Shia LaBeouf’s sorry apology for racist rant during arrest highlights lack of racial awareness: Paradkar 

Valid point:

You know that had you been Black or brown-skinned you would not be able to: struggle, get aggressive with police, yell profanities at them, run away when they were trying to arrest you without possibly deadly consequences. You know further that being openly racist to police and accusing them of being racist are actions that result in a few angry tweets, a few raised eyebrows and calls to help you, that they are textbook examples of the unearned privilege conferred upon you for the colour of your skin.

Do you think the words racist or race or racism deserved a place in your apology? No? Well, why would you?

In your world, being racist isn’t a crime. Only those who live with the consequences of racism are treated like criminals. Overt racism is never your fault. It’s invariably the fault of addiction or mental illness. It’s an act that cries out for compassion and forgiveness.

The system works for people like you. It works to erase the bits that reflect badly on other people like you. Look at all the stories eager to exonerate you.

Here’s CNN: “Body camera video released by authorities showed a surly, unco-operative LaBeouf yelling profanities at police.

The very progressive Rolling Stone says, “the actor apologized for his language,” in a story that doesn’t mention the racist rants at all.

The headline in Variety: Shia LaBeouf Calls Police Officer ‘Dumb F—’ in Arrest Footage

It does list his racial tirade in another piece about the apology, but doesn’t mention that he didn’t apologize for the racism.

Turns out that in 2017, we still live in a place where profanities offend puritanical morals. Racism, not so much.

Source: Shia LaBeouf’s sorry apology for racist rant during arrest highlights lack of racial awareness: Paradkar | Toronto Star

AGO show humanizes the enslaved, Yorkville store tramples on tragedy: Paradkar

Nice piece contrasting awareness and obliviousness:

Two-and-a-half kilometres. That’s the distance between the gallery in Toronto where artworks utilize fashion to tell the stories of the oppressed and the alley where a store turns to fashion to trample on their tragedies.

One is a series called WANTED at the Art Gallery of Ontario where two Toronto artists have used fashion photography to cast light on the hushed-up history of slavery in Canada. The other is a camouflage jacket, on sale at a men’s store named Uncle Otis in Yorkville, that was worn by Belgian soldiers in the aftermath of an especially brutal and bloody colonization of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo during which they killed more than 10 million people.

From the WANTED series, you’ll see on a billboard splashed up at Yonge-Dundas Square, an image of Tracy Moore, the host of Cityline.

In the photo, though, she is unnamed. She is wearing red, carrying weights. “Black gown and red callimanco petticoat” say the words on the image, describing her clothing. Next to the photo, another board that says “Not for sale.”

The inspiration for that “ad” and about nine others displayed at the AGO came from advertisements in newspapers such as Upper Canada Gazette and Quebec Gazette in the 1700s posted by Canadian slave owners after the people they had enslaved had run away. In the ads were descriptions of what the enslaved people were last seen wearing.

That detail motivated artists Camille Turner and Camal Pirbhai to transform those fugitive slave ads into artworks that look like contemporary fashion ads.

“Black gown and red callimanco petticoat” was the description that appeared in a newspaper ad in August 1766. “Whoever apprehends said Negro Girl, and brings her back to said WERDEN, or to Mrs. Mary Wiggans, at Montreal, shall have ONE PISTOLE Reward, and all necessary Charges, paid by I. WERDEN,” it read.

“We are not honouring slaves,” Turner told me by email.” We are honouring people who thought of themselves as free and took action to liberate themselves.”

“We wanted to restore their humanity. We don’t have access to the words of enslaved people but through these ads we know their actions. They took matters into their own hands, stealthily running away despite the risks and consequences of recapture.”

“None of my Canadian schooling had taught me about this reality (of slavery in Canada),” Pirbhai said.

“I immediately related this to the obliviousness we seem to show towards the current day slave trade existing in the fashion industry. Fashion ads were the perfect conduit to parallel the injustices of the past and the issues of today.”

Issues of today at a micro level include instances like at Uncle Otis that sells the camouflage jacket under the U.K. based label Maharishi.

