To our inner Hadiya resisting workplace conformity, carry on. Just don’t keep calm: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Good column by Paradkar:

It’s fair to say that when “Black on Bay Street,” the piece by lawyer-turned-academic Hadiya Roderique in the Globe and Mail, went viral, it lit flames of #IAmHadiya in many of us, and not just those belonging to Bay St., not just lawyers and not just Black, even though the Black experience of racism is uniquely painful.

Roderique’s piece should once and for all silence the proponents of the politics of respectability — the idea that you won’t be discriminated against if only you pull up your socks, do the right thing — as in, do everything you can to fit in with “mainstream” culture.

Mainstream in this country is, of course, Anglo-Euro settler culture. The truth is no matter what marginalized individuals do to change, to fit in, to be just like everyone else in the workplace, most have to be brilliant to be considered good enough.

So how far should you go to try to fit in?

Roderique referenced diversity consultant Ritu Bhasin, who says in her book The Authenticity Principle, “there’s only so much conforming and masking we can do. It eats away at your spirit.”

Quite by chance I was reading the book when Roderique’s article appeared. I’m usually leery of self-help gurus whom I tend to see as dishing out quotable words of wisdom whose sole role is to land on eminently re-giftable Hallmark mugs.

But at one point in the book, whose subtitle declares it’s about resisting conformity and embracing differences, Bhasin, herself once a Bay St. lawyer, writes she realized how even being authentic can be a performance. I found that revelation honest. “I would try to signal ‘Look how real I am,’ ” she writes. “For example, I chose to wear bright colours in the business world to signal ‘I’m so anti-conformist.’ ”

Reading both these women revealed to me — a rank outsider to Bay St. types — what an anally retentive bunch the people who make big decisions must be if wearing bright colours is considered rebellious in their world. “I filled my arms with two colours,” Roderique wrote about suits she bought, “black to blend and the more daring light grey.”

Beyond clothing, though, conformity can be extracted in multiple ways. Do you shine at meetings? Do you laugh at the boss’s jokes? Do you toe the line with group think?

In order to not fall afoul of those narrow constraints, to a certain extent everybody adopts behaviours and habits that don’t come naturally — white men might, for instance, force an interest in golf.

But the more marginalized you are the more you have to contort your personality to fit those expectations. Women might tone down talk of motherhood, feign an interest in hockey, pretend to be extroverted, laugh at stupid jokes and even allow men to take credit for their ideas just to see those ideas in action.

Add colour to your skin or a scarf on your head or fluidity to your gender and workplace constraints begin to suffocate. At that point, you’re not just masking your likes and dislikes, or adjusting aspects of your personality.

What’s at stake are your values, your fundamental identity.

Bhasin says, as a child of immigrants, she learned at a young age to not act brown, but to act white. “By the time I ended up in the workplaces I had already learned how to switch codes and navigate through white male culture. The more I conformed, the more I was rewarded, and I succeeded … that continued to the point where I was living a binary life. So I was one way at work and evenings and weekends, living in a very different way. And ultimately I was profoundly unhappy.”

She talked to hundreds of women and found that, “my story is the story of people who come from marginalized communities. We’re taught to conform and that cannot be the way we live any longer.”

Embrace yourself, be yourself are great mantras. Yet, as Bhasin writes, even authenticity is a privilege.

“I have found that those with higher status, power and success are often better positioned to practice authenticity more consistently than others.”

There’s your chicken and egg — being true to who you are might liberate you to attain some social power, but until you’re powerful, you may not have the confidence — or the leeway — to be authentic.

So please, if you have the privilege to do so, carry on. Work out your own formula, make your choices, resist if you can.

Carry on, because you are unfairly burdened with the task of challenging the system. Carry on until leaders stop looking at “others” with a condescending gaze. Carry on until they exhibit openness to hiring practices people like Roderique are advocating, or change the framework of what they consider “successful.”

Carry on until sweeping systemic changes give everyone a fair chance. Just don’t keep calm, because that is one thing they’re definitely counting on.

via To our inner Hadiya resisting workplace conformity, carry on. Just don’t keep calm: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Advertisements

Wrangling over statement of principles shows lawyers far from challenging racism within: Paradkar, Contrary position of Alford

Shree Paradkar on the Ontario law society controversy over the obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion:

Although the motion was debated and passed in December 2016, it has been playing out like the pitched battles that spill out on digital media, when demands for equality are framed as violations of free speech, but this time with legalese — and legal action — thrown in.

“We think that the debate has been framed as freedom of expression and conscientious objection — in a vacuum,” said Shawn Richard, CABL president. “The question has to be asked — well, what are you conscientiously objecting to? You’re conscientiously objecting to reducing discrimination? You’re conscientiously objecting to promoting diversity? Inclusion? Equality?”

