Posts tagged with “racism”

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Of course you're uncomfortable as a white person

Just lately, Tumblr has been full of posts on the phenomenon of "transethnicity". Basically, the origins of this term lie in transracial adoption, and it can be legitimately used to describe non-white people who have been separated from the culture of their birth, and raised in a completely different culture. Or at least, this is my understanding.

But just lately, Tumblr has gone wild because the term's been appropriated by a bunch of white people insisting that secretly, deep down inside, they're Korean, or black, or some other race that is not white. I can't really be bothered saying much about that because while deeply offensive, this is also patently ridiculous and I cannot believe anyone would take a white person's claim to be "transethnic" seriously.

What I wanted to comment on is a comment some of these white people have made – things such as, "I have always felt uncomfortable with my white identity." The comment to be made, of course, is there's a good reason to be "uncomfortable" with one's white identity – I've always been "uncomfortable" with my white identity! White people have an immense track record of doing hideously fucked-up things, like colonisation, and genocide, and I tell you – there is nothing in this legacy to be proud of. Nothing at all.

That doesn't make me not white though.

Obviously I'm white. My appearance is white. My name is English. My native language is also English. I am never going to experience the discrimination faced by non-white people on a daily basis – vastly increased harassment by police, greater difficulty getting jobs, or good jobs, being stereotyped and pigeonholed for my race, being yelled at on public transport if I speak a language that's not English, and in addition to that incomplete list, more things I haven't even thought of because I DON'T EXPERIENCE THESE THINGS. I am white, so I don't have to.

And these white people claiming to be "transethnic" don't experience any of these things either. With their white appearances and English names, they are not going to experience any of this discrimination. They're clinging to this label because it makes them feel exotic and unique. Maybe they genuinely are uncomfortable with being white – but the thing to do about that is combat racism, not pull off some cultural appropriation bullshit and dodge white guilt that way. I'm sorry, bored white teenager, but you are white and you always will be. Deal with it.

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'Everything covered but her eyes, what a cruel, male-dominated culture!' 'Nothing covered but her eyes, what a cruel, male-dominated culture!'

Half of me wants to say: A perfect response to your average Westerner who thinks the burqa is such a symbol of women's oppression! Guess what, Western women are oppressed too, but we have our own symbols.

But then the other half of me wants to point out that the bits of clothing we choose to wear are not inherently oppressive. Neither bikinis nor burqas oppress women. Women who choose to wear bikinis or burqas are not contributing to their own oppression. What oppresses women is when people see a woman dressed in a bikini and think it's okay to objectify her, or when people see a woman dressed in a burqa and think she mustn't have anything of her own to contribute. Either way, this involves denying that women actually are full and equal human beings with just as much to contribute and fight about as any man, reducing her to her body and ignoring her mind. But that's not women's fault for the clothing they choose to wear. That's the fault of anyone piggish enough to think this way – and, ultimately, to the society that encourages people to think this way.

Although, I don't really want to create a false equivalency between criticising bikinis and criticising the burqa, either. Where I come from, criticising the burqa is never anything more than a racist attack. Indeed, the point of this image is that in establishing the symmetry between the two, we see that in our society, there is no symmetry between them at all. Wearing a bikini is "normal", so really even if you did criticise it, it's harmless – no one'd listen anyway. Criticising burqas is anything but harmless, as it feeds into the atmosphere of Islamophobia that swirls around this country.

Going back to my first paragraph, sure you could argue that these things are symbols of women's oppression, but I think ultimately that's wrong. These items of clothing are not oppressive, but people's reactions to them can be; what's important is to fight those reactions and the society that gives rise to those reactions, not the damn items of clothing! Women have the right to wear whatever they damn well please and not be taken any less seriously because of it, and that is that.

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Attacks on Africans in Israel

Over the past two or three weeks, there's been a lot of stuff written about the intense racism against, and violent attacks on, African refugees in Israel. One thing that's notable about these attacks is that Israeli leaders, like Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, have enthusiastically spouted racist justifications for the attacks. In my own country, Australia, there's also a huge amount of racist violence – I could point to the spate of attacks on Indian students not many years ago as a good example – and of course, our politicians try to underplay their significance and deny they're racially motivated and so on and so forth. Sometimes a right-wing backbencher will slip up and make the kind of hideous comment that you know more senior people are just itching to say, but nonetheless, even in as racist a country as Australia, comments like the following are reserved for the far right:

If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity. — Binyamin Netanyahu, quoted here

The migrants are giving birth to hundreds of thousands, and the Zionist dream is dying. — Eli Yishai, quoted here

...well, to be fair, I guess Australia has no equivalent of a "Zionist dream". However, just to follow that up, I can't resist adding this quote that you could hear from the mouth of almost any mainstream Australian politician:

Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn't belong to us, the white man. — Eli Yishai, quoted here

Wow, damn those people who think this country we conquered and ethnically cleansed doesn't rightfully belong to us!!! What's the deal with that?!