This M65 Belgian Congo smock jacket is on sale at a Yorkville boutique.
This M65 Belgian Congo smock jacket is on sale at a Yorkville boutique.

One problem is the appropriation of the word Maharishi for a line of surplus military clothing. In Sanskrit, maha means great, rishi means sage. What a great sage has to do with military jackets beats me.

“The camouflage pattern, especially in the context of defence-budget-subsidised clothing, offers itself as a perfect canvas for customised, anti-military statements of peace and freedom,” says the Maharishi website.

This leaves me none the wiser.

Still, fashion is ripe with appropriation of “exotic” words from other languages — and in this case is likely used to add an aura of mysticism.

What about the choice of jacket? How is it any different from Nazi-era military gear?

Nobody responded to my repeated email requests for comment on the choice of label and the jacket from Maharishi and Uncle Otis; a manager at the store refused comment when I went there. I tried for two weeks. That was ample time to respond or quietly take down an offensive jacket after they were informed what it stood for.

The jacket itself selling for a hefty $590 (slashed, almost half price! from the original $950) is described thus: “This beautiful pick is of the M65 Belgian Smock Jacket used in the Congo. Maharishi reclaims it with handpainted tigerstripe came, repaired wear-and-tear holes and replaced missing buttons.”

Belgian Congo was rich in rubber, ivory, gold and other minerals, and Belgium extracted billions of dollars of wealth on the backs of local labour, committing atrocities and a genocide that decimated half the population of the land.

A more apt description of what this jacket symbolizes, then, would be: “It has the smell of the blood of the Congolese still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little smock jacket, neither will attempts to cover it with tiger stripes or repair the wear-and-tear brought about by kidnapping, beating, starving, mutilating, torturing, and murdering Congolese people for Europe’s economic gain. Wear it — to our economic gain.”

This isn’t art, this isn’t fashion. This is continuing to profit from exploitation.

Art has purpose.

“For us, art is about provoking critical thinking and prompting conversations,” said Turner. “We feel it is our responsibility to speak to future generations about our history.”

Over to you, Maharishi.

Source: AGO show humanizes the enslaved, Yorkville store tramples on tragedy: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Mississauga woman’s demand for English-speaking doctor spoke volumes: Paradkar 

Interesting reflections on perceived micro-agressions following the open aggression displayed by the woman asking for a white doctor at a clinic.

My mother bristled at the same question – “where do you come from” – given her slight Russian accent.

Since them, I have been particularly sensitive in not asking that question whenever being served by medical professionals, despite my curiosity in terms of how easy or how hard it was for them to become certified and practice in Canada:

The woman’s behaviour comes as a surprise to some because it shatters the delicate veneer of equality that surrounds the idea of multiculturalism.

While her demand for a “white doctor” has received the most attention, it’s her insistence on one who speaks English — in a clinic where everybody clearly speaks it — that interests me because it sheds light on a language-specific “micro aggression”— a term used to describe seemingly inconsequential offences that stem from deeply biased attitudes.

The most commonly known micro aggression is the otherization implicit in “Where do you come from,” invariably asked to people of colour.

Another — and this one also raises the hackles of some white people — takes the form of a compliment: “How articulate you are. How well-spoken.”

So colonized was I that it took me a while to comprehend the offensiveness behind what I thought was essentially a handshake between two equals.

It was also slow to dawn on me because — confession alert — I was busy turning up my nose at the grammar deficiencies of spoken Canadian English, with dropped g’s and h’s, or mispronunciations; “pome,” for poem, airplane for “aeroplane,” all-timers for “Alzheimers,” or missing prepositions; “He wrote me” as opposed to “He wrote to me” or mistaken tenses; “I wrote him” instead of “I have written to him,” among countless others.

How fuddy-duddy of me, you say?


Urban Indians, who speak English with varying degrees of fluency, are brought up being constantly upbraided on the “proper” way to speak it. The ultimate authority of “propah” were the old men from the upper ranks of the army, navy and air force. Men who would say things like “brolleh” for umbrella, and whose penchant for propriety would have made the Mississauga woman feel considerably provincial.

