2.26.2013

With the Blinkers Off

My eyes have been opened, and verily truth has awakened my soul.

Greetings everyone, I'm back after a 4 month or so hiatus. My apologies, as my final college sem rolls up, and life takes precedence. But I have been keeping up to date with the blog, with much of its interests :) Firstly, I'd like to extend a warm welcome to Nicolette, our newest Narrator. May you contribute to the rich tapestry of PoC interactions, interludes & social intercourse. A shout out to Ankhesen, whose gentle reminders instill a fresh dose of guilt in me everytime Huy Le, how is your newborn? I hope all is well in your family. And to my fellow Narrators & readers, a very belated Happy Holidays, New Year, Lunar New Year, all that jazz ^^

And now, on with the meaty parts. Having read Nicolette's recent post on the difficulties of life in Taiwan, and the comments from (mostly I presume) the ladies on how being black can result in adverse treatment of oneself in (East) Asia, my mind started to whirl once again. Juxtaposing these experiences along with several of my own in the past month alone, a fragmented picture starts to form. I could only shake my head in despair, reading these examples. Even though in the West all people of color are fair game to such phenomena like the glass ceiling & white privilege, in truth both within & without, people of color treat each other like shit. I personally have not faced discrimination or hateful language from black people, but vice-versa the instances are simply too much. Like the time a bar manager denied entry to a Tswana couple in my old neighborhood, only to turn around to his colleague & muttered, "I'm not letting those kaka in here" (The term kaka is an onomatopoeic Tamil word, meaning crow. Within this context it's highly pejorative) Or how people would surreptitiously stare at us when me & my old musical buddy Samuel "Sammy" Turahe Kamanguza would go drinking at the mamak These are but the tip of the iceberg. The tip. Little wonder that my friends & classmates would express their frustration at their treatment in Malaysia. Most thankfully did not allow it to color their view of the country & her people as a whole, but how many can truly feel the same way? I see it as our own shallow prejudices, and as petty as it may seem, the lingering effects of European colonialism. Some of you may disagree, but I stand by what I say. As a matter of fact, it's even afflicted me in some respects.

Quite recently when I was at the Ellington Jazz Club in downtown Perth for a rare night out, I was stopped at the pathway leading to the entrance by a tall, well dressed man who asked for my ID. Since my only ID was my passport, I was reluctant to hand it over, particularly since he didn't look like a staff member. I brusquely declined, brushing him off & went straight in, not heeding his calls for me to come back. At the counter was this smoulderingly attractive girl (she looked Indo-African) who inquired whether I showed my ID to Jackson at the door. I stared at her in shock as he strode in, with a mildly amused grin on his face, as though he's been through the whole gamut before (I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case) My only response was a dumb, "He works here?" As I sipped my mocktail, my sense of embarrassment & shame, sparked at the counter, began to grow. I couldn't take it. I went outside, ostensibly for a cigarette, but to also apologize. Jackson listened intently to what I had to say. And he smiled. Such was its depth that I felt immensely relieved, and even more shameful. We made good conversation, during which he explained that he was here in Australia for 6 years, originally from Jacksonville, Alabama (although from his speech, I could've sworn he was a Francophonic West African) We parted on good terms. Later in the night I struck up conversation with a Zimbabwean-Somali couple (though her family's from the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland) on politics & recent issues. Yet the earlier incident dogged me for several days, gnawing at my conscience. My ego attempted to justify it, "How could I have known?" He wore no badge or marker of identification (he mentioned that he worked on a part time basis at the Ellington, hence the reason why he wore no badge) But my super-ego chimed in, "Are you sure, Boon? Or did you reacted in the way you did because he's black?" Socio-mental contradictions abound >.<

On a lighter note, when I went back for Christmas/New Year, we paid a visit to my dad's folks in the village. I was made to sit in the car with them, alone, on the way to the restaurant for dinner. Expecting the usual talk, I steeled myself & got in. In a rare occasion, my grandad was relatively silent (he does most of the talking in between them) but my grandmum decided to take a different tack; the prospect of relationships/marriage. Given that she was born in the last years of the Depression, and without a higher education (i.e. broad-mindedness) her speech (well, monologue really) was peppered with so many lolworthy old folks belief.

"If you can dear boy, marry a Chinese girl. That way everyone can he happy. If you want to marry a Japanese girl, or Korean girl, can also lah. Even a gui po (a Mandarin term for a white woman, mildly pejorative) not a problem. But better you marry Chinese girl. You can have children and have many years of happiness..."