No, seriously though – and echoing a lot of the thoughts already put out there about this spate of attacks – this violence is not some kind of aberration, or bewildering occurrence in the great and glorious land of Israel. This violence is the natural product of the Zionist project. The State of Israel was created out of the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who (and whose descendants) Israel has pledged never to allow to return. It's a state whose very premise is that it is the Jewish state. Yes, it has a non-Jewish minority, and this minority is routinely referred to as a "demographic timebomb", a threat to "the Jewish character of the state" by virtue of their gentileness. Sounds like a racist state to me!

As many of the articles about this have mentioned, Israelis view their nation-state as a kind of fortress under siege, but what they fear is not necessarily confrontation... it's that people might live there who are racially "other" from them.

An article by Michael Warschawski made an interesting point in this vein; that is, African refugees are being demonised with much the same rhetoric used against the Palestinians. They are all "infiltrators"; a dichotomy between "us" and "them" is clearly drawn. On the other hand you have what Eli Yishai described as "the white man", and on the other everyone else, the "infiltrators".

As Warschawski also mentioned, it's not just non-Jews who constitute the "other" here; it can also be non-European Jews, "non-white" Jews. The base of Eli Yishai's very own party, Shas, is among these non-European Jews who, feeling hard done by in this racist society, took pride in that at least they ranked higher than the Palestinians. I would also point to Israel's treatment of Ethiopian Jews, about which I read a little months ago. Not only do Ethiopian Jews experience discrimination in areas like employment, housing and so on – which is bad enough! – but considering Israeli fears of a "demographic timebomb" it's also significant that Ethiopian women in Israel are being put onto a form of birth control that is long-lasting, with well-known adverse consequences. As it also describes, the Israeli state has a history of trying to limit the births even of non-European Jews, reflecting the kind of obsession with racial purity that is at the heart of this state.

Settler-colonial states, like Israel and Australia, are founded with racism at their core – and particularly in a state like Israel, in which anti-racist struggles have been fewer and weaker, this kind of hideous racism is natural. There's a reason we call Israel an apartheid state; perhaps it's not genuinely the only one remaining, but it's probably the most extreme.

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The Age: Indonesia's radical shift

The Age is pretty well-known as Melbourne's premier liberal newspaper, champion of all those who believe (whether they're honest about it or not) in "the white man's burden". (Or the white woman's, sometimes. Here in the enlightened paragon of progress that is the West, we don't discriminate!) This article, about attempts to prevent Lady Gaga from performing in Indonesia, is a perfect example of this.

What it seeks to do – and incredibly unsubtly – is create some kind of dichotomy between laidback, friendly and welcoming Indonesians (who all embrace Western influence and commercialism with open arms, of course) and the one or three % who have views which most people consider extreme. And of these radicals, it makes sure to stress that:

...the new radicals are the fully funded creatures of Saudi Arabia's own attempt to project power. They are spurred by a familiar anti-Western sentiment and the fantasy of creating an Islamic caliphate.

...never mind that Saudi Arabia is, oh, one of the United States's closest allies in the Middle East, and approximately as devoted to commercialism as one could imagine. No! We all know that Saudi Arabia is oppressive and therefore anti-Western, goddamnit!

And in counterposition to them, there is Lady Gaga, unashamedly described by Bachelard in the following way:

Lady Gaga may not see herself this way, but she is an expression of America's incredible ability to project soft power. Inviting and provocative, she promotes Western values of individual liberty and commerce using sex appeal and pop hooks. She's bisexual, beloved of the gay community and performs virtually nude.

Firstly, there is the typically liberal correlation between commerce (capitalism!) and liberty. Secondly, there is the fact that Bachelard reckons that America wants to use its power to "promote Western values of individual liberty", which I'm sure is a fine thing to tell all the civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – and anywhere else the US has bombed the crap out of – whose individual liberty to live the United States prized very highly as it massacred them in warzones or killed them with drones. And hey, if the prison at Guantánamo Bay is not a symbol of liberty, I just don't know what is.

I disagree with trying to prevent Lady Gaga performing, but I disagree much more with the idea that the West should be imposing "its" will on anyone, not even in the name of "Western values" which – let's be honest! – are not particularly "Western" at all. What little individual liberty we enjoy in the West today took a hard-fought battle against these very same states who try to use it as an excuse to dominate other states. Furthermore, for the vast majority of us it remains so illusory! We need incomes, we need to survive; we get locked into routines and structures and obligations we resent, just like ordinary people anywhere else.

All in all, this piece is a miserable attempt to justify narratives of Western superiority, the source of our supposed authority to dominate the world. And in promoting this mantra once again, The Age could be commended for its consistency, but not for anything much else.


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