Here are some photos of Serik, Turkey, captured by a Clarkie (Demet Senturk) who has been traveling across Turkey and Sweden this summer. During the school year, she loves to take pictures of what’s happening on campus.
Today I went to the Armand Hammer Museum, in L.A. (for context, I’m in L.A. for the summer, for a research internship). The occasion? A screening of Eddie Murphy’s controversial stand-up film “Delirious”, followed by a discussion/deconstruction of the piece. As a certified cultural ignoramus, I had never seen this film before. So, perhaps I will provide you with some context before I dive into my opinions on the matter.
Delirious was a stand up show that Murphy performed in many parts of the country – including L.A. – before his D.C. performance was filmed and released as TV Special for HBO on August 30, 1983. The stand-up comedy in the act was part of an album titled “Eddie Murphy: Comedian“, which won an award for Best Comedy Album at the 1984 Grammy Awards. Along with his concert-film Eddie Murphy Raw (1987), Delirious has been cited as one of the most successful and influential comedy routines of the 20th century.
However, the event itself was not to celebrate the legacy of the film or its star, but to examine certain controversial and prominent elements of Murphy’s act. Among these, the overt homophobia and serophobia in the routine have garnered much attention. The very first thing he says after getting on stage is “I’ve got some rules while I’m doing stand-up. F*ggots aren’t allowed to look at my ass while I’m on stage. That’s why I keep moving while I’m up here, because you don’t know where the f*ggot section is… I’m afraid of gay people. Petrified. I have nightmares about gay people.” He then follows this up with a bit about why women love to hang out with gay men (because they don’t feel threatened by them) but how that’s very dangerous because “now they got AIDS, that just kills motherf*ckers. Kills people! It petrifies me ‘cause girls be hanging out with [gays]. One night they could be in the club having fun with their gay friend, give them a little kiss. And go home with AIDS on their lips!” Apart from stereotyping gay men, perpetuating and reinforcing the myth that every gay man is a ravening wolf lusting after straight men, and furthering an irrational fear of homosexuality (see definition of homophobia), Murphy does a lot of damage by validating the myths that surrounded AIDS transmission at the time, myths which were central to the hysteria surrounding the AIDS crisis and the ostracization of gay men.
But this was only the beginning. This skit was followed by others, which imposed on various stigmatized identities. For instance, he commodifies women with bits like, “women would be throwing pussy at me on the street like frisbee. Too much pussy, pussy would be falling outta my pocket. Walking out the street, you say: ‘Oh, watch your step, that’s mine.'” He touches on body image sensitivities by discussing his aunt Bunny who’s “got a moustache and shit! The shit is bigger than a man’s and shit! Aunt Bunny weighs like pounds. Like real heavy lady and shit. And the kids were scared of her.” The very last thing we hear about her is Murphy’s impersonation of his drunk dad going on a tirade about how Aunt Bunny is a Bigfoot. Murphy also talks about race, discussing how Chinese men have small appendages and speak a “f*cked up language (which he then goes on to parody).” Arabs aren’t free of his mockery either. He says, “I don’t like that shit that Arabic…That shit’s fucked for me. It sounds nasty and shit.”
Sitting in the audience, watching the film, I experienced several reactions to his humor. I spent most of the film wincing, shaking my head, and silently protesting his sheer bigotry. But there were times when I laughed along to spot-on impersonations of Elvis Presley and James Brown, or his sketch on the ice cream truck. These moments were followed by a sense of guilt – was I allowed to enjoy the (in my perspective) unproblematic jokes of a broadly problematic entertainer? It was a sense of déjà vu, for I was reminded of the time Jay Pharoah performed at Clark. It was interesting how two black male stand-up comedians, both part of SNL at some point in their career, were using the same scripts – of strict mothers, sexualized women, and other risqué jokes.
I wonder, what does it take for black men to become successful, especially in the entertainment industry? I think of RuPaul, who has become more of a mainstream name, and wonder, has mainstream white America embraced RuPaul because he is a drag queen? Do they think that no matter how successful he may be, that at the end of the day he is a drag queen, which poses no threat to the hegemonic white power? I do not mean to implicate the LGBTQ+ community or its allies for their support of a queer icon, but I do wonder why RuPaul (arguably one of the most iconic black stars today) has struck it so big. And then we have Eddie Murphy, flushed with the success of landing an SNL gig at the age of 19, looking to launch his career to greater heights. Was Murphy so popular because he fit into the black male stereotype? The hypermasculine, hypersexual macho man who spouted homophobia, misogyny, and expletives at every turn? Perhaps the price black men pay for fame in a deeply racialized industry is their own values and individuality, so that white power is never compromised. On the flip side, comedians like Dave Chapelle, who have strived to veer off the beaten path and introduce more nuance to their social commentary, have been forced off the screen by studio execs with ratings-motivated vision and booed off the stage by unwelcoming crowds in Detroit. I do not mean to play the part of the provocateur; I simply attempt to ascertain and unwrap yet another layer of racism that exists in our society.
