Category Archives: community

When Stereotypes Collide: the Persian Jews of Beverly Hills

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

At the airport bookstore, I immediately overlooked Bruce Willis’ and Emma Hemings’ smoldering stares on the cover of this month’s W. My attention went directly to the top left: “Meet the Neighbors: the Persian Conquest of Beverly Hills.”

Knowing the history of glossies and their historic portrayal of racial ethnicities more as props than as cover stories, I was simultaneously worried and intrigued—how would W fare as documenters rather than voyeurs?

A patio party introduces us to the Persians of Beverly Hills: with lounging guests, designer duds in the pool, and lavish tents, the spread is vaguely reminiscent of a harem bath scene combined with a Sultan’s caravan theme. The font for “The Persian Conquest” is done in an Arabesque font, with sinewy flourishes and random dots evocative of the Aladdin soundtrack. “Here we go,” I say to myself.

But reading the introduction, I learn that these aren’t just any Persians W is profiling—they’re Persian Jews, who are a large part of Los Angeles’ huge Iranian diaspora.

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Canada’s swine flu shame

by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee, originally published at Comment is Free


For Canada’s First Nations communities, being denied our basic and fundamental human rights is, sadly, not at all a surprise. So after last week’s report that the Canadian government had postponed the delivery of much-needed alcohol-based hand sanitisers to reserve communities with massive outbreaks of the swine flu virus out of apparent “fear” of theft driven by alcoholism in the community, I stopped to think about it for a second. “Same old stupid government perpetuating the colonisation of our people,” I thought. But there’s more going on here that needs to be addressed.

Let’s review the facts. In the two and a half weeks that the government deliberated over whether to send hand sanitiser to reserve communities, this is what happened:

    • More swine flu cases developed

    • Chiefs, community leaders, nurses and community health representatives scrambled to deal with the escalating outbreak without help from a non-responsive government

    • Families, children, elders and community members in these areas had no choice but to wait and see if they were going to get any type of diagnosis or care as conditions worsened

    • The wider Canadian population heard occasional reports of the virus developing more in First Nations communities but not enough to warrant a national outpouring of support.

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The Intersection of Race and Steampunk: Colonialism’s After-Effects & Other Stories, from a Steampunk of Colour’s Perspective [Essay]

by Guest Contributor (and regular commenter) Jha

Steampunk! Variously described as an aesthetic, a genre within scifi/fantasy that sprouted from cyberpunk, and a subculture vaguely related to the goth counter-culture. Like many other things with vague origins and a tenuous identity that overlaps with others, it is hard to pin down what steampunk is.

The only that we can all seem to agree on is the aesthetic involved. In a way, it’s a lot like the SCA’s medieval roleplaying, trying to recreate the past with all the good stuff and none of the bad. For other steampunks, it’s a lifestyle movement, in which they transform practical items into works of art and live their lives with exquisite manners.

Here’s a good summary of the literary genre stemming from the 1980s, written by Lavie Tidhar. Cory Gross of Voyages Extraordinaire has a very comprehensive history, delving deep into not just the literary but also the film aspect of the aesthetic before the actual term was used and the evolution of the movement afterwards in literature, RPGs, graphic novels, anime and the general subculture afterward. In Steampunk Magazine’s first issue, the essay “What Then, Is Steampunk? Colonizing the Past so we can Dream the Future”, stridently declares, “First and foremost, steampunk is a non-luddite critique of technology. It rejects the ultra-hip dystopia of the cyberpunks—black rain and nihilistic posturing—while simultaneously forfeiting the ‘noble savage’ fantasy of the pre-technological era. It revels in the concrete reality of technology instead of the over-analytical abstractness of cybernetics” (4).

Steampunks express themselves with Victorian-inspired clothing (or costumes). Goggles, chains and pocketwatches are typical gear for a steampunk. Steampunk styles range from fastidiously neat (streamlined, heavy clothes typical of Victorian aristocracy/middle-class, e.g. anarchronaut) to greasemonkey bricolage (dreadlocks, the ‘airship pirate’ look, merging with more ‘mainstream’ punk fare, e.g. Abney Park). For a sense of the visual aesthetic, one should look to the 1999 movie Wild Wild West (although it’s a terrible movie) and the graphic novel League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. Cory Gross discusses the two ends of the Steampunk spectrum in his essay “Varieties of Steampunk Experience”: Nostalgic Steampunk, which idealizes the Victorian era as it should have been, and the Melancholic Steampunk, which focuses on the gritty reality of the Victorian era, bringing to the fore the dirt and soot and grime (60 – 63). Japan has its own steampunk movement, the most cited example of its technology-focused aesthetic can be seen in the anime Steamboy. (I’m not going to touch Japanese steampunk in this article.)