One law professor called the statement of principles an Orwellian dictate.

Another called it an unconstitutional compelled speech.

The law society says it is not policing lawyers’ thoughts or beliefs, it is asking that their conduct be in accordance to long-standing codes.

“It’s an obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, which is nothing more than the obligation lawyers have already,” Paul Schabas, the law society treasurer, told the Law Times.

Do the society’s rules spell this out? Apparently, it’s not just a matter of clicking Control F to find the right words. The injunction filed Monday says this obligation is not supported in the existing code of conduct.

The words “acknowledging” and “promoting” are causing most grief. On one side, “Why can’t lawyers simply acknowledge their obligation to equality?” On the other, “Why are they being told they have a duty to promote equality?”

Emphasizing an obligation to equality in a plan to fight racism is a step so mild it begs the question, why was it even made?

That came down to a question in a 2013 survey asking lawyers to rate their support of this statement:

“It is important to reduce discrimination, but the professional’s main responsibility is to the client and making sure they’re being served by competent lawyers and paralegals.”

This is an obviously problematic statement that linked competence to race. It suggests either you have a competent (white) lawyer or a racialized (incompetent) one.

Richard had a problem with it right away. “I don’t think reducing discrimination and being served by competent licensees is an either/or proposition, but the statement presumes that to be true.”

When a large majority of white and minority licensees either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with that statement, it showed Richard, “you have to start with what our obligations are.”

via Wrangling over statement of principles shows lawyers far from challenging racism within: Paradkar | Toronto Star

The contrary position, expressed by Ryan Alford:

A Law Society requirement meant to help combat systemic racism in the legal profession is facing major push-back.

Lakehead University law professor Ryan Alford filed paperwork in court Monday seeking an injunction to stop Ontario’s legal regulator from mandating that all lawyers and paralegals adopt a statement of principles indicating an obligation to promote inclusion and diversity.

In a notice of application filed in Superior Court, Alford said he is seeking a declaration from the court that the requirement is “contrary to the rule of law in that it lacks a proper legal foundation,” and is also not supported by the Law Society of Upper Canada’s own rules of professional conduct.

This move follows the announcement last month that Toronto lawyer Joe Groia, a member of the Law Society’s board of directors, would be bringing a motion at the December board meeting seeking an exemption for “conscientious objectors” to the requirement.

Both Alford and Groia have argued that the requirement is “compelled speech,” although they state that they believe in the values communicated by the statement of principles.

Alford said in court documents that he believes making the statement mandatory is a violation of a lawyer’s freedom of expression, and, therefore, is unconstitutional.

“The core of this case is the limits of governmental power,” Alford told the Star in an interview. “Because once the Law Society enacts regulations backed by sanctions, it is acting as the government.”

He said he hopes the Law Society voluntarily suspends the statement requirement until a court can rule on its constitutionality.

How an article defending colonialism was ever published is a mystery roiling academia: Paradkar

One can only wonder:

If a social debate is based on fuzzy ideas accumulated from something read somewhere, sometime, an academically published view is the antithesis of it, based on rigorous research, citations and knowledge. Before being published, it is peer-reviewed, or tested for accuracy and integrity by someone with subject matter expertise.

This process is at the heart of a controversy roiling the academic community after the Third World Quarterly, a reputable British journal on global politics, published a piece earlier this month titled “The case for colonialism” by Bruce Gilley, a Princeton University Ph.D and Portland State University professor.

(Although “third world” is now considered a derogatory term, the 40-year-old journal’s name derived from the non-aligned movement of countries who did not want to support either side of the Cold War.)

In his article, Gilley says colonialism has been unjustly vilified, that it was legitimate and its “civilizing mission” was in fact beneficial. He also writes that it is time to re-colonize parts of the world and create “new Western colonies from scratch” because developing countries are failing at self-governance and anti-colonial ideology was harmful to native populations.

The reaction was explosive, targeted at both the article and the journal’s decision to publish it. A petition calling for the article’s retraction gathered more than 10,000 signatures. On Tuesday, roughly half of the journal’s 34 editorial board members resigned in protest.

Two researchers writing for a London School of Economics blog called the piece “a travesty, the academic equivalent of a Trump tweet, clickbait with footnotes.”

That it appeared in a respected journal devoted to anti-colonial politics, made it “the equivalent of a journal devoted to Holocaust studies publishing that the Holocaust didn’t happen,” according to Ilan Kapoor, a York University professor at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, who was one of the board members who quit.