My last few thoughts on this film and discussion are centered on the role of art. What do we expect of art, especially of comedy? While it is quite the norm to hear of artists and performers who are informed by a socially conscious vision, is the same true for comedy? This was particularly salient as Murphy spoke on race relations, saying that racism was no longer “as bad as it used to be” for African Americans, citing how the use of the N-word had all but disappeared in white America. It was sad to see a successful black man fail to use his position of privilege to address the issues faced by his own community. But this begs the question, what is his responsibility to his community, and to society at large? What is the nature of comedy? Can society strive for a truly politically correct humor, one that does not generate laughs at the expense of the suffering of the other? We could cite examples such as Ellen DeGeneres or Amy Poehler, but just how wide spread is their influence? Do they have mass appeal, or are they only a hit among liberal, socially conscious audiences? Does this mean that society should change in order for our artists to do so? What is society’s relationship with art? Are we to censor it? To hold artists to higher standards? I do not aim to impose my own opinion upon you, but I will leave you with this parting thought. The arts today would bear a radically different face if we as a society did not expect more of it.
I’m sure Gavin McInnes is no stranger to the readers of this blog. I wrote a piece in April about the tragically misinformed Men’s Rights Movement, and he came up as a regular contributor to the blog Return of Kings and author of such scintillating reads as “Transphobia is Perfectly Natural.” As a men’s rights activist, Mr. McInnes believes that we live in a world of misandry, perpetrated by the shadowy forces of an Illuminati-esque feminist movement. To quote Cher in the timeless classic Clueless, “As if!” But Mr. McInnes seems to be branching out. No longer limiting himself to soothing the injured pride of fragile masculinity at the expense of the rights and dignity of women, homosexuals, and the trans community, he has decided to take on the concept of white privilege. The result is utter drivel (I know, I’m shocked).
Quite recently, Mr. McInnes embarked on a photography project. Cyber space was graced with the results of his hard work and creativity, pictures of white people cuffed, gagged, or otherwise restrained, accompanied by the hashtag #TakeUsDown. The logic behind this campaign? To address the fact that White Americans, especially men, are the cause of all racially motivated prejudice and discrimination in this country, and that they deserve to be taken down. This hashtag quickly went viral among white power movements, which decided to add to this worthy cause their own embellishments. And so, hashtags such as #AwayWithUs, #WeWhitesDeserveToDie, #BlacksKillUsNow, and #WeWillHangOurselvesForBlacks. According to Vocativ, a user of these hashtags described them as “funny, fair, and actually brilliant.” Correction, the invention of modern air travel and Girl Scout Cookies was brilliant. The trivializing of the suffering of human beings, not so much.
But that is exactly what it does. These hashtags, and the campaign in general, serve to trivialize the Black Lives Matter campaign and the struggle for equality and liberation in a country riven with inequities. This campaign mocks the concept of white privilege, and negates the achingly slow progress made in engaging wider American society in conversations about race relations. It allows White America to laugh, and turn away from the uncomfortable and much needed process of soul searching. While we could dismiss this campaign, and what it represents as belonging to a minority of people, I have my reservations about such comforting thoughts.
First of all, the misappropriation of the Black Lives Matter campaign is all too widespread. I was wandering through the gay district of San Francisco last night with a group of friends when we stopped to buy what one of my friends promised me to be the best cookies in the world. While waiting in line to purchase these divine creations, we came across a poster featuring an animation of two burly men – one black, the other white – embracing. The poster itself was promoting safe sex, a worthy cause, but what was insulting about it was that the white male was sporting a tattoo that read, “Black C*cks Matter.” Yet another example of the mainstream queer community’s utter disregard for other minority identities, and proof that White America is still not ready to take the very real suffering of POC seriously.
While such garbage is the brainchild of a white supremacist minority, who no one can count on to change, their ideologies carry the very real harm of influencing the uninformed moderates. People who could be induced to support the racial equality movement were they to be educated can now turn to the more digestible and (to them) appealing messaging of white supremacy movements. This is why regressive and dangerous campaigns like #TakeUsDown need to be taken down.
This summer has been an interesting one. Before it started I wasn’t really sure what I wanted my plans to look like, but I knew I had to be working. While I was studying abroad this past semester in Namibia, I spent hours a day searching for internships and summer job opportunities. I hunted for jobs that were going to boost up my International Development and Social Change experience as well as get me far away from my home in Maine. I went through Skype interview after Skype interview as I tried to balance the 6-hour time difference. I managed to land on a couple of reasonable jobs; nothing that was my first pick, but really great summer work. But after having spent almost 5 months out of the U.S. and away from familiar things, I made a choice to stay in Maine for the summer and work. This has been my first full summer in Maine since high school, and besides babysitting jobs, volunteer work, and stint bussing tables and making milkshakes at Johnny Rockets, this was my first work experience in Maine.
