Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fumbling Towards Equality

My first experience with racism occurred in elementary school. I was around 8 years-old at the time, and my mom had just dropped me off at the playground before classes started. On my way to the monkey bars, or tire swings, or whatever fit my fancy on that particular day, I heard this grating little voice heckling me from behind. As the voice got closer, I started to get a good look at the chubby kid taunting me, “You’re a n*****!” Honestly, I didn’t really know how to react to this little jerk’s comments. What I should have done, was walk right up to that mini bigot and kick him in the nuts, but alas, hindsight’s only 20/20. I knew he was calling me a really bad name, but I categorized it in the same way a child does for shit, fuck, bitch, etc. So as far as I can recall, the school day carried on like this little occurrence never happened.

That night, I somehow let the whole story slip to my mom. It probably started off like, “Mom, what’s a n*****?” And boy, was she ever PISSED—as in downright LIVID! If I’ve learned one thing in my 26 years on this planet is to watch out when a Filipino mom is angry! Seriously, they are downright scary! Needless to say, we marched right into the principal’s office the very next morning and my mom unleashed the beast. She did such a great job that not only did the little guy get that dreaded phone call home, but I scored an official apology out of the deal. Not a surprise considering I had the world heavyweight mom on my side of the ring.

But I wasn’t going to get off that easily. When I got home from school that day, my mom and I had a little sit-down. And that’s when she basically educated me on how cruel that “N-word” really was—how Black people were once treated like slaves and how that one word symbolized their years of oppression. She obviously gave me the simplified version at the time, minus the lynchings and the rapes and the KKK, but I still got it. But I somehow knew that after learning this dark truth, I would never be the same.

So now, as a Filipina Canadian in her late twenties, that certainly wouldn’t be the last time I’d have to deflect a racial slur. I’ve been called “chink” and “paki” since then, but to me, neither has carried the same weight as the “N-word.” And while I’m obviously not Black, and therefore, truly cannot understand the very magnitude of that word, I am deeply saddened when I think how damaging that experience would be for an 8 year-old Black child. Just to be minding your own business while playing in the playground and then BOOM—some dumb little kid, who probably doesn’t even know what that word means, drops the “N-bomb.” Then what? That dumb little kid gets reprimanded by the school, his/her parents get involved, end of story, right? Unfortunately, the world is a lot more complicated than that.

The bottom line is that hate does not exist in a vacuum. This is pretty obvious. I don’t believe that people are inherently evil and thus become the Hitlers, or Pol Pots, or top Klansmen from birth. It isn’t biology that spreads racism and intolerance, ideologies pursued in ignorance do. And whose minds are the most impressionable of such beliefs? Well our children, of course. We all know that kids are like sponges.

And the problem is obviously not just black or white either. There are Asians who hate Black people, Arabs who hate Asians, White people who hate Aboriginals, and Aboriginals who hate Whites. So what is the reasoning behind such racism? "All Black men are dangerous.” “All Arabs are terrorists.” “All Aboriginals are lazy drunks.” “All White people are racists.” Really sound logic, eh?

But that’s the kind of intolerance that’s easy to see. What about systemic discrimination--the kind of intolerance that often flies below the radar of the PC police? Well, it’s just as insidious. It’s the overrepresentation of Aboriginals in Canadian penitentiaries, while African Americans and Hispanics pack the prisons down South. And it's the disturbing way more than 40 sex trade workers (most of whom being Aboriginal women) went missing from Vancouver's downtown Eastside over the last thirty years--without so much of an RCMP investigation--until only 6 years ago. Like I said, systemic intolerance is insidious.

And while I haven't even touched on the implications regarding religion and borders, this post is already slipping into a state of doom and gloom. So instead, let's see how the glass looks when its half full.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of knowing an amazing youth group, known as Youth Against Racism (YAR), through the Intercultural Association of Victoria. Each of the youth fell between the ages of 12 and 18, and seemed to represent quite the multicultural mosaic which covered the map from China to Haiti to Russia.

