Two days ago I was walking on my way to work and, as always, I have my coffee on Flinders Lane in central Melbourne. While waiting for my coffee, a well-meaning Australian came up to me and asked me what my ethnicity was. I had no idea who he was nor did I know what he wanted. Who is he, and why is he so enthusiastic to ascertain my identity–where I come from?
Did I find him racist and condescending? Yes.
Was there a power dynamic inherent to this question? Yes, there was.
On this occasion, I pondered the situation silently, which put the questioner in an awkward position. “Here we go again,” I told myself. Do I answer this, or tell him what I think, that he is just another racist trying to judge people by where they come from or what they look like? If I were to question or argue with him, would my actions be interpreted as reverse racism on my part? I chose to simply walk away rather than answer the question. Continue reading →
I stepped out of my car, pink skies streaking dusky blues overhead. The hot desert heat stung my skin while the temperature simultaneously dropped dramatically, stirring up that Maghrib winds that conjures up images of swooping invisible jinns snatching at your uncovered hair. Apprehensively I stood, looking first at the large American flag gracing the chain linked fence of the house across the street. I then looked at the mosque, which was really just a 1970s California ranch style house that was being used as a mosque–the Al Nur Mosque located in Ontario, CA. It was hard to think that this was the “scary Mozlem temple” that elicited three pig feet being thrown in the driveway only days earlier by two women in a white truck during the sacred late night Ramadan prayers.
Last time I had been in a mosque was last year when my mother had died, and the last time I had been in this mosque was for the special prayer we held 48 hours after her burial. It was the most spiritually connected moment of my life. I hadn’t been that connected since then, and it held me paralyzed as I stood breathlessly by my car. I wondered how I’d be accepted in this space, showing up alone without my Mom by my side. She was my community conduit. The mosque was created and attended by the Bangladeshi immigrant community that raised me but I was an adult now and building my own communities. But the events of the week weighed down terribly on me, and I knew that I had to be present in this particular mosque as a show of solidarity–or maybe more as a statement. I practiced my Islam defiantly, wore my religion on my brown skin politically. I was Muslim, despite America’s fear.
I stepped into the backyard. I was greeted by foldable tables lined up in rows, paper tablecloths whipping in the wind. The tables were covered with plates of pakoras, channa, dates, and glasses of rose flavored pink drink. Men in white kurtas and thupees sat on one side of the yard, women with dupattas wrapped around their heads sat on the other. The imam caught my eye and smiled at me in recognition. I meekly smiled back. Last time I had seen him we had gotten into a fight over my insistence of having the women’s prayer section up front next to the men’s section for Mom’s funeral prayer instead of hidden in a back room. My Islam was radical in that way.
The mood was calm, normal even. There was no fear hanging in the air, nor were there giddy pleasantries. It felt placid. People saw me and nodded wordlessly, as if after all these years, they’d been expecting me. It had been a long hot day of 109 degrees and people were ready to break their fast. Somewhere in the house, the imam began azaan and the call for prayer. Dates were eaten, water sipped. The tables emptied quietly as people filtered in to pray and as if on cue the desert wind kicked up, knocking pink drinks all over the paper lined tables. The calm mood struck me as odd, but it made sense given the context. If there’s something you learn from a day of fasting in long and hot weather, it’s that you have no time for bullshit.
I, on the other hand, was festering from the weight of the Islamophobia of the week. Continue reading →
As a preface, I encourage you to read this edited excerpt from Harsha Walia’s response to this incident on the Racialicious blog:
“To my Sikh sisters and brothers: this incident is yet another reminder of what it means for us to be racialized as Others and as eternal Outsiders…We cannot see and name ourselves as ‘accidental’ victims of Islamophobia, which suggests that somehow Muslims are more “appropriate” targets of racism…Striving to be more desirable within an oppressive system–that is built on our social discipline and compels our obedience–will never set us free. What will set us free is our collective liberation and thriving as the proud brown people we were meant to be.” –
I am a Sikh. Or at least half. With his hair shorn. Yeah, it’s kinda nebulous. This has been my refrain for as long as I can remember. I’ve been as attached to “my” Sikh identity as strongly as a stray hair hanging out from the back of a poorly-tied turban (though not my father’s, let me assure you. No stray hairs there).
South Asian social mores would dictate that a child (a son, no less) born to a Sikh father would undoubtedly raised a Sikh. He would don a little bun wound into tightly-wrapped cloth (joora) atop his head, murmuring Guru Granth Sahib verses alongside a set of twangy, off-key pajis and, at least in the US, being shipped off to various camps to memorize, recite, and maybe–just maybe–internalize something. Well, that was not the case with me. In fact, for a variety of reasons, some intentional, most not, the development of my identity as a Sikh was not quite “marginalized,” but certainly somewhat subverted, and I was reared a good Hindu boy by a mother suspended somewhere between Punjabi goddess worship and post-colonial, urban, middle-class Brahminism.