Steampunk is still an emergent subculture, gaining ground fast with its DIY creativity and elegant nostalgia. Stephen H. Segal has a cute article on why steampunk is considered friendly, even optimistic despite drawing inspiration from what was a very oppressive era. As a genre that’s in its adolescence, the rules (if indeed any counter-culture has rules) haven’t been set in stone. But it’s getting attention anyway: the New York Times did an article on steampunk fashion last year.

This is where being a Steampunk of Colour comes in. Continue reading

Desi Webs: South Asian America, Online Cultures, and the Politics of Race [Conference Notes]

by Latoya Peterson

These are the notes for “ Desi Webs: South Asian America, Online Cultures, and the Politics of Race.” The notes are from a paper by Madhavi Mallapragada, presented at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.

  • Resist identifying South Asians as a knowable identity
  • Media produced by SA as well as media cultures that speak to them are major influences in web 2.0
  • Categorizes are informed by transnational sensibilities
  • What is the “Indian” being imagined in the construction of Indian American?
    • How is the web mobilized around categorizes and what are the politics around these identities.
  • Focusing on the term “Desi”
    • Derived from “desh” which means homeland
    • Term of self and community identification
    • 2nd and 3rd gen youth often collectively identify as desi
    • While desi is a pan-South asian term, it often means Indian
  • She points to the popular website desihits.com
    • Bicultural remixes uniquely reflect the reality of people
    • Overwhelmingly focused on bollywood
    • Centrality of Indian pop culture and politics
  • Mallapragada plays the video “You Are Not an Indian
    • In this video titled, “You are not an Indian,” a young male addresses viewers who like him are neither just American nor Indian but desi. Wearing a t-shirt with the word “desi” written prominently in Hindi across it, the young man points out that desis are not South Asians but of South Asia. People of South Asian origin in the United States commonly refer to each other as Desi. The term means “from the homeland” and simultaneously invokes one’s identity as South Asian but also as being “outside South Asia”. As the young man reminds his viewers, the difference is key. Being desi implies being critically engaged with the “realities” of India rather than uncritically celebrating the hype surrounding its contemporary global image as high-tech nation.
    • Video is important as it displays the process of reasserting identity against a current narrative – of reclaimation, of identification
    • The idea of desi is undergoing a renovation in South Asian community spaces
  • Desi is being articulated as brown racialized identity asserted against the American nation state
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    Akwesasne under siege

    by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee, originally published at Rabble

    Ed. Note: Jessica wrote this in response to Canadian border patrol agents being armed in Akwesasne. This article gives a summary of the situation:

    A respected security and anti-terrorism expert says Canada’s federal government should stand by its guns and ignore threats from Mohawk militants in Cornwall, Ont., who have vowed to storm the Canadian border post if Ottawa gives sidearms to border agents there.

    John Thompson, president of the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based think-tank, said Monday that Mohawk militants are “blowing smoke,” and would never attempt an armed, illegal occupation of the offices of the Canadian Border Services Agency.

    Native leaders and activists at Akwesasne have been warning for months they would take action to prevent Canada from giving 9-mm pistols to its border agents, because they say the presence of armed government agents on their reserve is an affront to their aboriginal sovereignty.

    “Things are escalating in Akwesasne. The Indians aren’t being peaceful anymore,” the news reporters are saying.

    500 years of colonization and the continuous refusal to acknowledge our fundamental human rights do not produce peaceful results. I’ll tell you that right now.

    But I’m not currently in Akwesasne — my home community which has been under siege by the Border Patrol Services for quite some time now. Yes, the existence of a transnational border that tears a community apart is a sign of putting us under siege. Only this time, since June 1, 2009 to be exact, they want to legitimize and regulate their firearms against us.

    So if you want to get a first hand account of what’s going on there right now — I implore you to ask someone who belongs to and is in the community as we speak. But I do have some things to say about this situation which has been a long time coming.

    The media have repeatedly asked me about which “side” do I think is right, do I agree with the border being closed, do I side with the “warriors” who refused to back down to the rule of the governments, or am I simply indifferent to it all since I live in Toronto now?

