Category Archives: activism

Race Forward Releases New Report On Media, Civic Activism + Race

By Arturo R. García

Yesterday, Colorline’s publishers, Race Forward — formerly known as the Applied Research Center — released a two-part report covering both the common media mistakes when it comes to approaching race and the impact of racial justice initiatives looking to set the record right.

We’ll have a more in-depth look at Race Forward’s findings in a few days, but for now, here’s the great Jay Smooth with a video preview discussing one of the failings discussed in the report: media outlets’ tendency to talk about race in an individualistic fashion, rather than addressing the systems that enable it to thrive.

Western Privilege and Anti-black Racism in Panama

By Guest Contributor Aliyya Swaby

Residents of Colón, Panama, have been fighting to get the government to renovate their dilapidated colonial-era buildings, with little success. Images by the author.

In late September, I moved from New York City to Panama City to start a freelance journalism project. For two college summers, I had traveled in Latin American countries and did not see many people who looked like me.

In Ecuador, a friend told me I seemed more “French” than “Ecuadorean” black, because I wasn’t too aggressive. As I walked around Peru’s inland cities, men called out “Chincha,” the name of the predominately black coastal city.

I thought I would feel more comfortable in Panama, where the skin color gradient includes darker shades of brown. After all, my West Indian immigrant parents belong to the same diaspora as many Panamanian black people, whose ancestors were imported by the U.S. government as laborers on the Panama Canal.

But the reality is more complex. I recently found blogger BlackinAsia’s posts on being a black Westerner abroad, and immediately zeroed in on this quotation: “We inhabit a liminal space which is difficult to dissect, but that’s why a more nuanced analysis is necessary — with “Westernness” bestowing on us some privileges abroad (e.g. diplomatic immunity) rooted in the global power of our countries or origin, but our “blackness” leading to our oppression due to anti-black sentiments. We encounter and live both while abroad as black Westerners.”

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‘But Everybody On TV Is White And All The Nice People Are Blonde’

By Guest Contributor Hana Riaz, cross-posted from Media Diversified

Participants in the upcoming exhibition, ‘A Different Mirror.’ Images and video by Martyna Przybysz.

Earlier this summer, my beautiful then five-year-old Nepali nieces sat with me in our garden enjoying the warm and easy sun. What started as a conversation about what happens to melanin when it finds home in all that glorious vitamin d, looking at our skin browner than it’s winter shade, turned into a difficult conversation about race, gender and diaspora.

One of them began to talk about wanting white skin and blonde hair, and what she would do if she had it. Whilst her twin sister disagreed, responding fervently that she actually liked her brown skin and her black hair, I needed to know what exactly had triggered the other’s denigrated thinking. Her answers, however, were unsurprising – a consequence of not only the (gendered) shadeism (and anti-blackness) that holds dominance in Asian communities but her experiences as a brown girl in a white supremacist society.

Upon my questioning, she responded with a resolute and yet strangely logical answer:

but everybody on TV is white and all the nice people are blonde. Nobody wants to be brown.

There was nowhere she could really see herself.
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Race + The Netherlands: Exile

By Guest Contributor Marly Pierre-Louis

Photos courtesy of the author.

I was warned before moving to Amsterdam that there’s a term Dutch people use for kids which translates to “monkey.” They use it with all kids and it’s supposed to be a term of endearment. They literally have no context for why you can’t call a Black kid that. The thing is my son is exceptionally cute (just sayin’) and people are constantly cooing at him, especially older people. Sure, they’re all smiles and sweet sounds but are they in fact calling my son a monkey?! And if they are, what do I do about it? Curse them out in English? Memorize Dutch insults to sling at all offending grandmothers?

We were also warned that we should make sure to be vocal about our two-year-old not being involved with any Zwarte Piet celebrations at his daycare. Most schools not only have kids coloring in pictures of him but they may even consider having Sekani dress up as a Piet! Excuse my Dutch but WHAT THE F*CK!?

The Dutch are so adamant about their love for Piet that the indoctrination begins as early as daycare. When parents have tried to have their kids abstain from the festivities at school, it seems unfathomable to teachers who do everything from guilt tripping the parents, “Why do you want your child to be left out?” to turning the kid against their parents, “your mommy doesn’t want you to have fun.” I heard from a friend that a Black mother she knew went to pick up her daughter from school one day only to find her face painted Black. This is all problematic for so many reasons.