The world in the 1980s. The Golden Temple incident; Indira Gandhi has been assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards; Hindus and Sikhs are busy killing each other in the streets of Delhi; we live in a Bronx neighborhood where outsiders, despite this being New York City, are not particularly well-liked. So, the decision is made: he will not wear a joora and, as such, the Sikh bit a fell to the side. Though the decisions may not have been conscious, Punjabi was eschewed in favor of Hindi, and Guru Nanak eschewed in favor of Durga. To be fair, I learned how to recite many verses and went to the gurdwara and sat through langar, as well as the many in-home readings of the holy book, that both sides of my family, despite one being Hindu, decided to keep–but it wasn’t quite the same. At the end of the day, the Sikh-est thing about me was my middle name–and, well, the manifestation of that which pulses in all Sikh blood–the ability to two-step to a little bhangra. Continue reading →
I’m not going to lie. I’m not a big fan of the Olympics and in fact every four years I think I hate them more, for all of the obvious reasons. Vancouver 2012 I disliked the most because when watching the opening ceremonies with my then eight year old insomniac, in what must have been the middle of the night, he looked at me and said “When is Team Anishinaabeg going to be entering the stadium? Probably before Team Haudenosaunee, right, because Anishinaabeg begins with A?” As all Native parents know, the colonialism talk makes the sex talk look a lot like a platter of cupcakes with a chaser of ice cream cones.
This year, I’ve been lucky and I’ve mostly been able to ignore the whole conspicuous spectacle, except that during the opening ceremonies I had to unfollow Billy Bragg on Twitter because he was so enamored with Danny Boyle’s lefty take on the ceremony, that he failed to notice Boyle skipping over the four hundred years of colonialism, genocide and occupation England’s heaped on Indigenous nations globally. And yes, this year my entire Olympic experience is mitigated through my Twitter feed which is made up almost exclusively of Indigenous artists, academics and writers. Which means in addition to the Billy Bragg incident, the only Olympic related news I’ve heard is confined to the two racist athletes expelled from the games, the four Indigenous athletes from North America including Anishinaabekwe Mary Spence and today, Damien Hooper. Continue reading →
by Guest Contributor Paul Matsushima, originally published at Eesahmu
Courtesy: Christianity Daily
Recently, while attending one of the most ethnically diverse evangelical seminaries in the nation, I found myself in an environment where I had to defend the argument that race still matters. Don’t get me wrong; students and faculty alike openly discussed ethnic and societal culture; and, although all were unanimous that racial prejudice is wrong and diversity is good, when it came to America’s original (and continuing) sin of racism, there were choirs of crickets.
I, in partial reaction, left. After stepping back from my enmeshment in the evangelical world, I gained some clarity for why I felt so isolated. Personal reasons aside, my qualm with the (white) evangelical community was its hesitancy to analyze–much less struggle against–the historical and continuing racial bias in America. This “don’t go there” mentality is further compounded within evangelical churches that are predominantly Asian American. Here are my speculations why.
1. Unity in Christ, aka Colorblindness
Firstly, we who seek to discuss race in the Asian American church go head-to-head against the banner of colorblindness. Colorblindness, while it may value ethnic diversity, seeks to ignore one’s race in order to avoid giving differential treatment on account of it. In other words, it attempts to treat all people equally regardless of race.
This thinking is interwoven into the Christian doctrine of the primacy of one’s Christian identity. Common phrases such as “unity in Christ” or “children of God” shape American evangelicals to value their Christian identity over any other. Tim Tseng, in his article “The Young Adult Black Hole,” explores how Asian American young adults leave their immigrant-ethnic churches for white or multiethnic ones because the influence of colorblind thinking. The message of one’s Christian identity as most important, combined with assimilation into American culture as good and being too ethnic (i.e., too Asian) as bad, is thoroughly ground into these young people’s minds. The result: many Asian American evangelicals believe “the goal [of Christian identity formation] is to shed, not affirm their [racial] identities.”
In 2009, the Urbana Missions Conference hosted around 16,000 attendees, 30% of which were Asian American. I was shocked and disturbed when I, along with three other conferees were the only ones who attended the Asian American prayer workshop, a session devoted to exploring how racial identity shapes the way one prays. Asian Americans flocked to workshops on international and missionary issues in Asia, but when it came to the single workshop focused entirely on Asian American issues, their attendance was extremely minimal. Continue reading →
Yesterday (May 2nd, 2012), Latoya Peterson of Racialicious published my post about “Queen Chief Warhorse” at her site. In it I questioned the use of “Queen.” Latoya also posted an essay by Gyasi Ross and one of her own. The three generated many comments. Some people question the import of federal recognition. Some people see the discussion as racist. This is my response to that conversation.
In Part One (below), I return to the remarks made by “Queen Chief Warhorse” that night in New Orleans. Here’s the video, and beneath it are her remarks, followed by my thoughts (then and now) about what she said. In Part Two, I address some of the Latoya’s questions.