So, I picked back up a job that I had started working during the winter vacation before studying abroad. I work at the information desk at the airport. I landed on a second job working at the foreign exchange office, also located in the airport. I was ready to play it low-key and devote my summer to saving up for the upcoming school year. I was ready for the challenge of juggling two work schedules as well as maintaining my sanity. I was also ready for the airport to become my second home. But there were certain things that I hadn’t anticipated: racism and sexual harassment. Even though I work in Portland, the major city in Maine and not some rural small town, I did expect some racism. I expected the same micro aggressions that I had faced when growing up in the state. What I was not prepared for was the extent of racism and sexism in the workplace that I face now.
My jobs are customer service based, so I interact with a lot of different people. In the beginning I had people avoid eye contact with me. They would refuse to talk to me and only addressed my co-workers (who are white). People would actually just stare at me without saying anything and then just walk away! Other employees working in other areas of my workplace wouldn’t hold the same daily small talk with me as they would with my colleagues. I felt strange and isolated. Right off the bat, I felt a tremendous need to prove myself. I had to prove that I wasn’t like the stereotypes of black people that they created in their minds. I arrive early to work, I am eloquent with my words and careful with my speech, I focus on how I look in the work place and how I conduct myself. These may seem like given habits for anyone to go by in a work environment; but for me, as a person of color, I work extra hard at these things to feel some level of acceptance. To make white people comfortable. But then as the summer has gone on, my discomfort has continued to intensify.
I hear comments daily that degrade immigrants and people of color. Some of the comments that have been directed to me have been, “you’re cute for a black girl” or “you’re so lucky you get to live in this country and not scary Africa.” I have been called Buckwheat. (This is in reference to the character on the “Little Rascals,” who represents the caricature image of black people in the early 20th century.) This comment was made in observance of my “nappy” hair. Most recently I was interrogated about where I come from. Although this was not new to my ears, it still hit me like a prodding iron to the skin. The conversation looked like this: (If you are friends with me on Facebook, I’m sorry that you have to read this dialogue again.)
Man: “Where were you born?”
Me: “I’m from here.”
Man: *looking stunned and confused* “Where’s here?”
Me: “Gorham, Maine. Where are you from?”
Man: “I’m from here. Aren’t you a Somalian? You look like those Somalians.”
Me: “No sir, I’m not Somali.”
Man: “Isn’t that funny? You must get that all the time!… There are lots of Somalians working here, huh?”
Me: *getting visibly angry but trying to keep my customer service composer* “There are people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Albania, Greece, Germany and a bunch of other places all LIVING and working here. And no, sir, it’s not funny to racially or ethnically profile someone because you think all black people look alike.”
Man: *staggers away looking dumbfounded*
Man: *comes back 15 minutes later* “You know what, I’m sorry. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t say that.”
Me: “It’s fine… Actually, no it’s not fine. I’m not going to say it is just to ease your conscience. Don’t be so presumptuous just because you see brown skin. *puts customer service smile back on* “Now, if I can’t help you with anything I kindly ask that you move away from my desk.”
Soon after that interaction, a man stopped dead in his tracks and asked me if I was the only black person in Maine because he hadn’t seen any “blacks” on his flight.
As if that’s not bad enough, I’ve also had horrible situations of sexual harassment. On a regular basis there are older men that come into my work place and make different sexual advances and comments toward me. They stare at my breasts. They examine my shape as if I were Saartjie Baartman on display. Once while I was having lunch at my desk, a man asked me if he could have some. When I ignored him he said, “It’s a good thing you have nice legs,” and proceeded to tilt his head and try to look up my skirt. Different male employees continuously make inappropriate comments on my physical appearance and ogle at my body. I had a really severe situation where an employee old enough to be my grandfather would come by my desk every day and tell me how attracted to me he was and would express how much he wanted me and how he wanted to take me places. He would talk about other women’s bodies to me. He would always try to get me alone and try to hug me so that he could touch me. My coworkers told me that they had experienced similar interactions with this man but they had ignored it. I was even told that he occasionally grabbed women’s butts. I couldn’t tolerate this. I wasn’t going to wait until it escalated. I was forced to report him and he resigned before a case could be filed against him.
It’s infuriating that as a woman of color I have to face all of this. How am I expected to want to wake up in the morning and take hours and hours of this? I dread going to work because the energy to deal with these situations has been drained from me. It’s one of the most helpless feelings having to tolerate racism and sexual harassment because I have to make a living. It’s not like I can’t work. I have worked in a variety of places with different work environments from the corporate level to grassroots, but I have never experienced anything like this. This work experience has really slapped reality into me and the extent of racism and sexism has made me realize that this is what many women of color face everyday. The male entitlement, exotification, and degradation. The feelings of inadequacy, otherings, white privilege and ignorance. The blatant racism! Both of my bosses are two of the nicest and most considerate people I’ve worked with. They aren’t the problem. If it were it would be easy to cut ties with the jobs and go somewhere else. But when it is customers who are impacting my work performance, it’s a difficult to call it quits – as customers are “always right”!