While I love the English language and try not to see evolution as transgressions, I see the condescension now, and how it cuts across colonial and class lines.

I understand now that when people tell me, “How well you speak!” it’s an expression of surprise at how fluent I am in the Queen’s language, despite my accent, despite where I come from.

My colleague, feature writer Jim Coyle, has experienced this micro-aggression, too.

“As a son of immigrants whose own parents didn’t go past Grade 7, I have an acute ear for the veiled slurs of my betters,” he once told me. “As I moved up in social class, it was often remarked on with surprise how “well-spoken” I was. As if this was remarkable in an Irish Catholic from the wrong side of the tracks.”

It’s a way of patting you on the head for aspiring towards a benchmark modelled on upper-class English ideals.

The establishment of a narrow expression of English as the standard has come at the cost of suppression and erasure of native languages across this land and world over.

The English spoken in the Mississauga clinic wasn’t the woman’s kind of English. Ergo, it was faulty and invited contempt.

The ranter said what many unconsciously feel but don’t express.

When we judge as unintellectual or uneducated someone who speaks differently, we give meritocracy a sucker punch and place mediocrity with the “right” voice above brilliance with the alternative one.

Linguistic bias blinds us to great ideas, gifted stories and scientific advances. It further marginalizes and silences women who, having faced barriers to English education, are now rejected from the simplest of jobs. This hurts our productivity and leaves us culturally impoverished.

In the end, it leaves us well beneath the promise of the potential true multiculturalism holds.

Source: Mississauga woman’s demand for English-speaking doctor spoke volumes: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Mixed race isn’t black and white: Paradkar

Paradkar on mixed race/unions:

Mixed-race couples account for only 4.6 per cent of all unions in Canada, according to a Statistics Canada report last updated in 2013.

The offspring of such a couple are often described as being “exotic” or “post-racial.” These positive stereotypes often apply to those who look closer to white or have elitism on their side. Think Keanu Reeves, think Drake.

As the children born of mixed heritages get further from whiteness, problems of racism or colourism crop up, even from within families. White parents who deny their own privilege can also be blind to the racializing experiences of their children, Chang found after interviewing 68 families for her book Raising Mixed Race.

The idea that “by their birth they bridge the divide between races is a myth,” Chang says. “Birthing mixed kids does not fix racial issues.”

Zainab Amadahy, 62, knows this only too well. She is mixed race of African-American, Cherokee, Seminole, Portuguese and Amish descent. Her mother was white, her father Black and in the Jim Crow era that normalized segregation, her mother’s parents disowned her. Internalized racism meant it wasn’t smooth sailing on the racial front on her father’s side, either.

“My father’s people were very shade-ist,” she told the conference audience. “Upward mobility meant being lighter, marrying into light skin.”

Amadahy identified as Black and as an activist, was easily accepted as one. “In those days, to talk about being mixed race was to claim light-skin privilege,” she says.

One of her earliest memories involves waking up to New York City cops rousing her father out of bed one night in the ’60s and then punching and kicking him down the stairs. He came back beaten and bruised the next day. There were no charges against him. Turned out the police had mistaken him for someone else. No apologies either. “That was my introduction to the idea that cops were not safe.”

School? As the only Black in school with her siblings, she remembers being assaulted, beaten up. “It was my white mother, of all people, who taught me how to defend myself, sent us all to karate school.

“She was a follower of MLK and didn’t believe in violence, but I guess that was theoretical when it came to her own kids being beaten up.”

In the days when “mixed” in America meant white mixed with black, her Indigenous roots stayed in the background. It was only when she came to Toronto as a 19-year-old that she got involved with the pan-Indigenous community and felt freer to explore that side of her heritage.

Indigeneity is anything but in the background for Dani Kwan-Lafond, who is Chinese, Indigenous and French-Canadian. She and her partner, who is Jewish, have a little girl.

Mixedness comes with challenges for a parent, not the least of which is, “Do I put her in native school in Toronto? Or do I put into a French school?”

“Certainly, she sees a lot of Asian faces, both Chinese and Filipino,” Kwan-Lafond said.

