Dear People of the Danzig, Scarborough Community in the City of Toronto,
I am compelled to apologize to your community members, families, children, mothers, fathers and friends for the great loss you have experienced. My deepest condolences to your community.
I am aware that many people are talking about the violence that occurred at the Danzig Block party. Some media outlets are talking about who died, how they died, how old they were and who they were loved by. Politicians are talking about gun registries and gun bans. Social workers and community activists are talking about poverty and funding for community programs. And our mayor is talking some crap about ‘hug-a’thug’ programs and that he is a big supporter of youth.
I’m not sure what you want us to talk about – what you, yourselves are talking about, except I imagine, that grief (can) make(s) it hard to talk about all these other things.
My name is deb singh and thanks to Shameless for inviting me to blog! And thanks to the girls, trans youth, young women, and everyone who reads the Shameless blog. Big thanks to the team at Shameless for asking me to write!
This blog is going to be about me: introducing myself to you, but also connecting myself to the land we call Canada.
Many of you have heard about the ideas of privilege and oppression from reading Shameless, among other sources, I’m sure. The following is my self-identification, which can be where I identify myself on a spectrum of social locations, places where we all find ourselves via multiple places on the spectrum, if we decide to look and name them. Anti-oppression politics, to me, is about seeing those social locations and naming them as they contribute to our lives and how we get treated by others.
So here goes: I’m a Canadian-born Indo-Caribbean. I’m Brown. I have Canadian citizenship status. I’m a queer woman of colour. I’m a woman-identified, non-trans person. I’m non-disAbled, with parents who have mental health and addiction issues. I’m working class. I am a survivor of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, and I work at a rape crisis centre. I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. I’m urban. I have an undergraduate degree at a University. I grew up with a single mom. I’m not fat and I’m not thin. I’m 33 years old.
And I’m a settler on Turtle Island.
Some of you may know what and where Turtle Island is, but just so we’re all on the same page: Turtle Island is a term used by Haudenosaunee, Iroquois and Anishnaabe, as well as and including many other Indigenous communities, for North America. This would include what’s considered Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, Canada and the United States of America. (FYI: Haudenosaunee, Iroquois, Anishnaabe, Cree, Metis, Six Nations, are just some of many Indigenous nations which have their own distinct cultures and languages, and not all Indigenous people call the land Turtle Island.)
I’ve just come home from watching popular film of the week The Hunger Games with a sour taste in my mouth and an angry grumbling motion vibrating through my intestines. It seems as though the white-washing of Hunger Games protagonist Katniss has given me yet another case of racial indigestion. In fact, I’m currently cursing myself for being hopeful in thinking that some satisfaction could be had with regards to how people of colour are represented in our popular media.
Can you blame me though?
Every time I hear that a big shot film depicting some form of oppression or discrimination is coming out, I get excited. I get excited because I start hoping that there’s been some equitable representation of people of colour in these movies. I get so excited that I start hoping with all my might that some representational justice will be done to the racialized character(s) and that they won’t be doomed to forever remain as the one-dimensional support system to the main, typically white protagonist. I start hoping that maybe, just maybe the character(s) of colour will finally be presented as full, complex human beings.
But I was wrong.
If you already haven’t been blasted with Hunger Games-saturated trailers and interviews as of late, do let me remind you that Katniss is the central character of the story, whose experiences as a contestant of the Hunger Games make up the storyline of the book. In addition to being characterized by author Suzanne Collins as a radical female hero-warrior combating institutionalized oppression in a dystopia in the future, Katniss is also characterized as being olive-skinned. But as Hollywood page-to-screen synergy would have it, the casting call for Katniss indicated that only Caucasian actors apply.
In June of 2011, the intractable Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul made the claim that women authors are unequal to him. “I read a piece of writing,” he said, “and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not.”
Naipaul is a far from uncontroversial figure, and can hardly be said to represent the generally accepted position on women writers. Nevertheless, his dismissal of writing by and for women - a dismissal predicated largely on its supposed sentimentality - is revealing on a societal level, and brings to mind Virginia Woolf when she wrote in A Room of One’s Own (1929): “women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unresolved problems.”
For some working in the media, this perception is not restricted to fiction. In an email interview, Anna North, former editor of and writer for the current events and pop culture blog Jezebel, notes that part of this difficulty comes from the fact that “women’s issues,” while a useful general designation, is also vague and just plain misleading. Just as Naipaul’s designation of women’s writing as “sentimental” is a glossing-over of myriad individual voices, grouping the heterogeneity of women’s concerns together ignores the real differences that exist among women along political, social and cultural lines. Not only that, but such a categorization ignores those who fall outside mainstream definitions of “women,” such as trans- and non gender-conforming individuals. What’s more, North notes, with a “site that is explicitly for women, you can try to be as welcoming as possible, but you’re never going to please all women, any more than you can please all people.”