    I actually know precisely where I stand – as a Kanionke:haka woman, a Mohawk woman, who belongs to the Haudenosaunee people, and as young person who is part of the next seven generations, I am on the side of my community who is on the side of the land – of Mother Earth. As women we are titleholders and caretakers of the land. And I know very well that the border should not be there.

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    The Brazil Files: Busy Being Foreign

    by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

    Since I’ve been living in Brazil, I have suffered from memory loss. On occasion, I simply forget that I am black.

    Let me explain . . .

    I was born in the United States, in the South to be exact, during the early 1980s, to a mother with very fair skin who, along with her seven sisters and brothers, had witnessed and undergone Jim Crow segregation. My great grandmother and grandfather, a teacher and farmer, respectively, who both had dark skin, had given birth to a light-skinned child, my grandmother, who would then go on to marry a man of equally light skin who was raised to distrust black people who looked like his in-laws. My father, on the other hand, came from a family where the emphasis on high cheekbones and dark wavy hair was made more frequently than that of slightly flattened noses. We have Native blood, they’d say.

    You see, colorism was alive and well in my family.

    And yet years later, when I still feel compelled to remind my mother that her coarse, nappy hair is beautiful or that there is no need to insert the words “but” or “despite” as my family refers to model Alek Wek’s ebony-skinned beauty, I know that the remnants remain. At the end of the day, we are all of African descent, and in our slavemasters’, old legislators’, and white domestic terrorists’ eyes, we were all black. Yet within that category, we found various ways of re-categorizing ourselves to fit our own neat little model of racism. We created a home-kit, if you will, of silly divisions of what was acceptable and what was not in terms of appearance and behavior.

    My maternal grandfather warned his daughters of the dangers of the villainous, malicious dark blacks. Of course, there were exceptions, my dark-skinned aunt and uncle being visible reminders of our inescapable heritage, and the only dark people my grandfather ever truly accepted beyond a superficial level (his race track buddies do not count). But for the most part, darker blacks were to be avoided, despite my family’s shared plight with them in a segregated south.

    My mother, though quite young during the segregation period, still bears irrevocable memories. She has recounted stories of slapping a young white girl who had stared at her in a hospital bathroom because she had “never seen a Negro girl up-close before,” of thinking that “colored only” fountains would one day magically transform into a spring of rainbow-infused water, and of remembering her confusion as to why her older sister spent so much time “marching” in the street when she was not wearing her majorette uniform. And presently, in her work as a geriatric social worker, she is reminded of the divisions the period and the long-lasting subsequent effects they have had on the black community when her older, darker-skinned black patients assume she is “stuck up” or cannot be trusted because of her light skin.

    Having grown up in a family like this, race inevitably became a daily topic of discussion.

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    More Notes on Gentrification

    by Latoya Peterson

    I came across an interesting piece on Boing Boing where the author is trying to reconcile his gentrified reality.

    In “Your Money or Your Life: A Lesson on the Front Stoop,” Douglas Rushkoff recounts being mugged in his neighborhood. The experience jarred him for a variety of reasons:

    In the meantime, I posted a note about my strange and frightening experience to the Park Slope Parents list–a rather crunchy Internet community of moms, food co-op members, and other leftie types dedicated to the health and well- being of their families and their decidedly progressive, gentrifying neighborhood. It seemed the responsible thing to do, and I suppose I also expected some expression of sympathy and support.

    Amazingly, the very first two emails I received were from people angry that I had posted the name of the street on which the crime had occurred. Didn’t I realize that this publicity could adversely affect all of our property values? The “sellers’ market” was already difficult enough! With a famous actor reportedly leaving the area for Manhattan, does Brooklyn’s real estate market need more bad press? And this was before the real estate crash.

    I was stunned. Had it really come to this? Did people care more about the market value of their neighborhood than what was actually taking place within it? Besides, it didn’t even make good business sense to bury the issue. In the long run, an open and honest conversation about crime and how to prevent it should make the neighborhood safer. Property values would go up in the end, not down. So these homeowners were more concerned about the immediate liquidity of their town houses than their long-term asset value — not to mention the actual experience of living in them. And these were among the wealthiest people in New York, who shouldn’t have to be worrying about such things. What had happened to make them behave this way?