In the backseat, I grinned wolfishly, unseen by either two. The opportunity was too good, and rich, to ignore.
 

"What about a black girl?" 

Her reaction was expected. She gave a deep sigh, vaguely reminiscent of the exaggerated expressions on old Asian soaps. 

 "Haaaaaiiiiiyaaaaaaaaah. Not nice one lah. Black girl. A hei gui po? (same meaning as above, except inverted racially) How your children will look like one? Not nice lah, not nice to see. Better you marry Chinese girl..." 

All I could think was an image of Russell Peters smugly grinning and shaking a finger, with the mental voice Pfft, please. Have you seen Blasian kids? But as the Ashkenazi Jews say, oy gevelt <roll my damned eyes>

But more seriously, I've thrown myself into reading about race relations, via stopwhitewashing.tumblr.com and
brothawolf.wordpress.com, both highly interesting insights into the human condition of race, ethnicity & perception thereof. Admittely, I am somewhat uncomfortable with some of the comments on Brotha Wolf, but I hazard that their responses, at face value may appear to be extremist, are in part a reaction of anger & frustration at the inequalities in life in this day & age, vis-à-vis white privilege. Or it could just be me o.O

Nonetheless, I'm thankful of such PoC spaces, with the TBA being at the top of my list, as a safe alternative from all the white-washed mainstream media out there. I thank the fact that everyone here has an interest in one another, not allowing their negative experiences to blind them but instead have come on out stronger & on top. If we could convince more/other people, especially other PoCs of such meritorious socializing, I can die a happy man. God bless you all, each & every one =')

8 comments:

  1. Assumptions: Everyone makes them. Don't worry about it. I've made a few terrible mistakes but i think its all a learning experience....i also need to stop making jokes about Nigerians around non-nigerians cause i think they actually think we are all scamers.....
    OMG the conversation with your grandma is like the one with my Mum. Dad doesn't even attempt.

    But I want to be with a Christian. So my Mama is now okay with the race thing....mostly...No Caribbeans and black Americans....and anyone that looks chinese....but i'm not listening to her. Hahaha.

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  2. It happens. When I got here to Australia, I had a tendency to speak slower to everyone that seemed foreign (which is pretty much everybody) ... until I realized that I'd get mad if someone did that to me... Assume that I cant speak english just based on the way I look.

    Btw, your talk with your grandma is no funny! Specially because after being surrounded by so many chinese people I ended up talking like them, everythings ends with ~la lately and I say " haiiiiyaahhhh " so often that is ridiculous, and at the same time most of them can speak at least 5 sentences in spanish

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    1. It's funny but I never do that...I always assume that people I meet can speak French, no matter what they look like or even if I think they're tourists. I always start this way, by speaking in the language of my country (France) to them, and if they don't understand I switch to English or another language.

      As for colorism in Asia, I'm not suprised nor shocked. I haven't been there, but I studied a couple of Asian languages and I especially have read many articles on the internet about beauty and societal issues in Asia. I just happened to know a nice blog about it, I really don't think I would have read all of that on my own if I had not found that blog last year. So now I can say that I kinda grasp the mentality and reasoning behind colorism and prejudices against darker-skinned people and people from poor(er) countries. I don't justify it at all but I kinda understand why it is what it is, which makes me much less judgemental (especially as I'm from a country that is guilty of colonialism, so there's no point in pointing the finger at Asia when the West is no better, just more hypocritical).

      As for the blasian babies thing your grandma mentionned, it reminded me of that Korean woman who married a African man and then got pregnant, and she said her mom told her once "let's pray that the baby don't come out dark". Lol you see? tsk-tsk :p

      And please don't be too hard on yourself about the black guy, I agree with M. It's actually a very good sign that you double-checked your thoughts about what happened. I've done that a couple of times as well.

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  3. Thanks for the shout-out, I'm glad my post inspired you.

    It's interesting that you mention racism between POC. I think my biggest experience with this are African Americans who are from families that have lived in America for generations asking me where I come from or telling my parents to go back to Africa, haha. It's despicable as well as sad. But then again, a lot of people in my family somewhat look down on them so I suppose it goes both ways.