“But being Indigenous is something different. We have these mixed identities . . . and one of those identities is a really politicized one in Canada . . . we do a lot more in our house around Indigeneity than we do around Asianness.”

Kwan-Lafond wonders: “As a parent, how do I bring her up in a good way with a community of elders and listen to my teachings? How do I also acknowledge those other parts of identity?”

So, they end up celebrating a number of traditions. “We do Chinese New Year, Passover. We do Pow Wows.

“It’s a complicated situation, but it’s our normal.”

Intermingling may not have the inherent ability to solve racial inequalities, but with considered parenting, it can offer a genuine shot at moving past tribalism.

Amadahy considers her background a blessing. “It has allowed me to move in and out of communities, have passion for many, many stories and to question our socially constructed ideas of identity.”

Source: Mixed race isn’t black and white: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Gatherings of Black people really not about whites: Paradkar

Paradkar on the recent controversies over Black only events:

Harvard’s event was one of two recent events that highlighted Western discomfort with majority-Black spaces.

The other was an event planned in France, where the mayor of Paris sought to ban the city’s first Afro-feminist festival in July because it was “forbidden to white people.” In saying that, Anne Hildalgo, the socialist mayor, co-opted the words of the far-right that had initiated the outrage.

The organizers there had said 80 per cent of the event space was open only to Black women. At Harvard, all were welcome, although not a lot of non-Black people showed up (and by the way, Stanford has had a Black graduation for 40 years).

Both these events predictably triggered accusations of reverse racism and segregation.This tweet by @lucky_american echoed views on various forums: “Are they also going to have a white commencement? If not, isn’t that kind of racist?”

Hidalgo even threatened to sue the festival’s leaders for discrimination.

“We continue to revel in the myth that our fundamental racial problems have been solved,” says Rinaldo Walcott, director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. So these gatherings are viewed “as an affront to something they deeply believe doesn’t exist.”

If these events must be seen as separatist and divisive, then let’s at least acknowledge that one was separation as celebration, the other was separation as solidarity.

At Harvard, “the energy was electric and celebratory,” Morgan says. “It was about celebrating and recognizing that five per cent of the student population identifies as Black. It was about recognizing historically and globally this was that small fraction of people who have made it to the top university.”

The Harvard event was an ode to Black achievement in the face of historical and continued oppression. It celebrated achievements that would be lost, or not valued, in the university-wide celebration.

If Morgan’s achievements had not been acknowledged at the Black commencement, they might not have been acknowledged at all.

“In the U.S., the notion is, if you have reached the pinnacle of establishment, you are somehow outside of how poor black people are treated,” Walcott says.

That is simply not true. Studies have shown Black Ivy League graduates have about as much chance of getting a job as do white graduates from less prestigious state colleges.

For those who use the success of a Barack Obama or an Oprah Winfrey to suggest that anti-Black racism is over, the commencement was a reminder that Black success comes despite the system.

“They will try to craft our stories as examples of the benefits of personal responsibility,” Duwain Pinder, one of four speakers that day, was quoted saying in the Harvard magazine. “As proof that the American dream exists for all, rather than just a select few . . . . We are only a fraction of the Black brilliance that lies under the surface.”

In France, which prides itself on its egalité, why did a gathering of predominantly Black women threaten those who celebrate feminist gatherings of predominantly white women?

Months after its shameful ban on burkinis on beaches, the country showed once again that feminism of colour cannot escape the colonial gaze of white feminists who view other women as victims in need of rescuing from their cultures. Should those affected not be able to define their own struggle?

Mwasi-Collectif, the festival organizers, told France 24 the restricted entry was important so that Black women could have open, honest conversations without judgment from others.

Decrying that event is akin to telling feminists to allow men to set the agenda for their discussion.

Isn’t solidarity about supporting a space that allows excluded groups to think collectively and come to a resolution on how to move ahead?

Both these Black gatherings really weren’t about white people.

There was no reason to make them so.