This doesn’t only happen in Maine. Because there is ignorance everywhere, I feel like I’m just expected to suck it up and deal with it. Bite my lip. Become the strong black woman who never cracks like I’m expected to. Be complacent. Be dutiful under any circumstance. But if I’m supposed to spend half of my life working, I know these interactions will kill me even quicker as I feel my blood boil. The tensions in my very body from this experience has taken its toll on me even before I begin full-time employment! Am I waiting to become another “excess deaths” statistic?
So, what are my suggestions on dealing with these issues? Okay, here it goes: Don’t work. Leave the country and live on a secluded island. Somewhere tropical. But if you’re like me and can’t do that, fight back! Stand up for yourself. Educate people about why they’ve made you uncomfortable because you deserve to feel safe and confident in your work place. Handle situations tactfully and effectively. If your boss can’t stand by you protecting yourself, then maybe that work situation isn’t meant to be. But this is something I’m still trying to wrap my head around.
“In 5 years? I’d be open to working anywhere in the world if I get a job that I like. I thought most people would think the same way, but I’m realizing that a lot of people are more concerned about the risks of moving to a new place rather than the experiences and opportunities it would open up. I think the flexibility that I have comes from our background.”
This is Shan Yi Koay, a recent Clark graduate (IDSC ‘2013), who is now enjoying her young professional career as the Community Programs Manager at Ivy Child International. Ivy Child is a Worcester based non-profit organization that works to improve the social and emotional well-being of children through mindfulness-based health education programs such as yoga and mindful art. Their vision is based on Positive Psychology and mindfulness based learning (MBL), and the founder and CEO Rose Pavlov explains their approach in her TEDx talk titled, “Unlocking children’s potential through mindfulness”.
Shan is a Third Culture Kid – a term you probably have heard of by now if you are a Clarkie, or have been reading this blog. She is from Malaysia, but has lived in Bangladesh for eleven years before coming to the states for college. After spending four years at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA, where she received a B.A. in Sociology, she moved to Worcester to pursue a graduate degree in International Development and Social Change at Clark University.
A fun fact is that Shan and I graduated from the same American International School in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We are four years apart so we never actually overlapped in high school, but the social web of our school is so tight and small that we knew of each other through a handful of mutual friends and teachers. I met her at Clark four years ago as a first-year undergraduate student when she was a first-year graduate student, and I felt as though it was like meeting an old friend for the first time.
So I’ve known her for a long time, and I decided she would be a perfect person to interview for an article, as an example of what the “life after Clark” could look like – in Worcester – for an international student. (Just in case you were wondering, we went to a Thai restaurant called Basil ‘n Spice on Shrewsbury Street for lunch. Great food, reasonable pricing, and clean and classy interior design. I would definitely recommend it!)
Covered by the GoLocalWorcester magazine as a “Central MA Up + Comer” in 2013, Shan’s first job after graduating from Clark was the Executive Assistant to the President at Ivy Child International. She was not expecting to stay in Worcester, she tells me as we dig into the spicy noodles. “The opportunity just fell in place. After completing my OPT with them for a year, they were willing to sponsor my work visa. I decided to stay because the opportunity of being part of the behind-the-scenes operations for a start-up non-profit organization was such a unique learning and professional experience.”
As the direct assistant to the founder of a small but growing organization, Shan took on a variety of roles from her very first year including basic administrative and support duties, marketing and event coordination, and onboarding and managing interns and staff.
She spoke about two aspects of her current position that she enjoys. The first is the space that Ivy Child has for growth and change. The organization was basically kicking off when she joined. “I felt like I got to first-handedly experience the process of starting a non-profit, without actually being the Founder or CEO,” Shan says.
Located in Worcester, a city with great needs and potential to really seeing some results, Ivy Child allows Shan to get creative and bring her ideas to life. Yoga in the Park and Mindful Happy Hour are two examples of community programs that Shan created and helped develop, both of which are growing popular amongst Clarkies, as well. (Check out the recent albums for Yoga in the Park and Mindful Happy Hour!)
The second aspect of the job that she enjoys is the community connections it has opened up for her. “This job has allowed me to meet amazing community leaders and so many different people from various organizations and groups that are working towards similar goals in Worcester. This is something that has made me feel more ‘at home’ in Worcester.”
Grinning because it’s a little bit of a funny question to ask a friend over lunch, I asked Shan, “What inspires you?” The first word she said was, “family.” She has two younger siblings, who are equally motivated. She said, “We’re the kind of people who need to be doing things all the time. Otherwise, we get bored.” Shan for example is also a self-taught freelance graphic designer, on top of everything that she does. “I like to keep myself busy. I’m curious, and I love learning new things. I don’t know if I’ll ever see or learn enough.”
Needless to say, it was a delightful experience to share a good meal with such a friendly, bright and driven person. If you ask me – people like Shan are what inspire me.
