He’s sorrowful…but not sorry

by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

My inbox was abuzz yesterday with news of the Pope’s admission that he was “sorrowful” for what happened to residential school survivors; which came as a result of the much anticipated visit to the Vatican by a delegation from the Assembly of First Nations here in Canada.

Sorrowful. But not sorry. Is that an important distinction?

Chief Phil Fontaine says “it’s a very significant statement” and that we shouldn’t be distracted by the fact that it’s not an apology. I already know that Phil doesn’t speak for me; we kind of parted ways with the whole AFN endorsing of the Olympics in Vancouver 2010 issue, but to me it is an important distinction that the Pope did not actually say he’s sorry.

In fact I’m not a huge fan of government apologies at all – but I do understand what it means to so many of our people. Last June, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the historic residential school apology I wrote about it and felt angry – angry that he can make an apology and basically wipe his hands clean of it – which is what the Residential School Payment Settlement represents to me. Yet for so many of the survivors it represented a start to the path of healing, something they had been waiting to happen for so long, and gave them peace of mind that the government appeared to take accountability for its horrendous actions. Particularly when a number of our communities are still actively practicing Christians. Continue reading

Excerpt: Colorstruck [Shine, Coconut Moon]

About the book:

Seventeen-year-old Samar — a.k.a. Sam — has never known much about her Indian heritage. Her mom has deliberately kept Sam away from her old-fashioned family. It’s never bothered Sam, who is busy with school, friends, and a really cute but demanding boyfriend.

But things change after 9/11. A guy in a turban shows up at Sam’s house, and he turns out to be her uncle. He wants to reconcile the family and teach Sam about her Sikh heritage. Sam isn’t sure what to do, until a girl at school calls her a coconut — brown on the outside, white on the inside. That decides it: Why shouldn’t Sam get to know her family? What is her mom so afraid of? Then some boys attack her uncle, shouting, “Go back home, Osama!” and Sam realizes she could be in danger — and also discovers how dangerous ignorance can be. Sam will need all her smarts and savvy to try to bridge two worlds and make them both her own.

I soak up the images, the tidbits and soundbytes, as we go through the [photo] albums.

This was during the trip to Niagara Falls, Look how skinny your cousin Pradeep is here! That was my favorite birthday shirt. I see Mom at six, wearing loud prints and checkered brown and orange pants, smiling broadly at the camera with her piano teeth; at ten, smiling pleasantly in a Raggedy-Ann dress.

Then at thirteen, the smile becomes just a small fraction of the crescent it used to be; her braids hang limp on the sides of her face, and her hands are folded in front of her on her lap.

But the photos of a teenage Mom are what hold me riveted. Mom and Uncle Sandeep both grow quiet. There are no smiles in these photos, and the spark in Mom’s eyes is gone. She stands, hunched, or staring off in the distance, almost as if she doesn’t notice the camera. The teenager in these photos is nothing like the Mom I’ve known my whole life. Nothing like the Mom in the photos we have at home—mom with her fist raised at a Take Back the Night march, or smiling with two fingers held up at a peace rally. Mom, with her eyes crackling in dissent. My mom.

I stare in disbelief at the photos, then look at my mother, and back again. No matter how hard I try, I can’t see that bleak teenager in the woman sitting next to me.

She points to the last photo in the album. “This was the day before I shaved my head,” she says quietly. She turns the page, and a small photo falls to the floor. I pick it up and turn it over. There, smiling blissfully back at me, is Mom standing next to a man I know must be my dad.

I gasp and hear Mom’s sharp intake of breath next to me. The photo is slightly discolored and a little dog-eared, but it’s whole and complete. Mom and Dad on the day of their marriage. Continue reading

Questions and Answers

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger

A couple of weeks ago I had the Toronto launch of my novel, Shine, Coconut Moon. I prepared myself in the usual way, going over what I would read, how I would introduce myself and the book to the guests, and anticipating audience questions during the Q&A. This Q&A, however, threw me off. I should have known better than to expect the usual, “So, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?” line of questioning from my Canadian peeps.

The questions they wanted answers to were more along the lines of: So, what would you say is the difference between Canadian racism and American racism? And, Would you say South Asians in the U.S. are more assimilated than South Asians in Canada?

Maybe I brought it on myself with the intro.

Before reading an excerpt, I talked a bit about how, while living in Canada, I never thought of myself as Canadian – I was always Indian or Punjabi or Sikh and then later, South Asian. It wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. and lived through eight years of the Bush administration, that I felt the most Canadian I’d ever felt in my life. That was when I realized that things I’d always taken for granted (free universal health care being only one of many) were values that formed and shaped who I was. They were the underpinnings of what I thought was right and just. And I was clearly not in Canada anymore.

But having to answer those tough questions for fellow Canadians was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do yet. So much of the experience sits as half-formed thoughts that I had to somehow mold into coherent responses.