Source: Gatherings of Black people really not about whites: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Whether it’s a nick or full circumcision, female genital mutilation is about control: Paradkar 

Paradkar on FGM and the Dawoodi Bohras, a small sect of Ismaili Shia Muslims from India and Pakistan:

Circumcision of boys, a controversial and emotionally charged topic, is almost always by medical doctors (and not by a razor blade in a dark room), so you could say there is some comfort in a reduced risk of harm.

Science scrambled to catch up with that cultural practice and has thrown up contradictory results.

Female circumcision has no known medical benefits.

Then there is an added insult in the Bohra community. Circumcision of boys is openly celebrated. For girls, “it’s a very secretive practice,” says Doctor. “Often, the men don’t even know it’s happening to their daughters.”

So shrouded is it in secrecy that a celebration held after the cutting doesn’t even mention the girl has undergone khatna, the circumcision.

Get wounded, then hide in shame.

Like parents who circumcise their boys, women do this to their girls believing it to be in their interest.

In reality, in whose interest is it?

“It does damage to nerve endings,” says Doctor. “There’s psychological harm that makes them (women) afraid of sex. There’s pain during sex, risk of infections.”

Stories by affected women indicate it’s about male sexual insecurities.

“When a woman’s urge is moderated, many sins are eliminated from society,” says a young woman in A Pinch of Skin.

Urge to do what? To seek attention? To have sex? To have orgasms?

There’s no clarity on this, because talking about sex is taboo, as is talking about genitals.

The taboo allows for vagueness to conveniently mask what is essentially a caging of female desire.

Circumcision, whether it’s a symbolic nick, as some now claim, or a removal of the clitoral hood or clitoris, is a mark of sexual control over female bodies in this traditionally entrepreneurial culture where men travelled far as traders and were away from their wives and families for a long time.

It’s an interference that hoodwinks women into confining little girls in a chastity belt.

No such restraints for the travellers.

Source: Whether it’s a nick or full circumcision, female genital mutilation is about control: Paradkar | Toronto Star

From France to Sydney, places to swim still a beachhead for bigotry 

More commentary on beachwear by Shree Paradkar:

As reported here in July, a hijab-wearing Scarborough mother was told to leave the pool if she didn’t change her daughter’s long shorts and T-shirt, although they were swimwear. (It was deemed okay for her son to wear that.)

In the United States in June, the American Red Cross was forced to apologize after a social media post elicited outrage over a safety poster that labelled white kids “cool” for obeying the rules and kids of colour “uncool” for disobeying them.

In France, the city of Cannes and 15 towns chose to uphold the nation’s traditions of liberté and egalité by imposing more rules around women’s clothing. On Aug. 12, it banned the burkini — full body-covering swimsuits — on its beaches. The ban does not apply to full-body covering scuba diving suits. Perhaps there was a safety angle to this?

There isn’t. The city’s decidedly non-Muslim mayor had decided burkinis were “the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion.”

 Pools and beaches have also become battlegrounds over modesty — for women.

Beach volleyball matches in Rio provided the perfect showcase to visualize that spectrum of modesty as the uniforms ranged from itsy bikinis and tankinis to full sleeves and full pants (including a hijab option).

Why do so many female competitors wear so little and men compete in tanks and shorts? USA Today asked its nation’s beach volleyball team this question. The communication’s manager said the team’s female athletes choose to wear bikinis, “because there are less places for sand to hide.”

That explanation appears disingenuous.

There is an authentic — and valid — reason to wear so little: vanity. Who wouldn’t want to show off those incredibly sculpted bodies? I know who; those who value modesty as a virtue.

You may or may not be comfortable with that moral code, but if you agree women have a choice to wear little then you agree they have a choice to cover up.

Women’s sports get sexualized to varying degrees and in the highly sexualized beach culture, one set of athletes gets leered at and the other gets jeered at. On that front, neither side wins. Yet, one side is perceived as the “free” and the other as the “oppressed.”

….Going to the seaside can be a time of calm reflection and recreation, so why does stripping down to get into water end up stripping down the notion of inclusiveness?Through the 20th century, going to a pool to swim meant you could afford to pay for it, going to a beach meant you could afford the time for leisure. Both symbolized privilege and luxury, available to a select few.