The thunderous roar of the Mirpur (town in Dhaka city, the capital of Bangladesh) crowd rises into the hot Dhaka night as the 19-year old youngster merely smirks at the carnage in front of him. Hashim Amla, the most consistent batsman in One Day International (ODI) Cricket history, takes one shocked look at the uprooted stumps behind him before turning his back to the jubilant green-and-red huddle forming around the nubile teenager. These were the scenes at the Sher-E-Bangla Stadium last week, as Bangladesh subdued an otherwise-dominant South Africa side for the second match in a row. Bangladesh, long known as the minnows of the cricket world, displayed their newfound mastery of the game to overcome a side they managed to beat only once in the past decade. This is not new to them anymore.
They rounded off the most successful season of ODI cricket, adding the scalps of the Protease to those of the Indians, Pakistanis and Zimbabweans – the fourth home series they won in a row. The last 8 months truly saw the “Rise of the Tigers,” a bout of success that 150 million Bangladeshis around the world had been waiting for, for almost 20 years.
Instrumental to this amazing success have been the youngsters that have stepped into the big shoes from the youth teams. Debutante fast bowler 19-year-old Mustafizur Rahman nabbed a record 13 wickets in the three games that left the full-power Indian side – widely claimed as the best batting lineup in the world – completely beaten and lost for words. Newbie opening batsman Soumya Sarkar, only in his first few months of international cricket, saw Bangladesh through to victory both games against South Africa, displaying a barrage of sweetly-timed strokes reminiscent of the legendary Sachin Tendulkar. The side has rallied around the fighter captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, whose kneecap (that has seen 13 surgeries in the past 8 years) juts out tough his trousers every time he runs in to bowl, who embodies and instills the attacking mindset that Bangladesh have confidently displayed.
The raucous Mirpur crowd and the entire cricket-crazed nation beyond the stands have been living the dream. For Bangladeshis like myself living abroad, staying up nights to watch the matches that begin in the dead of the night, trying desperately to stream the matches on the morning commute, and keeping an eye on the Cricinfo scoreboard have been a regular part of our lives for the past 8 months. I lost count of the number of times I whooped on the morning Boston subways the past month, drawing strange stares, as the Tigers routed their opposition. A nation that has been divisive in politics, culture and religion in recent times, that has been racked by violent murders of children, has been given these precious moments to unite behind. The immense pride we all feel for the Bangladesh Cricket Team never fails to bring a smile to the faces of the farmers, rickshaw pullers, school students, professionals, and expats like myself, who is grinning right now as I punch these words into my computer.
The Bangladeshi team, like many others in the past, has now become an inspiration. Every team that is currently known as the stars of the cricket world has worked days and nights to get where they are. Often times we see successful beings and we are amazed by their accomplishments and are in awe of them. We don’t highlight their failures or the bruises they’ve had to endure to come where they are. The truth is, we often end up thanking all those that made it possible to achieve our dreams but we don’t thank ourselves for trying and failing and then trying all over again. It takes determination and will power to overcome our greatest losses and become someone who people can look up to. It takes even greater determination when they hold an entire nation’s faith and hopes on their shoulders.
Let it be known, the Bangladeshi Cricket Team till today was an ‘underdog’ barely qualifying for international tournaments. And today, it has moved past it all and is carrying its scars and bruises of failures as it keeps moving forward. We as Bangladeshi Cricket fans take pride in its accomplishments today, but are also prouder because it has come a really long way.
Want to learn what Cricket is? Check out this YouTube video:
Amidst all the geo-socio-political news since the start of this year, the Greek debt crisis most likely resonates as the most ubiquitous. While negotiations are being held, a recent deal has allowed for a bailout, resulting in crushing austerity measures. Now, I have never taken an economics class in my life. Following the terminology has been a challenge. For the most part, my only connection to Greece is that I’ve lived there for a short span of months. Speaking to friends and acquaintances there, the jargon is not so much a problem as its repeated presence in Greek life. In the past five years, coming to terms with the reality of the crisis has been a frustrating ordeal for the Greeks. Covering an expansive range of topics from national-supranational identity to Greek history and politics, discussions on the crisis represents a tumultuous melting pot. What has remained, is a populace that is moving forward amidst a confusing and painful time.
When I first visited Greece in 2012, the Piraeus port in Athens had already displayed the trickling failures of the 2010 bailout. For a Euro-tripping teen, this was the reality of a heterogeneous currency union. The homeless peddlers in the port and streets were a far cry from the quaint cobblestones of Berlin. The 2010 bailout then had attempted to boost an economy with 11.8% unemployment. Today, as the Eurozone demands for austerity, unemployment is more than 25%. What needs to be understood is that the crisis has affected the populace’s identity. Feelings of humiliation and desperation have come to replace what had been Greece’s longstanding pride of its heritage. By now everyone has realized that Greece’s debt will never be repaid. Because of this, the new austerity measures are more vindictive than practical for Greece.
