Tag Archives: racism

Racism at Halloween

24 Oct

I am appalled that this needs to be explained, but taking a stereotype of a different culture or race and then dressing up as it for Halloween or a party is unacceptable. It is racist.

I saw this post on Buzzfeed the other day about a woman in Australia who had an “African” themed party – and her guests came dressed as animals, in “tribal” prints and in blackface – someone even came as a KKK member! Then the host posted an “apology” on Tumblr, saying that ” this was to celebrate the amazing country and people.”

After I got over my incredulity at all the glaring racism, I wanted to scream (for the second time this week) “Africa is NOT a country!” My Facebook friend posted a great link to her page the other day, about a campaign students in Ohio were running. The campaign We’re a Culture, not a Costume was run in 2011 with the tagline “This is NOT who I am, and this is NOT okay,” and in 2012 with the tagline “You wear the costume for ONE night, I wear the stigma for LIFE.” Each poster features the picture of a student as well as a picture of someone dressed as a stereotype from their culture or race.

It is a brilliant and powerful campaign, that is obviously necessary, because below is the thread of comments on my friend’s page. Pay special attention to the comments made by Red (I have colour-blocked everyone’s pictures and names for their privacy).

FacebookRacism

I honestly can’t believe the level of racism and ignorance that still exists in our society. It is abhorrent and unacceptable.

With Halloween approaching, I ask all my friends, family and readers to think about the costumes you wear, to call others out for the behaviour, and to spread the message of We’re a Culture, Not a Costume.

Ethiopian New Years

23 Sep

First things first: for those of you that don’t know, Ethiopia has its own calendar. The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months (12 of 30 days each, and 1 with either 5 or 6 days, depending on if it is a leap year or not). The calender is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar, because of different calculations of the date of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus. So, this year on September 11 we celebrated the coming of year 2006.

Since New Years Day fell on a Wednesday, and Wednesday is a fasting day for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians (they eat entirely vegan on fasting days), the real celebration for many was on Thursday. My neighbours invited me to their home to eat with them on this day. For any of you that have ever been in a foreign country or alone for a holiday, you understand how special it is when a family opens their home to you on special holidays.

As a thanks (and with the knowledge to never show up empty-handed) for hosting, I brought a card, a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses for the family. They were very excited to have me, and as soon as I came in they sat me down and served me popcorn and tella (sort of like a home-made sweet beer). Then they brought me a Fanta.  Then a glass of wine. Then came the food – so much food!!

The typical New Years dish is called doro wot (doro meaning chicken and wot meaning sauce) and it is so delicious – especially when it is homemade by an amazing Ethiopian woman. Then there was the lamb. Then two different goat dishes. All served with a huge amount of injera. The doro wot was fantastic, but by the end I had had wayyyy too much meat. Ethiopians are very hospitable and want you to be full and satisfied, so my hosts kept piling the food on me. By the end, I thought that if I had even one more bite of goat then I would be sick – thankfully that didn’t happen.

And just when I thought I had consumed all I could possibly consume, they brought out cake and started a coffee ceremony! So, after three cups of coffee (the proper amount for a coffee ceremony), I got to really talking to my hosts. Honey, a nine-year old girl, was the one who first took a liking to me and invited me over. Honey has two older sisters (17 and 20) and an older brother, although I did not get his age. Her father works as a taxi driver and her mother works at home. Her 17 year-old sister, Madina, spoke the best English and her and I get along very well. After a while we got onto the topic of football (it is very exciting that Ethiopia has made it to the next round of the world cup qualifiers). We were talking about the players, and I asked Honey who her favourite was, and this is where the conversation got interesting.

Honey said, or rather yelled, “All the Ethiopian players! Just not the Africans, I hate Africans!” (Side note: many Ethiopians do not identify as African, and are proud to be Habesha as a separate identity.) Madina looked shocked and embarrassed, and I don’t think her parents understood. So I asked Honey why she said that, and she said because she only liked Ethiopians. So obviously my next question was “But I’m not Ethiopian and we’re friends.”

And she said, “Yes, because you are nice.”

I said, “So what if you meet an African and she is nice?”

“Then I would love her, but if she is bad then I will hate her.”

“So Honey, why don’t you do the same with everyone you meet? When you know them then you can know if they are nice or not.”

We ended up talking in circles for a while, with Madina trying to explain in Amharic what I was saying. In the end, we got her to agree that the heart is more important than skin, so hopefully we got through to her. I don’t think I entirely convinced her though. Madina seems like a really great role model for her, so hopefully she continues to learn from her big sister. I hope that I can find another way to talk to her about this, although it is already a difficult topic for a 9-year old, even without language barriers.

