Category Archives: colonization/colonialism

Mother Jones Falls Short with ‘My Summer at an Indian Call Center

by Guest Contributor Kirti Kamboj, originally published at Hyphen

Outsourced promo

Mother Jones recently published “My Summer at an Indian Call Center,” which looked at the other side of the “these people are stealing our jobs!” outsourcing scenario. It was written by Andrew Marantz, an American who spent a summer in India and took a training course for call center agents, and focused on his experiences during this training and his views of the industry. Some parts were interesting, such as the strange and amusing anecdotes from his cultural training bootcamp, and it provided a much needed counter to the idea that the current system of globalization brings greater happiness and prosperity to everyone.

Points like this were particularly insightful:

Call-center employees gain their financial independence at the risk of an identity crisis. A BPO salary is contingent on the worker’s ability to de-Indianize [16]: to adopt a Western name and accent and, to some extent, attitude. Aping Western culture has long been fashionable; in the call-center classroom, it’s company policy. Agents know that their jobs only exist because of the low value the world market ascribes to Indian labor. The more they embrace the logic of global capitalism, the more they must confront the notion that they are worth less.

But its critique was ultimately limited, full of over-generalizations, and at times contradictory. Below are four reasons I found it so, and why I would hesitate to recommend this article.

(1) Near the beginning of the piece, Marantz quotes a 2003 Guardian article which states: “The most marketable skill in India today is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone else’s.” It’s factually correct that this is a marketable skill, but by labeling it the most marketable skill the article is overreaching. It also fails to make a distinction that few Indians overlook. Namely, that there’s very little money that a middle class urban Indian can earn by slipping into the identity of, say, a villager in Orissa, or a farmer in rural Nigeria. The marketable skill is the ability to slip into an affluent Westerner’s identity.

By itself, this is a small omission and overgeneralization, but there are similar ones throughout this article, forming a pattern indicative of a lack of awareness or concern for the underlying hierarchies that govern many aspects of a call center employee’s life, as well as a lack of nuance.

(2) The most interesting, as well as most questionable, parts of the article were those which talked about the cultural training call center agents are required to undergo. In this training, Marantz says,

trainees memorize colloquialisms and state capitals, study clips of Seinfeld and photos of Walmarts, and eat in cafeterias serving paneer burgers and pizza topped with lamb pepperoni. Trainers aim to impart something they call “international culture” — which is, of course, no culture at all, but a garbled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one.

While in this instance learning “international culture” is obviously corporate doublespeak for “If you sound too Indian, you’ll be fired,” to claim that there’s no international culture seems similar to the claim that white people have no culture, especially in its glossing over of underlying hierarchies. The point of this culture training, it must not be forgotten, is to give the Indians at these call centers names, accents, mannerisms, and cultural signifiers that help them to pass for Westerners, to circumvent the “protectionism” instincts of the callers. This isn’t a melding of two cultures into something no one is familiar with; it’s the attempted erasure of one to avoid instigating the anger and scorn of those from the other. Continue reading

Celebrating Queer Indigenous Voices Week: Interview with Daniel Heath Justice

By Guest Contributor Jorge Antonio Vallejos, cross-posted from Black Coffee Poet

Near the end of my video interview with Daniel Heath Justice (above) for this special week Celebrating Queer Indigenous Voices I asked, “… anything we’ve left out?”

“There’s a lot we’ve left out,” said Justice.

True!

Although we had a table full of books we failed to mention Queer Indigenous writers from around the world. And I’m embarrassed to say that I did not mention an Indigenous, brown, queer woman who helped pave the way for a brown boy like me: Gloria Anzaldua. She was a Mestiza, Xicana who made an impact on the literature world and changed the way Indigeneity is seen, thought, read, written, and lived.

R.I.P Gloria.

Continue reading

MMW Roundtable: Jonah Goldberg’s Feminist Concerns

By the staff at Muslimah Media Watch, cross-posted with their permission

A few weeks ago, Jonah Goldberg wrote an op-ed claiming that feminism’s work in the West is “mostly done” and that’s it’s time to take feminism “overseas” to Muslim women.

We disagree.

Diana: Where do you begin in tearing apart Jonah Goldberg’s “Talking feminism overseas?” I can almost see Gayatri Spivak shaking her head as she waves her finger back and forth, saying as she has before, “white men saving brown women from brown men.”  So much for novelty in the discourse surrounding “third world women.” Can someone please throw something new at us?!