Last week, Europe and the entire world saw a nation celebrate their voting against austerity measures. Behind the scenes, political propaganda had for the most part taken over the decisions. Despoina Lioliou, a Clarkie from Greece, states that the international media has provided a skewed image of the crisis. The inner political drama has been sparsely covered. The week before the referendum vote, people described their situation as such: “We are standing over a cliff. We can either wait for them to push us over, or we can jump ourselves.” When NO came out as the nation’s answer, people were celebrating on the streets. Only a week later, everyone demanded that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigns because he didn’t fulfill his party’s promise against austerity. The conflict lies in the political arena, both amongst the people and the decision makers.
According to Lioliou,
“the week before the referendum vote, all Greek media outlets promoted YES as the most beneficial vote. They interviewed people on the streets, and just as someone said they will vote no, they pulled away the microphone. They presented fake polls where the YES vote was predicted an astounding victory, more than 70% or so. They only covered the rallies supporting the YES vote, and not the much bigger ones advocating for NO. Greek celebrities made TV spots talking about how Europe is a Greek word and thus Greece belongs in Europe. If people took only this into consideration, it would make sense to them why the Greeks are celebrating the NO vote: part reactance, part genuine support of the vote.”
The neglect of such nuances in the political climate beckons for a reassessment of our international news outlets.
Speaking to young adults in Greece, the supranational political relations have evoked fear of a “war-without-bullets.” The term war itself evokes a historical tragedy for Greek identity. In truth, one could say Greece never had a recuperation “post-war” period; Greece has experienced Nazi occupation, civil war and a dictatorship until joining the European Union. The desperation that follows these historical patterns provides for a bleak outlook. Young students struggle for a future amidst such high unemployment rates. Most college students work as much as they can and live with their parents to save money. Many even resolve on saving to move abroad in search of better opportunities. USA would be a tough destination, but relations with other European countries have also been very vulnerable. Entering the European Union while already in a poor economic stage, the burden of debt piled onto the Greek economy. Adding to the politics, the emergence of caricatures depicting the Greek citizen as lazy has sparked a crisis in the Greek identity. Many call for a reckoning, but the proposed austerity would be another humiliating challenge to overcome.
Yet even so, in spite the confusion and vulnerability, Greek life is as normal as they try to be. The Piraues port is still functioning. Greek families still celebrate birthdays, baptisms and weddings. Friends continue to meet, to fish, to chat in cafes and joke for the curse off against their economic situation. While the bigger decisions are being made, most have realized the futility of their efforts to negotiate a less humiliating agreement. Not to say that they’ve stopped striving. Everyone still goes to their jobs and tries to make the most of their situation. The resulting “take-it-as-you-go” attitude is both a humbling and helpless reaction as a general populace.
I just finished reading an op-ed piece published a few days ago in the New York Times, which discussed the brave actions of one Labannya Hijra, who as an eyewitness managed to apprehend two of the three Bangladeshi Islamist radicals who brutally hacked to death secular blogger Oyasiqur Rhaman. There are a number of angles to this story – the religious intolerance that motivated this barbaric murder and the courage of Labannya Hijra being the most prominent. While the fate of Oyasiqur Rhaman is grievous indeed, and warrants mobilization and discourse around freedom of speech and tolerance in über-conservative societies, Labannya’s involvement in the matter has sparked interesting developments in Bangladesh.
What you should know is that Labannya is a hijra, which is a term used in the South Asia to signify a person assigned male at birth who later goes on to identify as female. While some hijras are intersex, a broad majority of them are assigned male at birth. It is interesting to note that hijras have long been mentioned in recorded history of the region, such as in Hindu and Jain texts, as well as in the Kama Sutra. It was the arrival of British colonialism in the subcontinent that enforced the gender binary and outlawed hijras into the fringes of society.
In 2013, Bangladesh made history by recognizing hijras as a third gender. Nepal, Pakistan, and India are the other countries that have legally recognized the existence of a third gender, including on passports and other official documents. While this may seem rather progressive of the South Asian subcontinent, one must not be too quick to assume true equality in these societies. As a South Asian myself, I understand the ability of our cultures to embrace contradictions. While the concept of a third gender exists, hijras have very little beyond that recognition. They operate within a close community, which serves as both a support system and a prison. They have little autonomy in a hierarchical structure that places their guru in charge of their order. Despite what their governments might think, the citizens in these countries are yet to fully recognize hijras as their equals. The societies in our countries still employ inflexible, impermeable gender norms to police behavior, and hijras must either conform or be shunned. What generally occurs is both. Due to the socio-economic isolation that hijras experience, an overwhelming number of them face a lifetime of begging or prostitution. While heterosexual men in these countries utilize the sexual services of hijras, it is done largely in secrecy, a shameful secret that none are willing to admit. Comparable to the status of trans communities in the U.S., hijras face discrimination in employment, healthcare, housing, education, immigration, law, and bureaucracy. HIV prevalence among the hijra population is 276 times that of the entire adult population in Pakistan.
