White Hands

Content Warning:

This piece includes description and discussion of sexual violence and abuse, which includes racialized sexualized violence (sexual violence + racism) and ongoing trauma. This is deeply personal and something I have chosen to not speak about until recently. 

I still tremble,

Feeling your  hands stroke

The softness of my inner thigh

Colonizing my young, brown body

For your own

 

I still tremble,

The memory of undressing, coxing

Your bright eyes taunt me

– you don’t want to end up alone –

I still tremble at the familiarity of

the words you spoke

Your white mouth hot with rage

I shut my eyes

 

I still tremble,

When i remember the way you stole from me

My deepest love

Reserved for myself, my ancestors dreams

 

Letting these white hands trace the lines of my skin

Skin that holds the stories of my ancestors

Hands that hold us down

With the kind of violence that comes disguised as love

 

Love that is dangerous

– An exotic obsession –

Love that tells me i can’t come inside, your mother is home

Love that tells me I will never be an equal cause

 

We – brown skin, hair that catches in your fingers –  

are built for

– Fucking –

Not loving

– Owning –

Not holding

 

I still tremble when a white man moves too close –

His existence a threat and a memory

I still feel your hot breath:

– be quiet –

I still feel your strong hands:

– be still –

I still feel your body move in me:

– you n****r bitches love it –

 

September 9th 2018

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On Grief

May 3 2018

it washed over me like a wave

only a child when I felt something bloom inside me

lacking the joy and colour of childhood

it was hard and empty in its birth

 

this seed of grief grew

it sprouted the first time a man laid his hands on me

it pushed through the surface by the tenth – or twentieth –

time fists made contact with my skin

 

its tender leaves blossomed and flourished within me

as i starved my body

and closed my heart

it grew – unruly – constricting the little bit of myself i had left

 

the rest of my faith died with a woman who fed me life

6:34am: i knew before i called

this grief would consume me

no longer a seed, it is rooted deeply in me

 

i made my home in these roots

laid my life at the base

let the poison seep in my bones

and travel through my blood

 

I hold this grief tighter, closer

closer than joy

closer than love

closer than the living

The Dark Side of Healthy

 

CN: anorexia, disordered thoughts, diets, exercise.

 

I recently read an article by activist and writer Virgie Tovar called “(Re)Discovering My Love of Food After Dieting” (link), it’s short and emotive and captures the importance of unlearning diet culture and embracing bodies, food and pleasure in radical and liberating way.

 

I saw much of my own experience and that of my peers in Tover’s journey to find pleasure in food and eating. My research involves food (agriculture), I worked in food justice and the food service industry, I have a foodie instagram. I find baking relaxing and believe in the connective power of food and community. I just don’t enjoy eating. This is not a natural part of my personality (despite my insistence to myself and others for too many years). My thoughts around my own consumption of food are nothing but disordered:

 

How many calories is this?”

“When can I leave this dinner to go work out?”

 

“If I had X yesterday can I have X again today?”

 

“Is this healthy?”

 

I have cycled through many eating disorder behaviours but they have all been based on restriction. Whether that meant eliminating an entire food group, only choosing foods I considered “healthy” or under the banner of  “clean eating”, fad diets or excessive exercise, denying myself food and pleasure in that food has been ceaseless component of my eating disorder since I was around 12 years old.

 

This is not say that I have never enjoyed food or eating, I have had moments of enjoyment that are mere seconds or might last a day or two where I can enjoy the experience of eating, but those moments still exist within a rigid set of rules that define what is of “good” and “bad”. What is good or bad has changed and evolved throughout my disorder. These changes have been influenced by personal experience, diet culture, friends, family, and different treatment programs. When I am very sick, what is considered good is a short and sad looking list, when I’m better, it grows along with my capacity to experience other joys of life.  Yet, I have not be able to move beyond the boundaries that my disorder has built. This is not health. I may not be as sick as I once was, however, the insidiousness of anorexia still lurks in my thoughts and actions.

 

Being healthy is great, but it is not a possibility for everyone. Chronic illness, socioeconomic status, environmental factors and genetics all play a role in health. Unfortunately, we tend to moralize health and bodies in ways that are incredibly harmful. Health is associated with thinness, whiteness, being able-bodied, wealthy (comparatively) and cis. Health is seen as something to be achieved through hard work, but it is often not something we can control, and being healthy is so much more than what fits into these narrow binaries.