On Valentine’s Day we are, quite literally, bombarded by a deluge of nonsensical language. For this reason, I hate this superficial, highly choreographed “holiday” that tells us how love should be expressed. Rather than emotional support and having (a) partner(s) who act(s) as (an) ally(ies), love is reduced to an economic transaction. I’m neither the first nor the last person to comment that Valentine’s Day does more harm than good: it polices who we love, how we love and what shape that love takes.
Not only that, but these directives on love are inextricably intertwined with and reinforce established norms about sexuality and sex: i.e. sexuality and sex are legitimate and sanctioned when they happen between two people who will eventually reproduce and who are heterosexual, able bodied and white. We don’t hear anything about informed, enthusiastic consent. And we definitely don’t hear about reciprocal pleasure.
Know what else gets silenced in this saccharine tsunami of chocolates and roses? Intimate bonds that aren’t sexual, but are nonetheless fulfilling and deep relationships for all parties involved.
So, here’s what I wish I’d known when I was in high school as candy grams were passed out: there is no one way to express your sexuality. Shame, blame and guilt—what Jaclyn Friedman calls The Terrible Trio in her amazing book What You Really Really Want—are destructive emotions. Instead of searching for validation through rigid expressions of love and sexuality, first you should fall in love yourself. And then you should fall in love with your friends.
We live in a culture that devalues friendships. Friendship functions as as a stepping stone between childhood and adulthood, before we meet our mates. From the time we’re children, we’re led to believe that unless we enter into a romantic bond, we have not really experienced intimacy.
Okay, I understand why I’m an American football fan. I started watching hockey with my dad when I was 13, and soon branched into watching almost every sport I could find on TV. (Yeah, I watch curling.) American football (different from the international term “football,” which some of us know as “soccer”) is exciting, strategic, and often just a big, dramatic circus to watch. It’s my favourite way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
But football is also a really, REALLY violent sport, more violent than a lot of other sports. The basic concept of the sport, for those who don’t know, is that two teams line up along the width of a 100-yard field, with one team (offense) throwing and running the ball, trying to go forward toward the end zone to score points, and the other team (defense) trying to prevent them from getting there. If the offensive team doesn’t advance far enough after a few tries (downs), the teams switch and the other team tries to go the other way.
There are lots of rules about what you can and can’t do to try to stop the other team from getting past you, but some of the most common tactics are blocking (throwing your weight against someone to keep them from pushing past) and tackling (grabbing someone and bringing them down to the ground, sometimes landing on top of them). Players are understandably heavily padded with protective equipment. Concussions are common. Often, the bigger the hit, the louder the cheers.
It’s not actually the violence in the game that disturbs me about my fanship of the National Football League (NFL), although I should probably think about it more often than I do. What’s really been getting me lately is the culture of violence, racism and misogyny that’s spilling out of the game and into the personal lives of a number of NFL players – and the way these cases are treated by the league, the media and the fans of the game.
Marilyn Monroe is often held up as the antidote to the idea that only thin can be beautiful. “Marilyn was a size 10/12/14,” goes a common refrain (though sizing basically means nothing these days, so what does that even prove?). There have been a couple Marilyn Monroe memes floating around Facebook in the past couple months, and both are troubling. The focus is on Marilyn’s curves, and how her swimsuit clad body is different from what movie stars look like today (oh, the tyranny of the “Best Beach Bodies!” issue). What’s supposed to be an empowering message to women – you don’t have to be a Victoria’s Secret model to be beautiful – is completely undermined by two much older memes: divide and conquer and the male gaze.
In the first photo, Marilyn is compared to another woman in a bikini, who is much thinner. The text reads: “This [pointing to Monroe] is more attractive than this [pointing to the other woman].” While I can totally get behind the title “fuck society,” and add “and its stupid expectations” for good measure, there’s nothing anti-establishment about what’s being done here. (more inside…)
I don’t want to get all “when I was younger, people had more respect!” because it’s completely untrue. But I do feel that maybe there were more regulations about what radio presenters could say on the air ten or fifteen years ago (and I listened to the radio constantly when I was in junior high/high school).
This morning, I flipping on Toronto’s Virgin Radio while I was getting dressed, and discovered their morning show hosts were discussing the differences between a “skank” and a “ho.” A caller was giving her opinion. I kind of gaped at my radio and then shut if off. I’m pretty sure no one was going to call in and explain that the major difference between those epithets is a racially loaded one (“ho” being a term often levelled at black women).
