All posts by Thea Lim

Olympic Hating: Is China Really Worse than Any Other Host?

by Special Correspondent Thea Lim

If your city newspapers are anything like mine, you’ve been witnessing the regular old deluge of Olympics coverage. But the ’08 reporting is special – mixed in with the diving stats is story after story about how China is corrupt, repressive and deceitful.

Take yesterday’s amazing headline from Canadian national newspaper, the National Post: Chinese Introduce New Sport: Deception. Or Tuesday’s story in the Globe and Mail, another Canadian national newspaper: Beijing static: Disagreements over whether to watch the Olympic Games or tune them out are dividing families. A Toronto Star story from a few weeks back details how the Chinese are not only secretive loonies but also warmongers: China Wages War on Olympic Weather.

I can totally agree that China has an awful human rights records; that what is happening in Tibet is horrible; that Beijing (and many other parts of China) are staggeringly polluted.

But here’s the thing: what Olympic host country hasn’t done terrible things that they should be held to account for? Hell, it’s often the chance to host the Olympics that motivates state violence. So why is China the only one getting called out?

Seriously, I’m not just crying wolf. In December ’07, European organisation the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions released the report “Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights.” The report states that

The Olympic Games have displaced more than two million people in the last 20 years, disproportionately affecting the homeless, the poor, and minorities.

An ’07 article in the Guardian discusses the report in more detail, stating that

In every city it examined, the Olympic games – accidentally or deliberately – have become a catalyst for mass evictions and impoverishment…The games have become a licence for land grabs…

Barcelona’s Olympics, in 1992…[were] used to cleanse the city. Roma communities were evicted and dispersed. The council produced a plan to “clean the streets of beggars, prostitutes, street sellers and swindlers” and “annoying passers-by”. Some 400 poor and homeless people were subjected to “control and supervision”.

We hear the same story in the US.
Continue reading

In defense of russell peters: are racial stereotypes ever funny?

by Special Correspondent Thea Lim

When is it ok to laugh at comedy based on racial stereotypes?

After our past conversation on Bernie Mac and “in house” jokes and the sudden gruesome ubiquity of Esther Ku, the answer seems to be, Uh, never.

But then, where does that leave Indian Canadian comedian Russell Peters?

This is where I need some help: I freakin’ love Russell Peters. Am I a disgusting hypocrite?

His act is littered with sexism, he’s made a household name for himself with a joke condoning child abuse (somebody gonna get a hurt real bad…), and one of his hottest bits involves mocking South African names. But everyone I know loves him – particularly people of colour, and anti-racist people of colour at that.

Is it because he’s irresistibly likeable? I’d like to think that it takes more than a goofy face to make us abandon our politics. Is it because he’s not only Canadian, but from just outside of Toronto, one of my hometowns? Apparently not, because I was introduced to him by my BFF in Singapore.

I have an inkling as to why it seems ok to like Peters. Last year at VONA, a yearly creative writing workshop for writers of colour, I met the wondrous Junot Díaz who introduced my group to his theory on the Wheel of Tyranny.

Díaz argued that too many books by writers of colour represent only two ethnicities per book: people from the writer’s own community of colour, and white folks. Continue reading

The delusion of hatred immunity

by Special Correspondent Thea Lim

Excuse me if I seem a bit dim, but this week I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what satire is. When satire takes the form of straight-up replication of offensive images and ideas, is it still satire? Or is it just imitation? And if it’s the case that imitation really is flattery, why is the New Yorker flattering Fox News?

At the heart of much satire and all bad satire, is something snarky and holier-than-thou, the belief that when someone (allegedly) enlightened articulates the exact same thing as someone unenlightened, it’s different solely because of the mouth it comes out of. Underpinning this kind of satire is often classism, ignorance and a pretty gross lack of self-awareness. The thing about last week’s New Yorker cover is that, like all quintessential hipster racism, it manages to hit (or oppress, I suppose) three birds with one stone. The hatred trifecta!