 

Fat people are healthy. Disabled people are healthy. People of colour are healthy. Queer and trans people are healthy. How we define health beyond survival is shaped by social relations of power and how we validate knowledge of bodies, health and care. The dominant narrative of what is healthy and what bodies should look like has been shaped by white supremacy. Our medical system has made the advancements it has through horrific levels of dehumanization and cruelty towards black people. This legacy still affects how bodies of colour are treated (and not treated) in the healthcare system.

 

Health is important and  the resources to be as healthy as we can be should be accessible to everyone, however,  none of this should translate to one’s health does not defining their worth. Unhealthy people – whether they have made choices that led to health problems or not – are just as valuable as healthy individuals. The idea that health = worth is something we first have to challenge in ourselves and then recognize that our positionality and experience may have benefited us in ways that others have not been excluded from. I am a thin, able-bodied, cis woman. This gives me greater access to resources. This means that I am not charged extra when flying and strangers generally don’t express their “concern” about my health. We must recognize that we live in a fat-phobic society and those of us who are not fat (even if we feel fat!) need to be in solidarity with fats folks who bear the brunt of body shaming.

 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, but it is important to ask ourselves where this motivation comes from and how we define what health is. Does health = thinness? That is not only inaccurate, but can lead to other, perhaps more severe , health issues.

 

The obsessive drive I feel to be fit into a eurocentric version of healthy, has contribute to serious health effects of anorexia, both mentally and physically. As it has for many others who suffer from anorexia, bulimia and other forms of disordered eating. Healthy is different for everyone and changes as we move through life. Rigidity around health and bodies is not in line with nature. Nature is complex and does not suit the binaries we place on ourselves and each other. In order to be truly healthy, we must accept the complexities of bodies and experiences.

 

Tover closes her article by saying, “I can’t opt out of this culture, but each time that I choose what I want I know I’m one step closer to the freedom I crave.” I am in the process of unlearning the ideas on health and bodies that have kept me from moving closer freedom and liberation. To learn to feel joy and pleasure when we – especially as people of colour – are told that we are undeserving of this or that denying this pleasure will lead to a greater pay off, is not a simple task. It takes time, commitment and all the gentleness that we denied ourselves for so long.

l o n g i n g

I feel a longing for home so deeply in my centre

It’s like fire burning through deep winter ice

I have not been

 

h o m e

 

I do not know – h o m e

 

I move desperately

reaching reaching

I move across oceans in my mind

never reaching the shores of –  

 

          so

 

I go back –

I stay a little later

work a little harder

move towards h o m e

melt my centre

 

and

 

                    hope

 

I am moving towards something

that tastes familiar

 

and

                                     sweet

 

my words drip out my mouth

not fully formed

rich with desire

 

                                                  longing

 

for something i can’t name

can’t yet touch

 

fear chills me

desire melts me

I am open and –  

 

                                                                        ready

 

Nothing tastes as good as [whiteness] feels

I haven’t written in a long time, mostly because being in grad school has turned any part of my brain not used for course and thesis work into a foggy mush. The other, smaller, but perhaps more meaningful reason, is that the things I want to write about are hard to discuss. This mirrors most of my life right now and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Discomfort can be motivating, it tells us that we need to take action or risk sinking deeper into this discomfort. It is also ok to be a little uncomfortable, it forces us to ask why this discomfort is present.

“Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels” and this became a mantra of self-hate for myself  and many others. I repeated this for years as my identity became wrapped in my eating disorder. After my first stint in treatment/recovery, I began to move beyond an outward obsession with thinness but still remained desperate for all it represented.

Five years later, I am more comfortable in my identity as a multiracial women of colour. I’m more comfortable in my own skin and know how to speak with my body and soul in ways I was unable to before. The work I have put into myself in the last year and a half has never been simple or easy, yet it has allowed me to see more clearly how my own trauma manifests as well as how systemic racism and sexism serve to harm people of colour on a broader scale.

Yet, here I am: losing my centre on my yoga mat, distracted by the thin white bodies that surround me. Thinness – and whiteness – represented all the things I have wanted and could never have. Acceptance, stability, success. I am loved, I have achieved things, my life is pretty chill overall. But I will never achieve whiteness. No matter how little I eat or how much I exercise, I will never reach whiteness.