After all this it was getting quite late, so I said my thanks and goodbyes.

It was a memorable evening and I am so thankful to have amazing neighbours that welcome me into their homes.

Happy 2006 everyone!

More Than Just a White Girl

28 Aug

I had a really hurtful incident happen to me Saturday. I process things and organize my thoughts best when I write them down, so I decided to write about it. I was unsure about whether or not I wanted to publish this, but a friend of mine told me that I write about hard things well and it is an important topic, so I have decided to share it.

One of my closest Ethiopian friends sent me this text message Saturday evening:

“Sorry Kyla, I can’t see you anymore because I don’t want to hang out with white girls for next eight months.”

My heart jumped to my throat and I immediately started to cry. For those of you that know me personally, you know that I do not cry often or easily, but I just couldn’t even process those words when I read them.

When living abroad it can be hard to find new friends, especially friends with whom you can be completely comfortable. This is especially true since sometimes there is the opposite of this text message – there are some who befriend foreigners because of perceived status. But I truly thought that I had found a good, genuine friend who liked me for me. We would spend lots of time together, he understood my sense of humour and he would even call me for support when he was having troubles in his personal life.

I am flawed, but I do think that I am a good person and a good friend – and I am DEFINITELY more than my skin colour or my gender. I am more than just a “white girl” and like everyone else, I have a dynamic and unique personality. There are definitely reasons why some people won’t like me. Don’t like me because I’m super sarcastic, or because you hate my politics, or because I tend to talk a lot and sometimes overshare; I’m a big girl  woman and I can handle (and even expect) that.

But I try very hard to educate myself about issues of gender, race, and other types of discrimination, and try even harder to only judge people on their ideas, their actions and the way they treat others. To have someone I care about tell me they don’t want to hang out with me anymore because I am a “white girl” was one of the most hurtful things anyone has ever said.

I am hesitant to call it racism, but I don’t know what else to call it. I am a firm believer in not blaming the oppressed for their oppression (e.g. not blaming women for a system of patriarchy), but the truth is that I personally experience prejudice every day here for being a “white girl.” Sometimes it works in my favour (such as security not being suspicious of me in the supermarket) and sometimes it makes my life more difficult (such as being yelled at on the streets and being given unfair prices). But these are all things I take in stride from strangers that only know me as a “white girl.” My friend knew my personality, my goals, my humour and my secrets, yet still chose to exclude me from his life because I am a “white girl.” It hurts my heart.

There is a chance that the man that said this to me will read this and I hope he does. After I received that message I asked him to explain but he did not reply. He wouldn’t take any of my calls. But he should know how he made me feel.

I am confident in myself and I know that I am more than what he sees. If he can’t see that then I feel sorry for him because he is missing out on some really great people by excluding all “white girls” from his life.

Forgiveness has been the hardest lesson that my faith has taught me, and I am struggling with it now. The wounds are little too raw for me to forgive right now, but I will forgive him. I will forgive him and I hope he finds the strength to apologize to me and to overcome his prejudice.

How to be an Ally

31 Jul

I am a female feminist. I am also white, heterosexual and cis (my gender matches the sex I was assigned at birth), and I recognize the privileges that come with those attributes – not to mention being from a middle-class Canadian family. I strive to be an ally for people of the LQBTQQ community and for people of colour, and navigating the best way to do that can at times be difficult. Michael Urbina wrote a fantastic article titled 101 Everyday Ways for Men to be Allies to Women. I recommend reading the article in its entirety, especially for my male readers, but I am going to highlight some of my favourite points that I think are applicable to anyone who wants to be an ally to women, people of colour, and the LGBTQQ community. I added some personal comments in italics.