Azra: I’ll admit, after reading Jonah Goldberg’s article, I had to read it again (unfortunately), as I considered the chance that it was an excellent piece of farce. If only that were the case …

Sara: Oh, please, Jonah. Feminism is hardly a completed project in the United States. Who hasn’t ratified CEDAW yet? Measuring access to rights by national boundaries is problematic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the oasis of equality that Goldberg mentions is a myth, and really only applies to certain groups. The rights of women change according to socioeconomic factors and race.  Drawing empowerment or access to rights through national boundaries or groups pushes injustice into invisibility. Saying that the “work is done” is a flat-out insult to the work of modern American feminists.

Azra: Is feminism over in the United States? Continue reading

Venus Iceberg X and the Ghe20 Goth1k Crew Call Out DJ Diplo for Musical and Cultural Imperialsm

by Latoya Peterson

MIA, Diplo, Cash

Around April Fool’s Day, I got this tip from friend of the blog Christina:

So, (queer) (Latina) DJ VenusxGG got in a Twitter fight last week with well-known but kinda slimey bass producer/DJ Diplo. Venus accused Diplo of being imperialist in his appropriation of musical forms (something he’s been accused of lots of times) and it ended up as a pretty entertaining/interesting public discourse for the bass community.

THEN today, XLR8R (another big bass magazine) decided to tap this for their April Fools joke…except they got Angela Davis involved. Kinda sloppy.

According to Fader’s Naomi Zeichner, who documented the tweet stream, the twitter fight began after Diplo came into one of their parties and began recording part of a set on his cellphone. @Ghe20Goth1k’s issue is extremely clear:

I told @diplo to stop and he was embarrassed by now we won’t get ant [sic] credit and he keeps making $$$ I can’t pay rent lol

Now, apparently DJ Diplo has developed a reputation for cultural appropriation – a term we’ve discussed often here, without much resolution. Since culture, by nature, is fluid, it is difficult to pinpoint when an homage or inspiration ends and appropriation begins. Diplo is best known for taking the sounds of other cultures and presenting them as hip consumables for a western audience. He rose to prominence alongside collaborator M.I.A. – and interestingly enough, even that story was steeped in appropriation of the work of a woman of color to advance his own ends. Despite being friends, Diplo (née Thomas Wesley Pentz) revealed to Drew Tewksbury:

“With M.I.A., we made a pop song totally by accident,” Pentz says. “We didn’t aim to have a big record. But she’s so cool, and that resonated with people.” He loaned a baile funk beat for her song “Bucky Done Gun” and got much of the credit for producing the whole album, which he says isn’t exactly the truth. “Back then, I told people that I produced [Arular], to get them to know who I was, but that was a total lie,” Pentz says.

Just another Diplo hustle. Continue reading

Quoted: Houria Bouteldja on “White Women and the Privilege of Solidarity”

In 2007, women from the Movement of the Indigenous of the Republic took part in the annual 8th of March demonstration in support of women’s struggles. At that time, the American campaign against Iran had begun. We decided to march behind a banner that’s message was “No feminism without anti-imperialism”. We were all wearing Palestinian kaffiyehs and handing out flyers in support of three resistant Iraqi women taken prisoner by the Americans. When we arrived, the organizers of the official procession started chanting slogans in support of Iranian women. We found these slogans extremely shocking given the ideological offensive against Iran at that time. Why the Iranians, the Algerians and not the Palestinians and the Iraqis? Why such selective choices? To thwart these slogans, we decided to express our solidarity not with Third World women but rather with Western women. And so we chanted:

Solidarity with Swedish women!

Solidarity with Italian women!

Solidarity with German women!

Solidarity with English women!

Solidarity with French women!

Solidarity with American women!

Which meant: why should you, white women, have the privilege of solidarity? You are also battered, raped, you are also subject to men’s violence, you are also underpaid, despised, your bodies are also instrumentalized…

I can tell you that they looked at us as if we were from outer space. What we were saying seemed surreal, inconceivable. It was like the 4th dimension.  It wasn’t so much the fact that we reminded them of their situation as Western women that shocked them. It was more the fact that African and Arabo-Muslim women had dared symbolically subvert a relationship of domination and had established themselves as patrons. In other words, with this skillful rhetorical turn, we showed them that they de facto had a superior status to our own. We found their looks of disbelief quite entertaining.

Another example: After a solidarity trip to Palestine, a friend was telling me how the French women had asked the Palestinian women if they used birth control. According to my friend, the Palestinian women couldn’t understand such a question given how important the demographic issue is in Palestine. They were coming from a completely different perspective. For many Palestinian women, having children is an act of resistance against the ethnic cleansing policies of the Israeli state.

There you have two examples that illustrate our situation as racialized women, that help understand what is at stake and envisage a way to fight colonialist and Eurocentric feminism.