Ottawa’s Hot 89.9 station had a promotion/contest last summer during which it “lost its T” and called itself “the new Ho 89.9” while giving clues to find the “missing T.” The same station also had a “Win a Baby” contest, where people who were infertile or otherwise unable to conceive could compete in a vote-in contest to win fertility treatments. I actually wrote to complain about that one, telling the station I found it insensitive (the commercials were pretty gross), and was told that it was “the best thing [they’d] ever done.”
Finally, Edmonton station The Bear recently held a Win a Wife contest. Yep, for real. The prize was a trip to Russia and an introduction to a woman from an agency that pairs Russian women with North American men for potential marriage.
The clearly exploitative “wife” contest got a lot of backlash, but I’m not sure what kinds of responses morning show presenters get when they include truly offensive stuff in their chatter. I have written to complain a few times, and I’m sure others do, too, but stuff like this morning’s “discussion” is still happening. Thoughts?
halloween is a tricky time of year for me, and for lots of critical folks. i’ve written about it many times over the years, and for the most part it often feels like my concerns and criticisms are ignored. but! this year i’ve found myself pleasantly surprised. i’ve been spotting these interesting articles and images around poor judgement around halloween cotumes scattered across countless different social networks, but thought i might pull them all together into one useful webspace.
consider this your syllabus, and the internet your professor. welcome to halloween 101: for critical thinkers.
firstly, let us conquer the unfortunately all too familiar problem of race drag as a halloween costume:
A young Indigenous person holding a photograph of two white people dressed offensively and appropriatively in false Indigenous costume holding a sign that says “Me wantum piece…..not war. The text says: “We’re a culture, not a costume. This is not who I am and this is not okay.” (http://saucy-sarah.tumblr.com/post/11744729460/the-native-americ)
This is one of a series of posters put together by students teaching about racism in society (STARS). even they seem surprised by how much attention the campaign has been receiving. it’s a clear message, clearly delivered, and i’m glad to have come across it more times than i can count.
You may have noticed a few things over the last month if you live in Ontario. Yes, there’s a provincial election happening and besides being incredibly important, it’s also been incredibly annoying. Phone calls. Incessant attack ads. Flyers crowding your mailbox. OMG don’t you get it Conservatives? We’re just not that into you!
But seriously, certain ads deserve some attention, if for no other reason than to poke fun at how ridiculous they are. After all, humour can be an incredibly effective tool when it comes to disarming opponents.
Perhaps the most pervasive attack was THE TAX MAN, authorized by the CFO for the Ontario PC Party.
You might notice that this ad uses broad language to define its opponent, Dalton McGuinty, and its champion, Tim Hudak. And really, vagueness is the domain of these ads. With just 30 seconds to either sway you or put a bug in your ear, they operate through emotional appeals and repetition. These adverts are also transparently obvious. The image they selected to represent the current Premier, AKA THE TAX MAN, makes him look unfocused and profoundly constipated.
Hudak, on the other hand, sits at a desk composing a tome on the workers’ plight (or playing Sudoku, you choose), knocking on doors, meeting with Madonna and Child (a great way to make him seem more trustworthy among women, typically not as supportive of Conservative platforms), drinkin’ a double-double with the boys (before they go fishin’ or huntin’), and then finishing with a triumphant shot of Hudak and family in what could be coined Ye Olde Celebration of Heteronormative Family Values.
While these tactics are not unique to Tim Hudak, truly, this is a masterpiece as far as attack ads go. We know what the Premier is (A TAX MAN), but in a de-personalized, negative manner. Hudak & Co. have established what he represents through imagery, while emphasizing through the script—delivered in the 1st person by Hudak himself—what he will do … which is exactly the opposite of Dalton McGuinty. Even the colour scheme and music become brighter with the appearance of Tim Hudak. It’s sort of like The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy arrives in Oz. Except I don’t think Hudak would shine in a musical…I might be wrong, though. PM Harper likes John Lennon, after all.
The big finish? “It’s time for change in Ontario.” What does that actually mean? What kind of change? How will persons living with (dis)abilities, trans, queer, youth, people of colour, Indigenous people, the un- and under-employed, women, and other marginalized groups be represented?
Stop asking questions, you!
Of course, for an attack ad, this works. Which is unfortunate. So, so unfortunate. But as far as establishing an identity that people feel connected to and gravitate toward, this ad wears thin. By spending so much time and energy reiterating that he is not Dalton McGuinty, Tim Hudak, the politician, actually dependent on Dalton McGuinty, since his existence is founded on an invented dichotomy between Liberals and Conservatives.
The other ad that’s been getting quite a bit of attention is provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s “Shoes.”