  • Recognize your privileges, especially your male privilege (and white privilege if applicable).
  • Make a daily effort to acknowledge and then challenge your privilege.
  • Recognize that your male privilege (among other privileges) may in fact blind you to others’ experiences.
  • Stop catcalling. Seriously, just stop! 
  • If you’re going to be chivalrous (on dates) or in everyday life, do it for everyone out of kindness, not just for women or people you think are not capable of doing things themselves. Also known as: be a kind and respectful person.
  • Monitor your use of words.
  • Never force your opinions on other people.
  • Be conscious of your words and the effects it could have on others.
  • Be pro-choice.
  • Acknowledge the lived experiences of women and LGBT-identified people. (And I will add people of colour to this).
  • Support same-sex marriage. Given.
  • Challenge everyday sexism in your life.
  • Call out your friends on oppressive behaviors, jokes, or comments. This can be difficult; I cannot count the amount of times I have argued with my brothers over their usage of “That’s so gay.” This can especially be difficult if safety is at risk. Last weekend a white male called my black friend a n*gger at the club very quietly and I called him out not at all quietly – it nearly ended in a brawl. 
  • Support musicians and artists that do not degrade women (or others) in their music and lyrics. – Have you read the lyrics or seen the video for Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines?! 
  • Claim the feminist label. Read my post about why this is important here
  • Don’t be the hero, savior, or knight in shining armor. Allyship isn’t about rescuing people from their oppressors, as if they couldn’t do it on their own. Allyship is about standing in solidarity and working together to collectively tackle a social problem.
  • Support other people who advocate for gender equality (and all forms of equality).
  • Be willing to listen and know when to refer people to other resources.
  • Be an active bystander. If you witness harassment, do something about it.
  • Learn and use appropriate vocabulary.
  • Advocate for more inclusive policies, rules, or procedures in your school or workplace.
  • Be proud to be an ally.
  • Seek out children’s books for your kids that challenge traditional gender roles. (My amazing mother read The Paper Bag Princess to me soooo many times, and my wonderful self-identified feminist father was always there to act it out with me! For other titles, go here.)
  • Challenge entitlement (read my previous blog post and personal experience about this here.)
  • This might go without saying, but be conscious of other social problems and issues! All oppression is connected.
  • Support and vote for political candidates who advocate policies beneficial to women, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups of people.
  • Travel to unfamiliar places.
  • Ask questions (but not too many)!

What are your thoughts on being an ally? What other ways can someone be an ally?

Guessing Game

26 Feb

Here in Ghanzi, there are many churches. One of the denominations, the Dutch Reformed Church, has two churches with two separate congregations. In fact, they are about a two minute walk from each other.

One of them is known as “the white church” and delivers services in Afrikaans to a predominantly white congregation. The other is known as “the black church” and delivers services in Setswana to a predominantly black congregation.

Here are their pictures. Can you guess which one is which?

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Injustice in the Justice System

26 Mar

Injustice in the Justice System

(Picture Source: Wanda Ratliff, Americans Against the Tea Party)

I love this picture. The top image refers to the misinformed idea that some girls and women invite rape by how they dress. A series of SlutWalks began across North America in response to comments from a Toronto police officer. Michael Sanguinetti, when speaking to Osgoode Hall Law School, said: “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” This comment was digusting, and women all over Canada and the U.S. spoke out.

But now let’s talk about Trayvon Martin. One month ago, 17 year old Trayvon Martin (140 lbs.) was walking through the Orlando, Florida gated community in which his father lived. 28 year old George Zimmerman (240 lbs.) (Head of the Neighbourhood Watch) saw the young black man in a hoodie, and called the police, saying that there was a “suspicious person” in the gated community. The police said that they were sending someone to investigate, and not to act. George Zimmerman followed, shot and killed Trayvon.

When police arrived at the scene, Zimmerman claimed self-defence. Trayvon was unarmed, and had a bag of Skittles and iced tea in his pocket. Trayvon had grass on his back, which was damp. There are many conflicting witness statements, including one who claims that the police tried to coerce her to change her statement to Zimmerman’s favour. Another said that she was cut off by the police when trying to provide details of what she had witnessed.

Other inappropriate and unprofessional police conduct:

– A narcotics detective, not a homicide detective first approached Zimmerman

– From inside the police department: “The detective peppered Zimmerman with questions, rather than allow Zimmerman to tell his story. Questions can lead a witness.

– There is no evidence of self-defence, there is simply a lack of evidence to prove that there wasn’t elf-defense

– Under the law, self-defence has to be proportional

There are evidently many police officers out there who are fantastic at their job, and this should not undermine that. But all of this shows the ineptness and the racism of the police involved in this investigation.
Online talk show host, Cenk Uyger (The Young Turks – awesome program, you should all watch) asks a question: “If a black man had shot an unarmed white man, would the shooter be arrested?” I think hell yes, not even a question. Trayvon was shot because he was black. Zimmerman hasn’t been arrested because he is white. It is occasions like this that perpetuate fear and discrimination.

Zimmerman has still not been arrested. The state has taken over the case, which is a positive sign. Go to http://www.change.org/petitions/prosecute-the-killer-of-our-son-17-year-old-trayvon-martin and demand the arrest of George Zimmerman.

And on a side note – why on earth does Neighbourhood Watch have a gun?! Keep a watch on Harper to make sure our gun laws don’t turn into the flexible laws in the US.