“All glory go to the Creator. It’s an honor to be here today, but I love the theme: America Healing. But first, let’s think about something. Where did America come from? Have it always been America? Or was it just created to be America? Who are the real Americans? America keep changing and changing and changing.”
Debbie’s response: With her “let’s think about something,” she asked the audience to hit the pause button and be critical thinkers. That’s a good thing for any speaker to do.
I invite you (and her) to think critically about her question “Who are the real Americans?” It is factually incorrect for her to call the Indigenous peoples of this land Americans. When Europeans arrived here, they entered into diplomatic negotiations with leaders of Indigenous nations. The outcome of those negotiations were treaties, just like the treaties the US makes today with nations around the world. They didn’t make treaties with “First Americans.” They made treaties with hundreds of Indigenous nations. None of them were called “America” and their citizens didn’t call themselves “Americans.” (If you’re interested in treaties, you can read some of them online, but I urge you to get the two-volume set, Documents of American Indian Diplomacy, edited by Vine Deloria, Jr. and Raymond J. DeMallie. It is more comprehensive and it provides context for reading the treaties.)
We were, and are, sovereign nations. Categorizing us beneath the multicultural umbrella obscures our status as sovereign nations and leads people to think that we want to be Americans, just like everybody else. In some ways we do, and some ways we don’t. For the most part, that multicultural umbrella is about people of color. We (Indigenous peoples) might be people of color, but we are, first and foremost, citizens of sovereign nations. Some of us look the way people think Indians should look, but some of us don’t. Some of us look like we ought to be called “African American” instead, and some of us look White. What we look like doesn’t matter.
Some might think that the “we are not people of color” statement is racist, I hope you see it isn’t about race. It is about sovereignty. Continue reading →
When I received Gyasi’s piece, I thought long and hard about how to respond.
His piece felt a bit like a slap – exactly how were we supposed to evaluate Queen Chief Warhorse’s credentials on the fly, especially after she had been vetted as a speaker by an organization intent on working locally with organizations that impact their communities? Why would we doubt her, just based on her face? I know it’s been quite a few years, but Racialicious started as a blog called Mixed Media Watch, which spent a lot of time exploring how phenotypes can be deceiving. It wasn’t so long ago that Addicted to Race boasted a “racial spy” section, which featured mixed race people recounting stories of receiving stereotypes intended for others. So we would never, ever question someone’s identity on phenotype alone. If we did that, we would have challenged Brandann for not looking properly Indian instead of just letting her tell her story.
However, Gyasi is correct – there are many, many people who have claimed to speak for Indian Country who have fabricated their identities, and we need to denounce those who would use an indigenous identity to seek profit for themselves. But are the answers so cut and dry to the point where they should be immediately obvious to all outside of the various nations? Over the years at Racialicious, we’ve come across many places in which someone’s heritage has been declared false. And each time, we try to figure out how to proceed. But the truth isn’t always easy to understand – and questions of identity are far more complicated than the Young Black Teenagers publicity stunt.
From Peggy Seltzer to Tinsel Corey, from Taylor Lautner to Cher, and from Princess Pale Moon to Andrea Smith, public proclamations of Native identity are often swiftly challenged and debated. So let’s examine the ones who made headlines, and then apply what we’ve learned to Queen Chief Warhorse. Continue reading →
I registered for the Healing for Democracy conference yesterday, found a place to sit, and pulled out the conference program. Among the speakers for the Welcome was “Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchefuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe.”
“Queen” gave me pause right away and its use cast doubt on the rest of the information provided. “Tchefuncta” and “Chahta” are not nations or tribes I have heard of before, but there are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations and I don’t pretend to know about all–or even most–of them. Still, “Queen” made me uneasy.
That unease was confirmed when “Queen Chief Warhorse” took the stage and began delivering her remarks. She was wearing a necklace that was supposed to suggest Pueblo Indian or Navajo turquoise and silver. To most, it probably looked like the real thing. To me, it screamed imitation. I wondered where she got it.
Right away, she had most of the audience eating out of her hand. Working with the theme of “healing,” her opening remarks began with calling out the limits of a black/white paradigm. That was fine, but then–for me–her train went off a cliff.
She started using “we” in ways that demonstrate she doesn’t know much about tribal nations and our reservations. One statement after another was problematic. It was a “poor Indians” narrative, living on our “prison camp” and “the projects” reservations.
Her remarks were, in short, a mess for lot of reasons.
Her use of “we” was wrong. Using “we” as a keynote speaker to an audience who, I hazard to say, is fairly lacking in knowledge of American Indians, only added to the already-too-big body of misinformation about American Indians.
I did a quick bit of research and found photos of her in a Plains style headdress. Why was she wearing that?! When I have more time, I’ll do some research on her and the “Tchunfuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe.” Will I learn that the “Chahta Tribe” or the “Tchunfuncta Nation” are Plains people?
For now, I’ll say this:
Healing requires accurate information, not sensational remarks that generate a righteous anger and create or affirm a body of misinformation.
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World