    The story about your grandma was funny, haha. I have a lot of Chinese friends who go through the same thing, being pressured endlessly by their family members to date only other Chinese people, or at least an Asian person. Sad :/

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  4. When I think about this post, I think about my own late great grandmother and grandmother. I remember the good old days being with them: I still see them sitting on their porches gossiping about the latest neighborhood news or talk about stories from her past,some of her" kids" (the neighborhood kids) stopping by seeing how she would be doing. Sometimes my siblings would go with her (my grandma) to the store or go to the other neighborhood candy ladies or juke jointers .It seemed that most women and men did a lot of in the day. I miss that25 cent food..and those Double Colas.. wow. It was the 70s then,Coca Cola had nothing on them.It was so strong that my mom didn't let us drink a lot of it. I don't see it in West Georgia anymore. Someone told me that they were making a comeback and tried it but it didn't taste as strong. For my sake, maybe its best that its that way.

    Far as the guy you encountered at the bar, it seemed that you were suspicious of the man who just happens to be black than because he is Black.To some folks it may come off that because of strained relations between POCs, but they cannot always assume that.Nothing wrong with having suspicions about people or things whether it proves true or false. The way things are, you have to be and if you have a bad feeling about it, follow your instincts.Its best to be safe than sorry.

    Not going to lie, I've been suspicious about some people .There were two guys who came to evaluate the our gas meter. I just didn't openly the door and said "What's up? "I talked through my window to them,I looked at their company truck and tag making sure that these guys were legit. The men were Black, but their color wasn't why I chose to be cautious with them. After an unknown drifter came in hood and literally lived by the neighborhood creek. Understandably, nobody was comfortable with this unknown being there especially with us kids at time being near there. He was questioned. Thus man was old and White. Then there would be other, Latino, Asian or whatever... with me, I treated all the same because I live with a bunch of retirees and sometimes this demographic that becomes the target of rogues. I'm not paranoid, just cautious .

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  5. The conversation with your grandma was funny :)
    I wish I had moments like this with my grandma, she's still alive but I hardly get to see her and spend good quality time with her, like sharing stories. She lives far away from me (on the other side of the Athlantic).

    I heard that in Thai the word "white" is also used to mean "clean", which now reminds me of the "the paler you are, the cleaner you are". That and some facial features that are highly valued, often to look "higher class". I think I kinda understand the mentality, I mean I kinda grasp the reasoning and why they think this way. But then I'm pretty sure I can't be very accurate nor precise as I'm not Asian.

    And don't be too hard on yourself about the black guy. I agree with M. Doing some retrospection is actually a very good sign. I remember reflecting on something like that too and feeling guilty.

    @KarMell: it's funny but I never do that, I mean I never slow my voice when I speak to someone who's (not) white (I live in France). I only did that once maybe, like when I spoke to someone who wasn't understanding anything I said no matter the language I spoke in. I never assume that someone may be a foreigner just by their looks or behaviour. I always assume they speak the language of this country, and unless they prove me otherwise, I talk to them in French, until they can't find their words in French so I happily temporarily switch to English (to practice it too lol).

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  6. A shout out to Ankhesen, whose gentle reminders instill a fresh dose of guilt in me everytime

    Always good to have you back.

    Admittely, I am somewhat uncomfortable with some of the comments on Brotha Wolf, but I hazard that their responses, at face value may appear to be extremist, are in part a reaction of anger & frustration at the inequalities in life in this day & age, vis-à-vis white privilege. Or it could just be me o.O

    It's not just you. Some of those comments are straight militant, but they are borne of anger and frustration.

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  7. Your grandmother isn't the only one acting out. Blackness dominates my maternal DNA family. Women, though not necessarily men, are conditioned from birth to marry Black and to breed Black. Tribalism is alive and well in the American deep South. There are no exceptions. Even after my mother divorced my father in the first year of my life, it took roughly 20 years for her to be pardoned for her crime of marrying and breeding with an Indigenous man. I probably haven't been pardoned for existing though. *shrug*

    When Mr. H. asked for my hand in marriage, a courtesy and nothing more, he didn't care how my family felt. He intended to take me anyway. There were no fucks in his bag to give. I'm fairly certain he doesn't even own such a bag. Admittedly, I'm grateful my Mother put my happiness before all else and didn't try to force me to make the decision she did.

    Two years ago, she admitted that she was so afraid of losing her family that she sacrificed love to keep it. I was stunned. My Mother was always the model of the strong Black woman and I thought she was always a part of the ruling faction. Instead, she was a victim and she played an active role in the continue invisibility and marginalization of my father and his people.

    This same woman also confessed that the second happiest day of her life was when I boarded the plane to come here. Hell, I thought I was just being selfish and doing what I wanted. Yes... that's about right.

    Boon, the woman you love might change your Grandmother's mind without even trying. If not, that's all right, too. I'm convinced I can live off love and water alone. ;) Okay, so I'll need a flush toilet to go with that, too.

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