Instead of just being racist or ignorant, in the way E.D. Hill’s off-hand reference to a “terrorist fist jab” was, ye olde cover is simultaneously:

1) hateful

2) absolves itself of hatred: by creating and printing an image, that the New Yorker would immediately abhor if printed by a right-wing blog, the McCain campaign or poor old E.D. Hill, the New Yorker is saying that it’s above the censure that it lays on others; it’s immune to being hateful.

3) classist: an opinion that was hateful when articulated by folks in poor, rural areas, is clever when articulated by someone who reads high-brow art reviews, and can differentiate between camembert and brie.

According to my favourite website Dictionary.com, central to satire is the act of exposing or unmasking hatred that simmers beneath the surface of “polite society.” What is it then, that the New Yorker is unmasking? The fact that many people are suspicious of the Obamas? The fact that some people think Obama is secretly Muslim? I hate to break it to you New Yorker, but pointing out “Osama” and “Obama” rhyme is not exactly this season’s hottest exposé. Continue reading

Bring back my body to me

by Guest Contributor Thea Lim

In order to show that I am an interesting person with diverse interests and a multi-track mind, I was going to stay away from the topics of Barack Obama, feminism and personal experiences for my second Racialicious post.

But sometimes good intentions get derailed by the nonsense we receive in our inboxes. In early June, via a feminist listserv (sigh), I received a link to this article from UK paper The Independent: “Calling Obama black is an insult to his mother” by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Call me close-minded, but just from its title, this article would appear to be too offensive to even comment on – its problems are pretty self-evident and don’t need an outraged commenter (ie me) to point them out.

But here’s an exhausting (discouraging, nightmare-inducing, etc…) thought: if Obama wins in November, we may just have four years of ludicrous op-eds spewing nonsensical assumptions about race – and mixed race people – as if it is the business of journalists to tell mixed people how they should identify. So here we go: round one of defensive blogging.

Says Alibhai-Brown:

Barack Obama is not black…the adjective has become an identity and racial marker for the Democratic nominee, and used that way, “black” is disingenuous, and in my view, iniquitous. Successful mixed-race Americans are pushed to call themselves “black” as a badge of honour, evidence that they are not ashamed of that background. And that too is wrong.

The first thing that rubbed me the wrong way about Alibhai-Brown is her belief that mixed race people just wake up in the morning and declare “I’m Black!”, or in my case, “I’m Chinese!” In my experience, a mixed race* person’s racial identity is based on:

a) the racial identity they identify with most, based on their complicated life experience,

but moreover on:

b) how they are seen by the society around them, based on their physical appearance.

My mother is English and Irish and was born in England, and my father is Chinese and was born in Singapore. In Toronto where I live, I’m usually read as some kind of East Asian. In Singapore where I grew up, I’m usually read as white. My race shifts depending on the racial politics of where I am. Continue reading

Whose Feminism?

by Guest Contributor Thea Lim

For the past few months, I’ve felt agitated and short-tempered most of the time. Taking the afternoon off, watching all three of the Bourne movies in a row, unplugging for a long weekend – even the dreaded Talking About My Feelings hasn’t made a dent in the ball of rage that’s been growing steadily in my lungs, my solar plexus and my belly. The rage creates even more rage – and I find myself wondering, why can’t I just freakin’ calm down?

And then I got this note last week from Carmen through the New Demographic newsletter:

A couple of weeks ago I found myself feeling really angry and rundown, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was causing these emotions…This has been a grueling year for people like you and me — folks who are passionate about fighting racism and creating social change. While this election has given many of us cause for hope, it has also brought out a lot of ugliness around us.

I’m a Canadian living in Canada, and due to a hangover from a very short affair with anarchy, I’m fairly suspicious of electoral politics, and sometimes don’t even vote. So when trying to unravel the roots of this ball of rage, the Democratic Primary Race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was not the first place I looked.

But you see, I’m starting to understand what my problem is: I identify as a feminist. And I don’t just mean I read bell hooks from time to time and appreciate the equity undertones of Gilmore Girls. I mean, I really live feminism. I work for an overtly feminist women’s health organisation, my first novel was a work of feminist fiction, and I helped put together the Shameless Magazine blog – online companion to Canada’s only feminist print magazine for teenagers.

I’m also an anti-racist woman of colour. Continue reading