I spent ten months in an eating disorder clinic and will be forever grateful that I was able to access healthcare in the ways i have been. However, with an all white staff and all the other clients being white, I felt alone in both my illness and efforts for healing. One of the programs at the clinic is to eat meals in a group, and after breakfast one day we were checking in and it came to be my turn. I shared that I was having rough morning because a man on the bus kept asking me where I was from and told me how much he liked exotic women. The women at the table easily understood the fear and discomfort that comes with a strange man approaching you on the bus, however, they (all but two) became to assure me that my “exotic” looks were actually a plus, that this was a compliment, albeit from a creepy source. As good as their intentions were, I felt utterly alone. How could I heal from the subtle racism that permeated my life when I was attempting this recovering in a place the recreating similar experiences?

So where do we go from here? The majority of my non-school work revolves around creating spaces of healing and care and I am still unsure what that looks like in the context of eating disorder recovery. I know that attempting to recover from this eating disorder on my own is not only pointless, but often dangerous. How then, do we improve mental health care for POC? What does healing from the trauma of colonialism and racism look like?

I don’t have these answers and I don’t know if I will find the ones I am looking for. I do know that working towards releasing myself from the trappings of whiteness will lead towards something that is better, something that brings more wholeness and acceptance.

Good White People

What happens when your white friends or family says or does something racist? How do we cope when someone we love excuses or condones racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic rhetoric and actions? If you’re a person of colour existing in our current world, you have probably experienced this. I have white family members, my best friends are white, I have fallen in love with white people. Most of them, at one point or another, have said or done something hurtful. It often comes from being ignorant or so unaware of their place in life that the comment or action doesn’t appear harmful to them. I had brushed this off as a part of life, something I would have to contend with. As a light skin, relatively privileged WOC, I figured I don’t have a right to complain. My thoughts around this have changed as the climate of racism and white supremacy intensifies. Recently, a POC pal mentioned how hurt they were that their white friends were not empathetic towards them when they experienced racism. At times, they were argumentative and refused to believe that things could be “that bad”. It’s often easier to see things when it’s not happening to you. I hated seeing a person I care about hurt, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how common this experience is. Recent events have reignited a local conversation on racism and white silence/violence. We, as poc, are all too aware that racism is a systemic and insidious problem.

These are not new conversations for us. Every time, something happens, whether it’s in the news cycle or something closer to home, I see and hear white folks coming out with, “It’s [insert year], I can’t believe this is still happening!” or how the perpetrator(s) of said racism are sick individuals, filled with some unknown source of hate. These good white folks are confused. They are scared and they feel helpless. If this is you, your feelings are valid, but your surprise and lack of awareness of your complicity needs to end. POC are not surprised, this is not new to us. We also know that this isn’t a problem with one individual. Racism is systemic issue, it is built into our institutions and structures. individuals may act, but the rhetoric, stereotypes and reasoning behind their actions are deeply rooted in structures of white supremacy.

The majority of the white people I know are Good White People™. They are proudly call themselves allies, they attend anti-racist events, they post on social media, they might even attend a protest or work to call out the ‘bad’ white people in their lives, i.e. ones that are openly racist. Good White People™ pride themselves on being part of the struggle, they love having POC friends, they like Solange over Beyonce, they are the best ally, they ask a lot of questions during Q&A’s at racial justice events, they are not racist. Good White People™ may also be your parent, your best friend, your lover. They genuinely love you. They don’t want you to experience the pain racism and discrimination causes. At the same time, they stumble over their words when you gently point out that maybe, just maybe, they could do more. Good White People™ get just a little bit upset when you start celebrating your ancestral magic, they prickle when you call them out, their silence is is palpable when racism happens in your community. They post 7x a day about racism in the US, but their feed is empty when it comes to the racism happening at the local bar or on campus or in their own home. Good White People™ want racial justice – as long as it doesn’t disturb their status quo. They want to see the end of discriminatory policing practices, they want to see more WOC in leadership roles, they advocate for a vague kind of Reconciliation. They don’t want to confront their own racism, those deep internal thoughts that are inescapable in a white supremacist society, they do not want to give up their 10 minutes at the Q&A, they still want to point about that “all women are beautiful y’know, not just woc” every time we uplift our sisters, they are reading this blog post thinking about all the other white people they know that fit this description, but not them, because they really are a Good White Person™

This is not to say there is no way to unlearn this or that their is not a place for them (you) in the struggle, but it takes work. Hard, uncomfortable, on-going work. POC have been doing this work, we need to unlearn internalized racism. We learn at young ages how to deal with racism with a smile on our face because it may not be safe to respond. We are here, resisting by simply existing. We are doing the work and we don’t need allies, we need accomplices. We need white folks to put their whiteness on the line and take the risk to share their power and privilege. The understanding that achieving liberation for POC means white people losing power is rooted in white supremacist notions of power. That is to say that, to achieve liberation, we need to shift our understanding of what power means, how we organize our communities and how we share power and responsibility in relationship. This is an ongoing conversation that is made harder when so-called allies take over spaces of activism and cloud the vision of true liberation with neo-liberal, neo-colonial concepts of “diversity” and “multiculturalism”.