The primary problem, though, revolved around whether the piece published under the label “Viewpoint” passed the scholarship test for publication.

“As with all articles in the journal, this Viewpoint did undergo double-blind peer review and was subsequently published,” said Shahid Qadir, editor-in-chief of the quarterly in a statement.

In a double-blind review, the author’s and reviewer’s identities are withheld from each other.

The editorial board members say they asked for but didn’t get copies of the review. They also say the article was not passed, but rejected by three reviewers. (Qadir did not respond to my requests for comment on this.)

“The piece in question was rejected by two peers who were editors of a special issue on ‘Whatever happened to the idea of imperialism?’ and then it was further rejected by another peer,” said Lisa Ann Richey, a scholar from Denmark currently at Duke University in the U.S.

“There was a remedy available last week — to retract the piece and apologize for the gross error — and this remedy was not implemented by the editor. After this disappointing outcome, the only option available for anyone sitting on the Board who wanted to stand for academic integrity was to resign.”

Kapoor said, “This discrepancy between what the editor has told us and what we have found is highly problematic.”.

Meanwhile, the piece is being torn apart by academics on factual grounds.

“Gilley says he is simply asking for an unbiased assessment of the facts, that he just wants us to take off our ideological blinders and examine colonialism from an empirical perspective,” writes Nathan Robinson in a scathing piece in Current Affairs.

“But this is not what he has done. Instead … (he has concealed) evidence of gross crimes against humanity.”

For instance, he omits any mention of the first 300 years of Western colonization because it’s “impossible to spin it,” as beneficial to native populations, says Robinson. Or he quotes a Congolese man saying, “Maybe the Belgians should come back” and entirely bypasses Belgian King Leopold’s reign of terror in the Congo that scandalized the world.

In the think tank Cato Institute’s blog, Sahar Khan gives five examples of how the piece is “empirically and historically inaccurate.”

For instance, “Gilley attributes the abolition of slave-trading to colonialism, which in addition to being ridiculous, is factually incorrect … Systematic decolonization and subsequent wars of independence eventually ended the slave trade.”

The unexplained publication of a piece that does not meet academic standards of quality should sound alarm bells for those of us outside the ivory towers, too.

The desire to appear even-handed under pressure from faux free-speech defenders has created a damaging false equivalency model in mainstream media, where the compulsion to get “the other side” means unfounded ideas are given the same weight as sound reasoning.

Despite the imperfections of academia, academically credited facts established with rigour, empirical evidence and scholarship remain a credible tool to fight climate change deniers, racism deniers, anti-vaxxers or any one floating in the universe of “alternative facts.”

Not condemning this attempt to Breitbart-ize academia will effectively wipe out the role of accountability in fact-gathering and remove any barriers to revisiting lasting atrocities of our past.

Source: How an article defending colonialism was ever published is a mystery roiling academia: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Islamophobia is not colour blind: Paradkar

Good commentary on the intersection between religious and ethnic/racist discrimination and useful reminder of the Runnymede Trust’s definition of Islamophobia:

This week, the House of Commons heritage committee enters the second phase of M-103, the motion to combat Islamophobia, and begins a study on systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada.

Its report card will hopefully contain two outcomes: Strategies to combat systemic racism, and a definition of Islamophobia that will place it in the context of Canadian laws as well as overall racism in the country.

For the latter, committee members would do well to examine a new paper out of Rice University in Texas titled, “The Racialization of Islam in the United States: Islamophobia, Hate Crimes, and ‘Flying while Brown.’ ”

“We often hear that because Muslims are not a race, people cannot be racist for attacking Muslims,” sociologist and study author Craig Considine is quoted saying in the University’s media statement. “This argument does not stack up. It is a simplistic way of thinking that overlooks the role that race plays in Islamophobic hate crimes.”

Islamophobia is not colour blind.

In the U.S., some 30 per cent of Muslims describe themselves as white, 23 per cent as Black, 21 per cent as Asian, 6 per cent as Hispanic, and 19 per cent as other or mixed race, according to the Pew Research Center in Washington.

Yet, nearly all Muslim racial or ethnic groups have higher odds of reporting one or more types of perceived discrimination than white Muslims, a 2016 study showed.

“Islamophobia does not belong in the realm of ‘rational’ criticism of Islam or Muslims; it is often discrimination against people who look different to the majority of U.S. citizens,” Considine says in the paper.

If “Driving While Black” is anti-Black racial profiling, “Flying While Brown” is anti-Muslim racial profiling leading to humiliating searches and detentions.

In any case, both are ineffectual at stopping crime or terrorism, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Canada has seen hate crimes against Muslims increase by 253 per cent in four years, according to a Statistics Canada report, with 45 crimes reported in 2012 and 159 in 2015.