Gradually opening pools and beaches to all people diluted that privilege. Modern laws don’t allow for direct exclusion, but being offended by what others wear, or how they behave, simply allows the threatened elite to disguise their bigotry.

Source: From France to Sydney, places to swim still a beachhead for bigotry | Toronto Star

Understanding where I’m coming from on Toronto’s race relations: Paradkar

Shree Paradkar on the City of Toronto/OCASI poster (see Toronto campaign against Islamophobia an insult: Fatah). Merit in her idea to have a series of posters that cycle through various groups. One of the more positive legacy of former Minister Jason Kenney was his broadening of integration and multiculturalism discussions to include inter-group relations, not just the white/visible minority dichotomy:

“Where are you from?” is a common enough question in multiracial Toronto.

“Where are you really from?” is the common enough subtext directed at minorities. As a relatively recent immigrant, this doesn’t offend me. I did come from somewhere else. This country is a beloved home as is my country of origin. For second-generation and older minority immigrants, however, I can see why that can be offensive.

“Go back to where you’ve come from” is the other insult directed at minorities that drives home the flawed idea that the default Canadian is Anglo-Saxon. It supposes that everybody else, including our First Nations, is the unwelcome “other” who doesn’t have modern Canada’s best interests at heart.

And so a recent Toronto city-sponsored anti-racism ad takes this statement head on. In a poster a young white man says that to a hijabi, to which she retorts, “Where. To North York?”

It’s an accurate depiction of a frequent occurrence but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The Toronto ad was made in partnership with OCASI, an agency that helps immigrants. About 150 ads were placed on bus shelters last week and the campaign will run until July 10. Perhaps they will depict more races and more examples. If they don’t, they could simply be polarizing.

Anti-racists erroneously assume everyone understands why — at the moment at least — any talk on racism predominantly challenges the white mindset.

In reality, if you fed that poster to a program that cycled through various racial or ethno-religious backgrounds for both people, and came up with, say, an Asian on the left and a black person, or a Hindu on the left and a Muslim, or an immigrant of 20 years on the left and a new immigrant of the same country, the “Go back to where you’ve come from” sentiment would still be accurate.

 So why focus on whites? While racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism exist in all cultures, they are most harmful when they come from a dominant group or a “ruling class,” which in Canada is obviously white and male.

These are the people who construct systems and govern institutions that determine equality and social justice. They create organizational structures and offer jobs. These are the interpreters of the law. If they are themselves afflicted by the “otherness” syndrome, then their views translate into severe injustices in a diverse society.

Eventually, though, if we get the diverse leadership in political and corporate governance we talk so much about, then narrow-minded attitudes in any leader — not just a white male — would be just as harmful.

In the U.S., I see conversations on racism reduced to a binary — white vs. black. That creates divisions; non-black minorities feel marginalized, blacks feel their legitimate historical and contemporary grievances need to be dealt with first, and many whites feel anti-racism is just politically correct hocus-pocus.

Canada has to champion a more nuanced conversation on discrimination.

A poster like this would speak volumes to the people affected by xenophobia. I can’t imagine it would change people who say things such as, “Go back to where you came from.” It could also estrange younger white men who might feel they’re not even given a chance to be fair. These are people in their intellectually formative years who are also exposed to the aggressive rhetoric of the aggrieved far-right. who sees themselves as victimized.

Reservations against this alienation are not about catering to white desire for, and comfort with, the status quo. It’s about reaching out to people who don’t experience racism and therefore don’t think of it as real or harmful.

“The overarching long-term goal is to create a Toronto that says ‘No’ to all forms of discrimination and racism,” the OCASI says in its media release.

Saying no is the easy part.

Bullheaded bigots may be unreachable, but making meaningful strides will mean making the regular white Joe and Jane see from the non-white perspective how their circumstance, whatever it is, still benefited from a privilege not available to others. That won’t happen when divided camps are left talking within themselves.

Source: Understanding where I’m coming from on Toronto’s race relations | Toronto Star