I understand this is daunting. Challenging your own racism and prejudice is scary, but is it worth avoiding and staying complicity in white supremacy? Being a Good White Person™ is often an important phase of ‘getting there’. We can’t expect ourselves or those around us to wake up one day, fully released of any racist notions, that is unrealistic given the society we live in. I do expect myself and others to commit to unlearning. I expect the white people around – if they want to continue to be Good White People™ or “allies” or whatever – to confront their racism in a humble and open way.

So if you have read this whole thing, and still think it’s not about you, it’s probably about you.

If you read this and think it is about you, you already completed the first tiny step. Educate yourself, don’t ask POC to do the work for you. Be patient with yourself, learning and unlearning takes time, but hey, at least you’re moving forward.

On Yoga, Resistance and Letting Go

Content Note: Eating disorders, racism, harassment, objectification 

I don’t want to write this post. I have been turning the words over in my mind for two months, I have been holding these message deep in my body. I Sharing my struggles with anorexia, sharing my anger and frustration at social oppressions and whatever else I feel a pull to write about has helped me explore my own thoughts and reduce the self-imposed isolation that my eating disorder brings. I am writing a workshop on yoga and decolonial healing for a conference by and for women of colour, I’m also facilitating this workshop in a week at another event, so I should probably finish it, but before I can do that, I need to need to write these words.

 

I started casually practicing yoga midway through my undergrad, mostly through home practice and the occasional free class. As someone living with chronic pain, yoga was the go-to suggestion of health practitioners, and as annoying as that is, it has been a great coping mechanism for me. Yoga hasn’t taken away my chronic pain, but offers arguably more significant healing.

 

I was trying to remember a time where my body felt like it was consistently mine. Sure, I have had moments: making the decision to move out east, and 1,421km away from toxic relationships, the first time I went more than a month without purging or restricting, breaking up with a long-term love. My body has been exoticfied, objectified, controlled, shamed for being, but when has it been mine? My experiences are unique to me, but in no way unusual. Countless women will tell you how their first experience of a man objectifying and harassing them was when they were around 11 or 12. Thousands of people, of all genders, struggle with eating disorders, and pretty much every person of colour has felt othered and often exotified.

 

I recently realized how tired I am of explaining the colonial histories and diasporas that allow for my existence. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me in those moments. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me when men stand too close on the bus or a professional meeting ends when a hand on my lower back. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me because we live in a world that has consistently confirms this.

 

Since I was 13 years old, I have attempted to take control of my body back by destroying it, by trying to become invisible enough to fend off unwanted words and touch, to erase myself into whiteness. My eating disorder became a safe haven. My mother wanted me to eat pasta during the same time I was being told my anger was unwarranted (and unattractive), refusing dinner became my resistance. I destroyed myself as a form of misguided resistance. Women refusing to eat dates back centuries and is often connected religious sacrifice – the woman who is free from needs and wants is the most holy. My resistance was just what our patriarchal and white supremacist society demands of women. I detach from my body as a mode of survival. I stopped having desires because my desires to be heard were too much ™ I am still figuring out how to accept that being too much ™ is exactly what I should be.

 

Almost a decade after my eating disorder began, I started doing yoga. However, it wasn’t until my roommate invited me to try hot yoga with her that I truly began to connect with yoga, my inner self and finally my body. I lay on my mat after my first class feeling sweaty and giddy. I survived an hour long class in a hot room surrounded by strangers while wearing half the amount of clothes I normally do. I was thrilled, I was proud. I felt a little high. I joined the studio the next day and began a journey towards my body.

 

Eventually, as my body got stronger, I could move through asanas with ease and have fun trying (and falling out of) new poses. I lie on my mat before class and wait as the anxieties of my day slip away. I take a few cleansing breaths and take back my body and mind. I am not thinking of the dissatisfaction with my body (ok,sometimes I still am, but that’s why I’m doing all of this), I’m not thinking of body as the exoctic other, or as on inconvience,I am not thinking of my career or debt or anything but keeping my breath and settling into my body – as a whole, as mine.

