Tag Archives: activism

Say Something

The news is terrible everywhere.

Sunday night it was a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City. Six people dead, nineteen injured. The shooter was a white guy, a Trump supporter.

Monday night I was supposed to go out for dinner with an old friend from high school, Joanne. She texted me to ask what time I wanted to meet up. I was torn. I love getting together with her, but I really felt the need to go to that evening’s vigil for the victims of the shooting.

After a bit of texting back and forth, Joanne and I agreed that she and her daughter would pick me up and we would all go to the vigil together.

The vigil was… like any other. Some hundreds of us huddled with our toques and mittens, clutching our jars and glasses containing lit candles, rocking on our feet and curling our toes to keep them warm during the sad and inspiring and heartfelt speeches.

At one point, two protestors interrupted the speech with their signs to condemn Canada for having removed and endangered their children, and at first it looked like they were going to be ushered off the steps of the Legislature, but ultimately they were allowed to speak. I felt sorry for them and moved by their family’s plight, and I was grateful to them for interrupting the “wishful thinking” thread running through most the vigil in which speaker after speaker almost unanimously praised Canada as being a safe haven and a place where diversity is welcome and celebrated.

Because that wishful thinking lets us off the hook. If it was that safe here, those parents wouldn’t be mourning the disappearance of their children. That mosque wouldn’t have been shot up by a racist. Our jails wouldn’t be overwhelmingly filled with non-white people, particularly Indigenous people. Companies wouldn’t be bringing up migrant labour from Mexico and housing them twelve to a trailer for the summer. Women wouldn’t be getting raped and then blamed for it. No one would be trying to degay anyone or murder trans people.

But we keep giving those speeches and we keep repeating it to each other. Because we want to believe that’s not us. We’re not homophobic or misogynist or racist or classist or ableist or transphobic or in any way discriminatory. We would never (shoot Muslims) (rape anyone) (disown a queer family member).

It’s not enough. It’s not enough to stand at a vigil with a candle on a winter’s evening, no matter how comforting it is to mourn in community, no matter how important it is to be a body in the street, to stand up and be counted, to be another face in the lake of faces when the TV cameras pan across the crowd. These are important, but they are only a small step. Showing up at a vigil does not challenge anything or change much.

It’s hard to change. Hard to change within ourselves and hard to change our behaviour to intervene when we should. There’s so much work to do to unlearn all the crap we’ve been taught and fed, the lies we breathe in, the stereotypes we drink like water.

And there’s also so much work to do to learn how to interrupt others. It’s not necessarily our job to change people’s minds, but it IS our job to clearly express what language and behaviour we will or will not tolerate. It IS our job to not remain silent. We, especially if we embody multiple sites of privilege, have no “right” to remain comfortable and safe. The idea that this is a “right” is a facet of our privilege. Say something. Say anything.

A couple of years ago, I stumbled across Captain Awkward’s blog. Since then, I have read every single post, and probably 90% of the comments. The blog and the community that has built up there is very supportive and insightful in terms of articulating boundaries, taking responsibility for one’s own feelings and actions, dealing with annoying or abusive people, and holding others accountable for their own behaviour.

Captain Awkward is not perfect, but she owns it. She corrects her mistakes, apologises when necessary, and is responsive to feedback from her commenters. Most of the regular commenters are the same way. It’s an interesting place and I am sharing this with you in the hopes that hanging out there for a while over time might be as helpful to you as it is to me.

Some of Captain Awkward’s posts are specifically geared to how to deal with racism and Trumpism and sexism and other forms of discrimination. Others are more about dealing with difficult people and situations in other contexts. But there are lots of recurring themes: Use your words. “No” is a complete sentence. Let it be awkward. Build and maintain good boundaries. These are valuable skills and concepts for changing the world, bit by bit.

I’d love to hear what online resources have been helpful to you in learning how to stand up and make change. The more information and strategies we have, the better—as long as we actually put them into practice.

 

 

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Weekly Pet Peeve: “I’m not racist, but…” (aka “Some of my friends are…”)

I got nothing against passive-aggressive a-holes, but...

I got nothing against passive-aggressive a-holes, but…

In all its various permutations:

“I’ve got nothing against gays, but…”

“I’m all for equality, but…”

“I got no problem with immigrants, but…”

“There’s nothing wrong with blue collars, but…”

And so on, and ’nuff said.