Things like the fact that when I lived in Canada, I reveled in my “ethnicity,” wore my Indian-ness with unapologetic joy. But the minute I crossed the border I shrunk from everything that made me appear “too” ethnic. I was hassled at the border several times when I visited home and tried to return. My partner at the time begged me to remove my nose ring and to dress more “corporate” so that I would get across. And the time that I followed that advice, the crossing was smooth and uneventful. I understood, then, on a much deeper level, why that push for assimilation was so strong south of the border. Continue reading

Coming out Black and Agnostic

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

The Devil is wearing mittens and I expect a ham to fly past my window any second now. Why? Salon has published a letter from an African American in its Cary Tennis advice column. To be fair, most writers to the column don’t mention their race, so I could be wrong in guessing that most queries come from white, urban, highly-educated, highly-privileged liberals. One thing is clear, rarely does Tennis tackle issues unique to people of color.

Today’s dilemma comes from a black man who is disaffected from the church. Unlike his conservative, Christian wife and family, he has come to know that he is agnostic–he believes that the truth about the afterlife, deities and ultimate reality is unknowable. While the writer wants to be true to himself, he is hesitant to come out to his family–afraid of the fractures his lack of faith might cause.

I feel that I am now at a point where I must make a declaration that will surely affect those who are close to me. My loved ones have long suspected that there was something “different” about my approach to spiritual subjects, but up until now I have successfully hidden my true thoughts, philosophical developments and feelings from them.

    * With every Sunday that I sit in a church that would likely condemn my kind, I feel like I am betraying my potential and misleading my spouse.
    * With every public prayer uttered “in Jesus’ name” I feel like I am living a lie.
    * With every in-depth discussion about religious and social topics, I use evasive humor and agile commentary to distract my conversation partners — fearing that a sustained encounter would lead to the exposure of my controversial religious and philosophical views.

But one can only do this for so long before wondering if such attempts to suppress one’s true self for fear of offending the sensibilities of others is really worth it. One can only maintain a facade so long before wondering if doing so also erodes one’s sense of integrity while also denying loved ones the opportunity to know, understand and accept the “true” you. Read more…

What to do?

Tennis gave one of his predictably lofty and meandering non-answers to “Churchgoing Agnostic”–advice that, I think, doesn’t take into account the unique relationship the black community has with Christianity. The Black Church, as an institution, is about more than worship. It is about community, history, activism and more. For many, Christianity and churchgoing are part of the very fabric of African Americanness. For a people whose African ancestors practiced indigenous religions far removed from the Western view of worship, we have embraced Christianity as ours. A recent survey revealed that blacks are more religious in key ways – including frequency of church attendance, daily prayer life and certainty of belief – than the U.S. population as a whole. Quiet as it’s kept, a whole lot of those presumably white, conservative, Evangelical Christians that get so much ink, look like me. Continue reading

Race, Entertainment, and Historical Borrowing: The Case of Lindy Hop

by Guest Contributor Lisa, originally published at Sociological Images

This post is dedicated to Frankie Manning. Frankie died this morning of complications related to pnemonia. He was one month shy of his 95th birthday. I will really miss him.

Frankie is a lindy hop legend. He choreographed the first clip below and is the dancer in the overalls.

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In the 1980s, there was a lindy hop revival. Lindy hop is a partner dance invented by African American youth in Harlem dancing to swing music in the early 1930s. Named after the “hopping” of the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh Jr., it became wildly popular in the 1930s and ‘40s, traveling from the East to the West Coast and from black to white youth. Since its resurgence, Lindy Hoppers have enjoyed a national scene with websites, workshops, competitions, and city-wide social events that draw national and international crowds.

Though lindy hop was invented by African Americans, lindy hoppers today are primarily white. These contemporary dancers look to old movie clips of famous black dancers as inspiration. And this is where things get interesting: The old clips feature profoundly talented black dancers, but the context in which they are dancing is important. Professional black musicians, choreographers, and dancers had to make the same concessions that other black entertainers at the time made. That is, they were required to capitulate to white producers and directors who presented black people to white audiences. These movies portrayed black people in ways that white people were comfortable with: blacks were musical, entertaining, athletic (even animalistic), outrageous (even wild), not-so-smart, happy-go-lucky, etc.

So what we see in the old clips that contemporary lindy hoppers idolize is not a pure manifestation of lindy hop, but a manifestation of the dance infused by racism. While lindy hoppers today look at those old clips with nothing short of reverance, they are mostly naive to the fact that the dancing they are emulating was a product made to confirm white people’s beliefs about black people. Let’s look at how this plays out.