I doubt the haters were religious scholars who had a rational critique of Islam.

Yet, attempting to condemn Islamophobia itself is seen as an attempt to stifle free speech and any criticism of the religion.

Casual anti-Islamic expressions are dotted with annoyance of visible religious markers such as head scarves on women, or an intangible fear of Sharia law, supposedly barrelling down on poor, unsuspecting us to blanket our society in darkness.

This fear that Muslims are conspiring to either destroy or dominate the West explains the hostile reception to M-103, which was a motion to speak out against discrimination.

This, although Liberal MP Iqra Khalid who brought forward the motion said quite clearly, “M-103 is not an attempt to create Sharia. I vow to oppose any law that threatens our multicultural society.”

The non-binding motion passed in March this year.

Reasonable people would shun the idea of violence against anyone based on their race or religious belief. But what is a fair critique of religion and what constitutes hate speech?

I see Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism against predominantly brown and black-skinned people but with an added edge. Not just of superiority but also the righteous anger of fending off a menacing culture incapable of compatibility with others. It’s the conflation of all Muslims with terrorists, or impatience with cultural practices, or anger against those seen as hailing from a backward culture incapable of debate within itself.

In its 1997 report “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All,” a British left-leaning think tank, The Runnymede Trust, defined Islamophobia as the unfounded and close-minded fear and/or hatred of Islam, Muslims or Islamic/Muslim culture.

It identified eight components of Islamophobia, one of which included seeing it as violent, threatening or supportive of terrorism. Another included viewing it as primitive or barbaric or sexist. Using anti-Muslim hostility to exclude or discriminate against Muslims was, of course, one of the components.

Stereotyping has a lot to do with this.

Considine found that out of more than 1,000 Hollywood films depicting Arabs, 932 negatively stereotyped them. For example, Arabs/Muslims were constructed as the ominous figure: “the bearded, dark-skinned, turban-wearing terrorist guided by perceived archaic religious practices.”

This would help explain why a dark-skinned, turban-wearing Sikh man such as NDP leadership hopeful Jagmeet Singh had to fend off a ranting Islamophobe at a campaign rally. Or why a Inderjit Singh Mukker, a 53-year-old Sikh taxi driver near Chicago was beaten and bruised by a man who called him “Bin Laden” and told him to go back to his own country.

You don’t have to be Muslim to be vilified. Just being Muslim-like is enough. This is textbook racialization.

Source: Islamophobia is not colour blind: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Conrad Black’s rubbish column on racism a fine example of white privilege: Paradkar

Appropriate takedown of Black’s earlier column (Conrad Black: Racism is dying, yet hateful people are still frequently accusing non-racists of it):

Many who never experience racism view it as a now shunned but once socially acceptable reality of a bygone era, kind of like smoking in the ’60s.

In line with that thinking, Black draws on history to say “most whites considered non-whites inferior, most Chinese considered non-Chinese inferior . . . I and a very large number of readers remember the murder of millions of Chinese and Cambodian and Vietnamese non-communists, and of Rwandans and Sudanese of a minority tribe or religion.”

This reduction of racism to “We all have prejudices,” springs from a half-baked understanding of the subject. It creates false equivalence between groups, just like Trump did with “all sides” at Charlottesville.

It results in ideas such as reverse racism — “racism against whites is acceptable,” Black says.

I’m not surprised when ordinary people shoot off such ideas in their emails to me. I am disappointed, however, when a rich white man with the privilege and authority to open minds instead normalizes ignorance.

All humans have prejudices and biases, of course they do. Humans discriminate. But racism isn’t just about human bias — it’s bias in the context of societal and historical power dynamics. It is also about supremacy, or the discrimination that is stitched into a socio-economic system that privileges one identity above others. In India, for instance, it benefits upper caste Hindus. In Singapore, it benefits Chinese. In Britain, it privileges men who attended private schools.

In North America and many parts of the world, thanks to colonialism, it benefits whites.

In my reading of them, serious newspapers no longer publish columns by men saying sexism is a relic of the past, or that glass ceilings are a feminist invention. Yet, such stories on racism by white people are allowed because delegitimizing progress on that front aligns with the interests of the existing racial hierarchy.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” said the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1857. “It never did and it never will.”

I understand when working-class whites chafe at the concept of white privilege. What privilege, if you’ve just lost a job and there are mouths to feed? I suspect some views would soften if they knew white privilege just means that in their exact same circumstance, a darker-skinned person is likely to be worse off.

But when rich white people deny racism, it suggests white power is threatened. They attempt to derail advances by dictating the terms of conversation.