— Houria Bouteldja, spokeswoman for the PIR (La Indigènes de la République) speaking at the 4th International Congress of Islamic Feminism, in Madrid, 22 October 2010

(Hat Tip to Huimin)

Feminism For Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism

by Latoya Peterson

Our multi-talented homegirl Jessica Yee just edited and published her first anthology.  Called Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, Yee and her contributors (including myself and Andrea Plaid) keep it raw by illuminating the some of the issues people of color (particularly Indigenous people) encounter when entering feminist spaces.  In honor of International Women’s Day, we are going to share short excerpts of some of the essays in the book.

Jessica Yee: “Introduction”

[W]e’re not really equal when we’re STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer when white women are praised for winning “women’s rights,” and to painfully forget the Indigenous women and women of colour who were hurt in that same process.  We are not equal when in the name of “feminism” so-called “women’s only” spaces are created and get to police and regulate who is and isn’t a woman based on their interpretation of your body parts and gender presentation, and not your own. We are not equal when initatives to support gender equality have reverted yet again to “saving” people and making decisions for them, rather than supporting their right to self-determination, whether it’s engaging in sex work or wearing a niqab.  So when feminism itself has become it’s own form of oppression, what do we have to say about it? [...]

[I']ve lost count the amount of times I’ve been asked by others and asked the question myself, what is now the main title of this book, “But what is feminism, for real?”

The responses I received when putting this very question out there to create the book demonstrated resoundingly that people did want to talk about this notion of “the academic industrial complex of feminism” – the conflicts between what feminism means at school as opposed to at homer, the frustrations of trying to relate to definitions of feminism that will never fit no matter how much you try to change yourself to fit them, and the anger and frustration of changing a system while being in the system yourself.

Krysta Williams and Erin Konsmo: “Resistance to Indigenous Feminism”

E & K: What does it mean for an individual to be considered “liberated?”  What does it mean for indigenous communities to be “liberated?”  I think the pictures we think of as Native women are very different than the end goals expressed in a lot of feminist literature.  In other words, there needs to be more space given to community-based solutions and the hard work that everyone, especially women in our communities do every day.

In academia (and in general) there’s still the problem of tokenism.    Including one article or person of colour, or Indigenous person into feminist curriculum is not enough.  This needs to be fully integrated into all women’s studies curriculum (which is still inherently racist).

E: One crucial element that non-Indigenous academia needs to accept is that no matter how much you read the journals of Columbus, a Native Chief, or through interviews of Native people, you do not have the blood memory that we have within us.   Sorry, if this ruins your PhD on Native people but you don’t have the blood memory experiences that I do and so the internal “validity” of your research will never compare!

K: Internal validity has never been so literal…It also needs to be said that including folks after the fact just doesn’t cut it.  White supremacy exists within institutions and this can’t be changed  by just putting Indigenous bodies in chairs.  There are structural changes that we have been calling for since forever!

Shaunga Tagore: “A Slam on Feminism in Academia (poem)

your ideal graduate student is
someone who doesn’t have to experience community organizing
because you’ve already assigned them five chapters to read about it

your ideal graduate student is
someone who can’t talk about positionality or privilege
without referencing some article

your ideal graduate student is
rich enough
white enough
straight enough
able-bodied and -minded enough
to be given luxury of enjoying sitting in a corner reading 900 pages a week
(with their fair trade starbucks coffee in hand and their lulu lemon track pants on ass)

your ideal graduate student
IS NOT ME

so WHY did you let me through these doors in the first place
if you were just gonna turn around and shove me out?

to fill some quote for affirmative action?
to appear like a progressive program without putting in the effort of actually being one? Continue reading

Quoted: Nawal El Saadawi on the U.S. Role in Egypt’s Revolution

TR: What role would you like the U.S. to play?

NS: I don’t expect the power or support or interference of anyone, of any government. We here in Egypt are fed up with U.S. colonialism. Obama is a pragmatic person and thinking of the interests of his country; I understand this. But now he is confused: One minute he supports Mubarak, one minute he doesn’t; one moment he is afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood, the next he is not. Now I believe in the people of Egypt only, I depend on the people of Egypt only.

~~Excerpted from interview with Rebecca Walker at The Root. Read the rest here.

Image Credit: myhero.com

Kakum National Park and Cape Coast Castle in Ghana: A Personal Essay

The canopy walkways of Kakum National Park

By Guest Contributor Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted from Beyond Victoriana

Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our two hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk, which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently, some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways. One by one, we were guided to them, but not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.

There are seven canopies in total. I took the shortcut, which means I walked through only three. “Are you scared?” one of the men– presumably a safety guide–asked me when I turned left for the shortcut.

“Yes, I am absolutely frightened,” I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut, I heard the man say behind me, “You’re lying.” In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared: “We’ll soon reach the end.” I felt sorry for her.

Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I’d heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the Door of No Return, of people breaking into tears while there, and I wasn’t ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public.

Continue reading