This clip, from the movie Hellzapoppin’ (1941) is perhaps the most inspirational clip in the contemporary lindy hopper’s arsenal:

By the way, the dancers are in “service” outfits because of the way lindy hop scenes featuring black dancers were included in movies. Typically they would have no relationship to the plot; they would occur out of nowhere and then disappear. This was so that the movie studios could edit out the scene when the movie was going to be shown to those white audiences that were hostile to seeing any positive representation of black people at all. Continue reading

The Brazil Files: Not So FIERCE – America’s Next Top Model Goes to Brazil

By Racialicious Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Considering that I am presently living in Brazil, everyone and their mother sent me emails to alert me that this year the America’s Next Top Model “exotic” location was going to be São Paulo, Brazil. Of course, I was on it like white on rice.

I have previously covered ANTM’s behavioral faux-pas (read: extreme insensitivity in relation to the respective racial/ethnic/national identities and/or sexual orientations of the contestants, just to name one of many problems), but I felt the need to take another stab at their culturally-oriented failures considering I am living here in Brazil, visit São Paulo every other weekend, and could safely say, before even watching it, that it was going to end up a hot mess.

In light of the fact that some of the comments made during the show were quite obnoxious, I decided to return the favor. I say let’s squelch fire with fire, ladies. And no, I am not talking about the burning sensation during a Brazilian wax, which seemed to be about the only thing this season’s gaggle of beauties knew about the country that over 196,000,000 people call home.

I have decided to write a little ditty about my take on the show. Check out the clips to see for yourself. Footnotes are provided for additional information. I would have set it to the beat of “the Girl from Ipanema,” but I was too tired from watching the stereotypes and stupidity unfold before me to actually do that. Here goes:

In São Paulo, samba’s not the really the thing. (1)

But hey, at least the girls got flip flops with bling. (2)

Oh and Spanish, speak it they do not. (3)

And in São Paulo, it’s hardly ever hot. (4)

So if you really wanted a sun burn or a tan,

You should have gone to beaches of Rio, a clip of which they ran. (5)

And though capoeirista Eddy speaks quite clear,

They decided to run subtitles as not to offend our AMERICAN ENGLISH ONLY ear. (6)

And Carmen Miranda— for the eyes she’s a feast.

Yet too bad home girl is actually PORTUGUESE. Continue reading

Mega Links for April, Part I

compiled by Thea Lim

Part I of our April links round-up as we scale our delicious inbox…keep ‘em coming!

Michelle Obama unveils Sojourner Truth statue in Washington: Sojourner Truth first black woman to be so honoured at the Capitol.

More on Resident Evil 5: a careful breakdown at Game Set Watch on how RE5 uses backdrop imagery and background noises to otherise the village of Kijuju. “They work very hard to show you that this particular West African Town is poor, dirty, and dangerous: that people are vicious, violent, and skulk around the heroes.” (via brinstar)

Good news: Native American activists protest a Burning Man party for its thoughtless appropriation of Native culture – and win. However, the victory required massive persistence, and make what you will of the title of this article…(via avediscordia)

Satire done right: Derailing for Dummies teaches you how to derail any conversation that asks you to examine your privilege. Fully enhance your bigotry! (via restructure)

Chicken Fail: In early April NYC fried chicken restaurant came under fire for calling itself Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza (via robschmidt)

World’s first Sikh supermodel: Hopefully SF businessman will not be world’s “only” Sikh supermodel for long. “[Sonny] Caberwal’s appearance in GQ’s Style magazine for spring-summer 2009 has been hailed as major boost for Sikh traditionalists. In a spread, shot by Gregor Hohenberg, Mr Caberwal, 30, poses in a black dinner jacket, black silk scarf and a pink turban. In another he wears a white tuxedo with a yellow sunflower and matching turban.” (via FatemehMMW)

Childhood health and obesity by ethnicity: Childhood obesity rates are highest among Native children. “Researchers were surprised to see differences by race at so early an age.” (via robschmidt)

Mideast rappers take the mic: Youth from Egypt to Iran use hip hop to unpack injustice. (via FatemehMMW)

PETA missteps…again: Blogger Maids deconstructs the problem with PETA pushing vegetarianism as a weight-loss secret, and notes the shady racial undertones of its photo campaign (via Shainalita)

Burger King pulls Mexican Wrestler ad: In response to pressure from Mexican goverment BK pulls ad aired in Mexico for its “Texican” burger that featured “a diminutive wrestler dressed in a cape resembling a Mexican flag…teaming up with a lanky American cowboy almost twice his height” (via robschmidt) You can view the ad here. (via FatemehMMW)

What can Academics do about Islamophobia: Four areas where Academics can contribute to the conversation on Islamophobia. (via FatemehMMW)

Changing face of the G20: Lula blames world economic crisis on blue-eyed men with blond hair. (via FatemehMMW)

Getty Museum tries to tip the balance: Museum works to add an Eastern perspective to its now-Western-centric collection. (via robschmidt)

Oh dear.: Jackie Chan not quite pro-democracy in China, stating that “we Chinese need to be controlled.” (via taylord and robschmidt)