a possible state of health that someone can be in, and you describe mathematical rules that govern the likelihood that values held in one ‘state’ might migrate to another ‘state’.
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. … Continue Reading
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.
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: … 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.
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.”
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