 

 

Saw this film: Banksy Does New York (2014)

This fast-paced documentary covers Banksy’s month of making a piece of public art every day in New York for the month of October 2013. It was kind of a NaBloPoMo / NaNoWriMo thing with street art; the film called it a residency. I watched it with my brother, and we kept pausing it to talk about who owns art, what is art, whose opinions about art matter, cultural appropriation, graffiti and vandalism and defacement, the concept of property, the concepts of public versus private, whether art has to have a meaning, and so forth. My brother and I occupy quite different places on the ideological map, so there were times when it was a relief to turn back to the TV with our mouths pressed thin, but at other times we both got really animated in our enthusiasm for the topic and managed to navigate our differences well. It’s a process, right?

The documentary interested me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that I recently made my first foray into public art-making. As time goes by, viewers have started to add to my art. Although I don’t think they have improved my piece aesthetically (puh-LEEZ), I am delighted that there is some conversation happening. Continue reading

Finished this book: Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux

warriorpoet

Biographies aren’t generally my thing, but Audre Lorde—“black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet warrior” (her own words)—is a writer whose writing has had a profound effect on my life and thinking about the world. I had come across her poetry in (I think) the late 80s, and was intrigued. Imagine my surprise when I signed up for a few Women’s Studies courses and discovered that some of Lorde’s essays from Sister Outsider were on the syllabi. Next time I re-read Sister Outsider or her other books, I’ll talk more about that, but for now, let me just say that she’s one of the people whose writing has greatly influenced my thinking about race, gender, social justice, the value of art, and the need to live my politics rather than just talking about them.

So when I came across Warrior Poet by Alexis De Veaux, I was excited to have a chance to learn more about Lorde and how she grew into the icon she became. I have to admit the book sat on my shelf for a very long time, because as I mentioned above, the idea of biographies doesn’t excite me (although when I buckle down and get started, I tend to enjoy them—go figure). Continue reading

How to Tell People They Sound Racist

Here’s a short video I love and share widely: Jay Smooth’s How to Tell People They Sound Racist. It’s an entertaining and articulate take on how to deal with people who make racist comments.

The take-home message is to separate the person from the problem by focusing on what they did rather than who they are, in an effort to prevent the discussion from being derailed by the whole “I’m not a racist!” defence and keeping it to “that thing you said was racist.”

I really like his advice and his analogy of someone who steals your wallet: you don’t chase him down to find out if he feels like a thief deep in his heart; you chase him because you want your wallet back (i.e., you want to address the harm done regardless of the thief’s unprovable motives and intents).

I’m white, and have struggled a lot to come to terms with the racism I’ve internalised from birth onward. I’ve mentioned before that I was racialised from an early age by my Danish grandfather who felt that I was a half-breed because my mom’s family is from the south of France (“they’re not really white that far south”). I would like to think that I am non-racist but I know the best I can hope for is to be anti-racist—to examine my own words and actions, to strive to do better, to interrupt racism when it occurs around me, and to be open to anger and criticism if I screw up.

It helps that I am also an outspoken feminist, and that when I took my Women’s Studies degree I was extremely fortunate to be taught by professors who were passionate about the interconnections of oppression. I learned and deeply believe that all the isms (racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, etc. etc. etc.) are interconnected and mutually reinforcing (Marilyn Frye’s essay “Oppression” was helpful for me in understanding this). Also, my experiences as a feminist dealing with men (and a bisexual dealing  with straights) helps me to understand the ways in which men (or whites or heterosexuals) just don’t get it sometimes, regardless of how good their / our intentions may be. So not only do I consider racist speech and acts to impact me personally even though I am white, I am utterly convinced that this is also my fight. I might do it wrong sometimes and I might not have as full an understanding as I one day will. But inaction is not an option.

Jay Smooth says, regarding dealing with people who have said / done something racist: “I don’t care what you are; I care about what you did.” I think this applies to people like me (white) who abhor racism. We can be totally anti-racist in our hearts, but if we don’t actually do something about it, then we’re doing it wrong.

Applying Jay Smooth’s strategies to conversations about race—holding others responsible for their words and actions—is one way to take action.

Reblog: What If We Are The “Bad Guys?”

I just read this very moving post and it expresses a lot of how I feel about Remembrance Day and the military. I believe we in the West are the bad guys. I believe we are doing a lot of really shitty things in the rest of the world, and we pretend it’s in the name of freedom but really it’s in the name of money and power and oil and corporate greed. We brainwash people into doing our killing, and then when they come home injured both physically and mentally, we abandon them.

Here’s the blog post: What If We Are The “Bad Guys?”

On the one hand, I feel it’s important to share this. On the other hand, I don’t really feel like arguing today, so I’m going to close comments. Here’s hoping we smarten up soon and stop inciting more hatred by going out and killing people and then profiting from their pain by “helping them rebuild.”

This Remembrance Day, let’s remember not just “our” dead soldiers, but also the ones on the “other” side. And let’s also remember all of the civilian victims.