Reading this account aroused mixed emotions in me. On one hand, I was struck by the western-centrism of social justice narratives in our world today. It is worth noting that the West is not the only part of the world that rejects binaries and hierarchies of oppression. From examples of grassroots feminist movements in Latin America to the celebration of homosexuality in Ancient China, all cultures have their own takes on equality. The historically-rooted concept of a third gender in the Indian sub-continent is yet another example of this. This is important to keep in mind when we consider fighting for equality globally. The western definitions of identity are not a one size fits all approach, just like western liberal democracy has failed to take root in other parts of the world in its purest form. Similarly, the hijra identity does not translate neatly to a western equivalent. For instance, there is no natural association between gender and sexuality that occurs with hijra identity, for some go onto renounce sexuality altogether. There is an element of the sacred to hijra identity, despite the low status granted by society (remember what I said about contradictions?), with a belief in the bond between sexual and spiritual energies. It is important to be culturally competent when espousing the cause of a particular population, as opposed to blindly transplanting the beliefs of one group and imposing it upon the other.
On the other hand, I am struck by how far our South Asian cultures must progress to be truly equitable. Identities may be relative and subjective, but perhaps all of us can agree that one of the objective standards in this world is to ensure that all people enjoy the same freedoms and privileges. Well then, I wonder if those who are assigned female at birth have the same capacity to transcend their identity as hijras do. I consider the injustices heaped upon the hijra community. I think about how homosexuality is a criminal offense in all countries in the region except Nepal, which affects the hijra population as well as all sexual minorities. While the western approach to rights and recognition may not suit these cultures completely, it is important to embrace the fundamental principle that lies at its heart, which is recognition of all people and the struggle for the rights of everyone.
Labannya has become an overnight sensation in Bangladesh. As a South Asian Caitlyn Jenner, her bravery has led to the government’s announcement of hiring hijras as traffic police and the Central Bank requiring financial institutions to devote a portion of their corporate social responsibility funds on the hijra community. Thanks to those like Labannya, times are changing in this part of the world. Let us hope that it spells change for everyone.
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) made history on Friday, June 26th by ruling that same-sex marriage be legal nation-wide. Countless Americans took to the streets while others proudly displayed profile pictures in rainbow hues, celebrating this moment in jubilation. As the story hit international news streams, perhaps billions of people received the news to mixed reactions. It is interesting that 21 other countries – even developing nations like Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, as well as South Africa – legalized same-sex marriage before the United States, and yet none of them caused the international uproar that the SCOTUS ruling achieved. This is yet another testament to the kind of global influence America wields.
As the SCOTUS ruling made its way around the world, gathering statuses, comments, likes, hashtags, and more rainbow-filtered profile pictures, something more sinister was brewing beneath the surface. In Russia, conservative politicians and Orthodox Church leaders were quick to denounce the development as America’s attempt to “impose its anti-natural and post-human view of marriage on other countries.” In China, Prof. Zeng Yi of Tongji University, who described the U.S. decision to approve same-sex marriage as a “crime against humanity,” stressed that the purpose of marriage was to have children. Most chillingly, ISIS decided to commemorate this historic event by posting footage of an execution of four gay men in a barbaric fashion – throwing them off a roof of a five-story building and sending them plunging to their deaths. This video was accompanied by ISIS’ ironic use of the hashtag #LoveWins.
I myself was eager to see the reactions of other Sri Lankans to the news, and was horrified to see the outpouring of hatred and bigotry on Facebook. Many commented on same-sex unions being unnatural, akin to pedophilia, was immoral, was upsetting the balance of nature etc. It was clear that homophobia, which had long existed in the form of micro-aggressions and less overt forms, was being pushed to the surface by this landmark ruling in America. I shudder to think of the backlash that the members of the LGBTQ+ community must be experiencing in their home countries, from being denied their identity to being denied their life, much like the four innocents who lost their live to ISIS.
Many wonder as to what the cause of this surge of resentment and bigotry could be. One answer is that the topic of LGBTQ+ rights was never a mainstream issue in these countries, until society perceived the institution of marriage to be threatened by the U.S. ruling. Others claim that such a bold and sweeping move was not expected from a nation as staunchly religious and conservative as the U.S., thus shaking the confidence of the religious right and traditionalists globally. Whatever the cause may be, the U.S. cannot be held to blame. It is not the fault of Americans that bigotry exists in other parts of the world. Each of us must shoulder the weight of what flaws exist in our own countries.
On a more positive note, not all of this is gloomy and dark. In Australia, legislators are confident that the U.S. policy isolates Australia as the only developed, English-speaking nation to refuse to legalize marriages between same-sex couples. Legislator Janet Rice, Greens Party leader, called the U.S. ruling “the loudest call yet for marriage equality in Australia.” Meanwhile, in India, activists believe that this recent development would force legislators to reconsider the 2013 Indian Supreme Court decision to reinstate a colonial-era law making homosexuality a crime. As Chinese LGBTQ+ activist Ah Qiang, director of Guangzhou-based Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) said, “I’ve never seen so much debate in both the traditional media and social media – so many people, and in so much depth. People who opposed homosexuality rarely felt a need to speak out — but they’ve taken this chance to express their feelings.”