YAR's big project during that year was to create their very own documentary. When I say create, these adolescents wrote the script, directed each scene, and starred in the short film aptly entitled, Sifting Through the Layers. And if you haven't already guessed, the film explored the realities of racism as seen through their own experiences.

And was it ever a success! These ambitious youth effectively tackled the complexities of racism and structural discrimination through a powerful commentary that came straight from their hearts. YAR explored the need for cultural visibility in media and pop culture, the distorted racialized messages sent by the beauty industry, and the undeniable power of education. In fact, Sifting Through the Layers has now become a DVD resource package in which teachers and youth workers can facilitate lessons around the subject. Ultimately, this really is a brilliant example of youth empowering other youth.

So as I bring this story to a close, I would like to go off with a bang with the help of Dr. Maya Angelou:

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

--from the last two stanzas of "A Brave and Startling Truth"

10 comments:

Divinyl said...

Great post BB.

I have a number of things to say. First thing is about the young boy who used such a hateful word against you. At 8 years old he must have heard that from somewhere, parents or whatever, and I sincerely doubt that he understood the word he was using. That, of course, doesn't make it right, and it doesn't make the impact any less great.

As for the racism between communities thing, you are so right. It baffles me. I work (in Probation, as I think you already know) in an area with a relatively high Asian population, and there is massive racism there, an example being that Pakistani people are often terribly predjudiced against Bangladeshis (and vice versa).

For me that beggars belief. Why, when already part of a minority, do people then 'pick on' others from within that same minority? Like in the gay community, bisexual people are often ridiculed or derided. Silliness.

But which links me neatly to the final thing I wanted to rant about...and that is the stuff that you were talking about being 'under the radar' of even the PC people.

Whilst I am very fortunate to almost never encounter downright homophobia, I am constantly hit with heterosexism. That constant presumption and, therefore, need for explanation, can be just as oppresive, although naive and not ill-intentioned.

I think that's me done for now! Lol. But it must be a good post if it can court responses this long! x

ZenDenizen said...

Excellent article and the babies are too adorable.

mschumey07 said...

Just because I espouse change, both structural and societal, I have been labeled a communist. I seek social justice and equity and I am branded a communist. Never in their minds did they see me as a humanist. I suppose the Philippine society is living in the past were the poor should remain poor and the rich should get everything.

Black_Mamba said...

Racism, hatred and cruetly are the sad facts of life really......

I guess ALL Pinay moms are like that in many ways. I, for one, am willing to start World War 3 should anyone bully my my kids LOL.........

Great post CC!

Happy holidays! God bless you :)

Black_Mamba said...

Hello CC!

Wishing you A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

May God bless you and your family this holiday season and always.

Ivy :)

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

Hey divinyl!

So I definitely agree with your first comment--that little guy probably didn't even understand the gravity of his insult...heck, I barely understood it at the time.

Also, discrimination within minority groups drives me sooo crazy because they have probably been the object of such prejudice themselves, so why subject others to the same hate?

And yes, I can imagine that heterosexism is just as insidious as downright homophobia. One of my best friends hates when she has the field the most ignorant questions. IE. How long have you been a lesbian? OR Have you always been into girls?

Thanks so much for the comments- galore lady and the compliment!

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

zen...

Thanks for the compliment girl! I just thought the photos might be a nice little touch... :)

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

Shumey...

That is horrible that you've been ostracized for your progressive beliefs--championing human rights is a noble cause! Such criticism usually occurs when you go against the grain and cut through the BS of an extremely flawed system. This example definitely isn't isolated to the Philippines. Liberalist views can also be heavily scrutinized in the West.

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

Ivy...

Filipina moms ARE fierce, eh? I definitely wouldn't want to mess with you in a dark alley! LOL!

Thanks so much! I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday as well!

Political Jaywalker said...

"It isn’t biology that spreads racism and intolerance, ideologies pursued in ignorance do."

How true BB, ignorance and may I add perverting ideology and religion also breeds racism...... Anyway, season's greetings to you & your family.

Oh, thanks for the link.... let me reciprocate and do the same.

PJ

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