When Sinterklaas season began, I was fully preparing to go to war.
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Video: President Obama’s Speech At Nelson Mandela Memorial

It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well — (applause) — to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.

For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe, Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate a heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask: How well have I applied his lessons in my own life? It’s a question I ask myself, as a man and as a President.

We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice — the sacrifice of countless people, known and unknown, to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done.

The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality or universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love. That is happening today.

And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

- Full transcript available here

Voices: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Front page, The Sowetan newspaper, Soweto, South Africa. Image via Lydia Polgreen.

African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after 11 o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the labour bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

- Nelson Mandela, during the first day of his trial on charges of sabotage, April 20, 1964.

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A Muslimah’s Guide to Rocking the World

By Guest Contributor Amina Jabbar, cross-posted from Muslimah Media Watch

Growing up as a queer-identified South Asian Muslimah and a survivor of domestic violence, I’ve occasionally felt that merely existing was, in and of itself, an act of rebellion. But I’ve been fortunate. I’ve not only survived, but thrived, now living the life of a resident physician.

I can’t take all the credit for where I am because, simply put, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Through my life, I’ve consistently found media depictions of Muslim women and others engaging in daily acts of resistance to subvert and redefine the predominant discourses about Muslim women. These people and stories form a series of lessons to which I give credit for the awesome trajectory of my life. Here, then, are my seven lessons for a Muslimah’s guide to rocking the world.

Lesson #1: Our commitment to social justice reflects our commitment to faith.

It’s easy, I think, to get lost in the textual analyses of faith alone. The Qu’ran and hadiths are, after all, rich, deep, and complicated. But in an incredible interview on Vimeo, Amina Wadud makes a distinction between being a servant of God and an agent of God.  She talks about how her focus on the Qu’ranic meanings alone wasn’t enough; that being an agent implies an obligation to actively live in ways that are consistent with principles of social justice. Wherever and whenever there is injustice, we’re obligated to challenge the status quo.

Activist Fanta Ongoiba. Image via The Star.

Lesson #2: Some principles are worth being unwaveringly unapologetic about.

Our social and political positions may not always be popular. In general, I’m all for compromise but, occasionally, there are principles that are and should be “non-negotiable.” With the non-negotiables of life, even when the going gets tough, there should be no sidelining, shifting, or redrafting of the message. Easy to say, difficult to do. But Fanta Ongoiba, executive director of Africans in Partnership Against AIDS in Toronto, makes it look slick. Sexual health and HIV remain hushed, tabooed  topics within many Muslim communities. Ongoiba’s work , recently honored by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, provides real space and fills a real need, no matter the response from religious leaders. As a Toronto Star article put it, “at an international conference, one sheik called her a ‘troublemaker,’ a label she embraced” and to which she also responded “ I’d prefer to be a troublemaker to wake you up.”

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Race + The Netherlands: Resistance, Lost in Translation

By Guest Contributor Marly Pierre-Louis

I’m an activist and, one way or another, wherever I am, I always find my way to movement work, or it finds me. So when my partner and I uprooted our lives in Brooklyn for him to pursue a job opportunity in Amsterdam, I was excited to get involved. I figured since we’d be living here for the indefinite future, might as well jump in the mix. What were the issues? Who were the oppressed? And what were they fighting for? I met with organizers and did my research. Initially, I was disappointed at what seemed like a lack of collective struggle and as a result a lack of movement work. I didn’t detect a culture of resistance. But surely there was conflict in a society that celebrated a figure like Zwarte Piet.

In fact, there’s been more activity than ever before concerning Zwarte Piet, particularly in the last couple of months. In the Dutch mythology, every year Sinterklaas, more of a religious figure than our Santa Claus, rolls through the Netherlands from his home in Spain. Accompanying him are his servants known as Zwarte Piets or Black Piets. These characters are white adult men and women with their faces painted Black, red lipstick, gold hoop earrings and a black curly wig. Zwarte Piet is clumsy, subservient and unintelligent; a regular coon. In October, Quinsy Gario, a prominent anti Zwarte Piet activist who was arrested in 2011 for protesting the Sinterklaas parade (Trigger Warning: Police violence) while wearing a T-shirt that read, “Zwarte Piet is Racisme (Black Piet is racism)”, publicly denounced Zwarte Piet on a popular Dutch talk show, as racist and hurtful. Dutch Twitter went MAD, and an ugly, racist underbelly of the worst kind was revealed:

(Trigger Warning for pictures under the cut)

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