Increasingly this is taking the form of discussions around, “Does racism exist?” It’s in their interest to keep everyone debating on square one rather than move on to, “What are we doing about it?”

Source: Conrad Black’s rubbish column on racism a fine example of white privilege: Paradkar | Toronto Star

NGOs tell UN panel Canada is failing on racism: Paradkar

Shree Paradkar reports on the NGO critique of Canada’s record in combatting racism (Debbie Douglas of OCASI, Avvy Go of the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, Shalini Konanur, of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario).

While their points are largely valid, they portray a completely bleak picture when surely the reality is more nuanced. This may be the nature of the process when their role is to prevent an alternative view to the more positive portrayal of the government response.

But it is surprising, given that all three are Ontario based, that they do not mention the province’s anti-racism strategy as an example that the federal government should emulate.

And surely, is the change of federal language towards diversity and inclusion, the increased diversity of appointments, and other policy initiatives of the current government not worthy of note, while allowing for criticism where needed?

Every day when I read news from around the world, I have occasion to feel thankful to be in Canada.

Yet, I was surprised this weekend to hear many Canadians, revolted by the events unfolding in Charlottesville, Va., say: At least we’re not as bad. In reality, our history, too, involves slavery, indentured labour, brutal oppression and colonization. Our country, too, has thriving right-wing extremism.

It’s not Canadian to be flashy and to shout out our deeds from the rooftops. The flip side of this modesty is, when history judges those actions to be misdeeds, we are able to dismiss them as trivial because they were not as glorified as they were down south.

The dismissal allows us to masks the past and ease our collective conscience.

It’s precisely a recognition of those past misdeeds, their present consequences and a reckoning of current laws that a group of prominent Canadian NGOs are seeking in Geneva Monday, when they ask a UN body to hold Canada’s feet to the fire for failing to keep its promises to end discrimination.

The Colour of Poverty — Colour of Change and its members are asking the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to recognize how Canada has “failed to comply with its international human rights obligations . . . and domestic human rights laws.”

“Racism is a matter of life and death,” for Indigenous peoples, their joint statement says, citing dismal socio-economic health indicators, suicides, murders and disappearances of thousands of people.

Both Indigenous and Black people are disproportionately poor and disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

“This is not the first time we brought this concern to the CERD committee, and yet very little has changed in more than a decade of our submitting shadow reports,” said Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI).

The NGOs are calling for a national action plan on racism for Canada that would commit to combating discrimination in hiring, and funding anti-racist organizations.

Chiefly, it is seeking the collection of “disaggregated” data across all government departments.

This kind of data collection that specifies identities such as race, gender or disability is the minimum Canada needs so it can measure the impact of its policies whether in health or housing or jobs.

How do you try to solve a problem when you can’t quantify it?

“For instance,” says Avvy Yao-Yao Go, clinic director at the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, “Under the Federal Employment Equity Act, the federal government has data on the representation of women, ‘visible minority,’ Indigenous peoples and people with disabilities in the federal public service.

“However, we do not know, for instance, of the “visible minority” categories, what are the percentages for people of African descent versus people of Chinese descent versus people of South Asian descent. Or under (the category of) women, how many are women of colour and from which communities.” [Comment: Actually we do from census data – see my Federal Employment Equity and Religious Minorities in the Public Service)]

Or, take Canada’s immigration law that allows people detained for immigration purposes to be detained indefinitely. More than 6,000 people were held in 2016-17, the agencies say, although more than 90 per cent of them were not considered a security threat.

“We recently participated in a case in federal court that sought to challenge indefinite detention,” says Shalini Konanur, executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

“During that case we spoke with several detainees, and the vast majority were racialized. Currently, there is no race-based data being collected about detainees but we know anecdotally that racialized persons in Canada are disproportionately impacted by indefinite detention.”

The NGOs also want the federal and provincial government to remove barriers to the recognition of international training, and to amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to stop discrimination based on police data.

They are drawing attention to domestic laws that discriminate against specific groups.

In addition to immigrant detainees affected by law, migrant farm workers and caregivers such as nannies — the majority of whom are people of colour — are also vulnerable.

Migrant agricultural workers do not have access to permanent resident status. As for caregivers, their once guaranteed pathway to permanent residence was revoked in 2014.

Both groups have their work permit tied to a specific employer leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

“While migrant workers contribute to social entitlement programs in Canada, their temporary status largely precludes them from accessing these programs,” said Amy Casipullai, an OCASI staffer.

The UN committee is expected to release its review on Aug. 25.

Source: NGOs tell UN panel Canada is failing on racism: Paradkar | Toronto Star

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?

Very.

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