    Eventually, Rushkoff’s pondering leads him to start questioning the nature of displacement in neighborhoods:

    Why, I wondered aloud on my blog, was I struggling to make $4,500-per-month rent on a two- bedroom, fourth- floor walk-up in this supposedly “hip” section of Brooklyn, when I could just as easily get mugged somewhere else for a lot less per month? Was my willingness to participate in this runaway market part of the problem?

    The detectives who took my report drove the point home. One of them drew a circle on a map of Brooklyn. “Inside this circle is where the rich white people from Manhattan are moving. That’s the target area. Hunting ground. Think about it from your mugger’s point of view: quiet, tree-lined streets of row houses, each worth a million or two, and inhabited by the rich people who displaced your family. Now, you live in or around the projects just outside the circle. Where would you go to mug someone?”

    Back on the World Wide Web, a friend of mine–another Park Slope writer–made an open appeal for my family to stay in Brooklyn. He saw “the Slope” as a mixed-use neighborhood now reaching the “peak of livability” that the legendary urban anthropologist Jane Jacobs idealized. He explained how all great neighborhoods go through the same basic process: Some artists move into the only area they can afford–a poor area with nothing to speak of. Eventually, there are enough of them to open a gallery. People start coming to the gallery in the evenings, creating demand for a coffeehouse nearby, and so on. Slowly but surely, an artsy store or two and a clique of hipsters “pioneer” the neighborhood until there’s significant sidewalk activity late into the night, making it safer for successive waves of incoming businesses and residents.

    Of course, after the city’s newspaper “discovers” the new trendy neighborhood, the artists are joined and eventually replaced by increasingly wealthy but decidedly less hip young professionals, lawyers, and businesspeople–but hopefully not so many that the district completely loses its “flavor.” Investment increases, the district grows bigger, and everyone is happier and wealthier.

    Still, what happens to the people who lived there from the beginning–the ones whom the police detective was talking about? The “natives”? This process of gentrification does not occur ex nihilo.

    While I liked his reasoning on his own choices and culpability later on in the piece, I kept getting stuck where he describes the process. Is gentrification really that simple?

    Then I realized what was bothering me: the presentation of gentrification as an organic process, starting with young starving artists (who then must be compelled to open a gallery, what else do artists do?) and ending with a more moneyed populace coming to chase the newly cool neighborhood. Then, the cycle is supposed to repeat.

    But where is the role of the state in this discussion? Continue reading

    Canada’s misplaced tolerance? Or your misplaced fear?

    by Guest Contributor Krista, originally published at Muslim Lookout

    Be prepared for some major eye-rolling in this article from the Calgary Herald. In it, Mahfooz Kanwar praises Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (see here for why this is a bad idea), and berates Canadians that he perceives as not having “assimilated” enough. A Muslim originally from Pakistan, Kanwar spends the article extolling the perfection of Canada’s values and culture, and blaming all problems on those immigrants who bring foreign baggage with them into this happy utopia.

    Kanwar’s definitions of “Canadian” identity and values are disturbingly narrow. It seems to apply only to those values already existing among people living in Canada, who have good values such as “equality.” People who move to Canada, according to Kanwar, need to adopt Canadian values, and lose (or at least hide) anything they brought from their home country. At no point does Kanwar allow for the possibility that there might be Canadian values that aren’t so great, or that our actual track record for “tolerance” and “equality” isn’t exactly as impressive as we’d like to think. He also never acknowledges that there might be some “foreign” values that could actually enrich or improve Canadian society. Immigrants are called to adopt “mainstream” Canadian ideas and behaviours, and the assumption is that these must be necessarily better than the ideas and behaviours that immigrants brought with them.

    Kanwar also calls for all immigrants to be unquestioningly patriotic and undividedly loyal to Canada, which is not a standard that most Canadian-born (and white) Canadians are ever called to adhere to. He writes, for example, that “Those who come here of their own volition and stay here must be truly patriotic Canadians or go back.” As a white Canadian whose family has been here for several generations, I have never been told that I should “go back” anywhere, despite a history of acts that I am sure Kanwar would classify as deeply unpatriotic. I am disturbed at Kanwar’s argument that all immigrants should have to adopt an uncritical sense of national pride in order to belong here, and that there does not appear to be any room for immigrants to be at all critical of Canada (or of the overall concepts of patriotism and nationalism, which I would also argue are worth critiquing) if they want to be considered worthy of living here. Continue reading