This was definitely the case for the many vociferous opponents of marriage equality in Sri Lanka, who flooded my newsfeed with their posts, comments, and homophobic memes. I doubt that many of these people had ever had a full-fledged conversation about LGBTQ+ rights. And yet, the news of the SCOTUS ruling had forced these opinions out on to the surface. No longer were they festering deep in the hearts and minds of people, but being aired out in public and debated by others. This gave me the opportunity to write a blog post that addressed some of the basic arguments against queer identity that I encountered, which got over 1,400 views and was shared by many. I do not say this to brag about myself, but to point out that every word and gesture helps. I know that my voice may have helped someone out there question their prejudice or rekindle hope in the heart of those who are driven deep into the closet. This is the first step to more and more people realizing the justness of the LGBTQ+ cause.
Let me end by saying that for those who believe that the struggle for queer liberation and justice is over, think again. Queer identity is continually besieged both in America and abroad, and no one can rest until all people celebrate the same rights under the same rainbow flag. Yet today, we are closer to achieving that dream. It is the duty of each and every one of us to engage our family, friends, and social media acquaintances in these conversations, and to spread the message of equality that the Supreme Court stood for.
If you haven’t heard the name, Rachel Dolezal, then you’ve been doing a pretty good job at hiding from media circuits. In case you are that person, let me catch you up: Dolezal has brought her name to fame and tarnished it all within a few days. She is a Caucasian woman who has been living the most recent portion of her life as a black woman. Yes, you read correctly. Her social media debut was when her estranged parents informed a news station that she has been falsely claiming to be African American. Dolezal has been identifying with a non-white race since the early 2000s. She has been sporting kinky weaves, braids, and skin bronzer in an attempt to deepen this facade. She has even made some extensive life choices that have helped her narrative: She attended a historically black university, Howard. It was at Howard where she even sued the school for discriminating against her for being biracial. She taught Africana studies at Eastern Washington University. She was also the head of the NAACP chapter in her place of residency, Spokane, Washington.
In recent interviews, Rachel Dolezal has revealed that her identifying as black is nowhere near deception or a mockery of black culture as many people are calling it. She claims that she feels an inherent connection to black culture, and that the black experience and struggle have spoken to her. She has told different interviewers that she’s known she was really black ever since she was young. Dolezal has even gone to the extent of saying that her parents aren’t her real parents, and that there is no way of proving otherwise (even though she won’t take a DNA test).
But Dolezal is, in fact, white. Her familial heritage does not indicate otherwise. For many people, this situation is laughable. But looking at my Facebook a night or two after her story was released proved that not everyone was able to find the humor. Many of my friends, predominantly black, shared information about her story with comments of outrage and confusion. I share the similar anger and disbelief when learning more details of Dolezal’s story, and my frustration mirrors much of the opinions presented in articles that have been published in response to Dolezal.
First and foremost, impersonating any race is pretty hard for me to find justifiable. She used this new identity as an attempt to assimilate into black communities. She wanted to understand the black experience on a personal level. Yes, while identifying as black, Dolezal worked as an activist for racial/human rights justice. She did great work and was a community leader. But she could have done this work as a white person. White activists exist. Different NAACP chapters across the U.S. have employed white people. I feel as though we are currently in such a crucial time where white allyship and solidarity are needed and are being defined. Dolezal could have used her experiences and her privilege to mobile change in a way that would never have called for her to misrepresent herself.
Another issue I have with her story is her going to Howard. I’m not upset that someone who is non-black has attended a historically black school. What’s troubling is that if she claimed to be black to get into Howard, it is as though she cheated a person of color out of a spot at the university. The school was established to provide opportunities that non-white learners couldn’t get otherwise. If she wanted to attend a historically black school, she could have attended as a white person because historically black schools do admit white students.
Issue number three is her claim that she needed to identify as black as a way to help and relate to her black adopted siblings. There are studies that show that children who are adopted by families with race/ethnicity different from their own can have self-esteem and identity issues. I have even heard firsthand accounts from friends and family who were adopted by different races and have been told of these challenges. As an educated person who is aware of these challenges, she could have still been a support system without changing her identity. Her actions make it appear as though adoptions shouldn’t happen outside of an adoptee’s race, instead of advocating for restructuring how families help their new family members feel supported with their differences.
The end-all is that I feel as though Rachel Dolezal has trivialized black culture. Using her privilege, she invited herself into a culture that continues to fight for its protection. By simplifying the experience and making it appear to be so easy to “become black,” she is making an example of herself. She has made it known that others can take something that never belonged to them. Women of color still struggle to find job opportunities with natural hair and darker skin. As a woman of color myself, I often wonder if I will face discrimination for sporting my natural hair or the styles she’s brandished over the years. What Dolezal really did was to revel in enjoyment of being able to change herself – bring able to play both sides so fluidly, without fear or consequence. If I relax my hair and bleach my skin, I’m still black.