 

Some of my teachers read a quote or tell a story at the end of the class, as their words float through the now quiet room, I lay on my mat and let them wash over me. I chose to come to my mat, I made choices in my body that felt right, I let myself breathe, and began to connect my body and mind. I have found the concept of decolonization confusing; I understand it on a political level, but when I would hear activists talk about decolonizing the self, I felt lost. It wasn’t until I surrendered myself to my practice that I began to understand. As I write this workshop, I realize that my work to decolonize my self will be ongoing, because the act of colonization is ongoing.
We speak of colonization, racism, and even sexism as things of the past. We’re colourblind now. The Canadian government pretends that their colonization of Indigenous peoples has ended. Women have jobs or something so we don’t need feminism. We speak of our body and mind in similarly disconnected terms. We were asked to write a letter to our body as part of my treatment program, I was viscerally uncomfortable for many reasons, but when I moved from “You” (my body) and “I” (my mind) to “We” (body/mind/soul), I felt as if I could breathe again, the lump in my throat grew smaller and I began to write. This is what we do when we practice yoga, this is what happens when we listen to the wisdom of our ancestors. This is where the healing begins.

The Fall of ‘Great’ Men

Yesterday, I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed and noticed an article on Bikram Choudhury – founder of a self-named hot yoga method and all-around creep. Choudhury recently paid about over $7 million US to  Minakshi “Miki” Jafa-Bodden, who was wrongfully terminated after refusing to cover up the a rape committed by Choudhury. Jafa-Bodden was also sexually harassed by Choudhury and six other women have bravely come forward to accuse Choudhury of sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, Choudhury maintains his innocence. He also claims this lawsuit and another recent loss are sending him into bankruptcy. 2017 is only 4 days old and is already killin’ it.


As some of you may have noticed, American Apparel stores are shuttering their doors. Big signs waved by AA employees stating their American-made clothing is 50-80% off. I have always found AA clothing to be well-made and appreciate the fact that their factory workers are unionized and paid a living wage. It’s a shame that their founder, Dov Charney is a grade A(A) Creep™. Charney is no longer with American Apparel, but his legacy of sexual harassment poisoned the company. Of course, economic downturn and the fickleness of consumers may have something to do with AA’s downfall, but I like to think that Charney’s misdeeds and the implicit support of those around him in the company, contributed to the end of American Apparel. Of course, it is not Charney who will suffer the most loss, he moved on to another company and is probably still just as much of a pervert as before*. Those who will suffer  are the workers; AA’s intellectual property has been bought by another apparel company, Gilden Athletics,  and there is talk of moving the factory out of the US. The loss of skilled jobs and fair wages won’t hurt Charney. His misogynistic words and act will continue to haunt those around him as he prances (naked) on to his next business venture.

 

Charney and Choudhury may bounce back financially, but their wallets and reputations still took a hit. Prison sentences have been upheld as the ultimate justice for abusers and rapists, but it is so rare and does little to rehabilitate offenders, justice in the legal system seems mythical.

 

These two pieces of news may seem like hollow victories, as both these men will be able to walk free and start business’ and continue their lives trauma-free, but it also shows we are slowly learning to believe women. The women that came forward in both cases are incredibly brave, they stood up to public scrutiny, teams of lawyers, and their abusers. There are many forms of justice and healing that do not involve criminal courts, and the fall of great men is one of them.

 

As we move forward in 2017, we will no doubt continue to see ‘great’ men rise and fall. One of them is president-elect Donald Trump, who has publically admitted to sexual assault and has many, many accusers. Trump will become the next U.S. President on January 20th, 2017. His rise to power, despite rampant sexism, xenophobia, racism and implicit support of white supremacists, is a prime example of how far we still have to go. Our work is far from over, but the fall of Charney and Choudrey offer glimmers of hope for those working to end gender-based violence as well as survivors/victims themselves.

 

Money can buy freedom for many perpetrators, but there are rare (but ever increasing) instances of justice. Your paper got you this far, but you can’t buy your way out of your fall from grace. In 2017, let’s celebrate the fall of so-called great men and the rise of justice.

 

* I have no proof of this, don’t sue me.

 

Sources:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/bikram-yoga-lawsuit-1.3421547

https://www.thestar.com/business/2017/01/10/montreal-based-gildan-activewear-will-pay-88m-to-buy-american-apparel-brand.html

To the dude to told me to chill

First off, boy BYE

Your sad little lines reveal more than a lack of game

Don’t worry, I see your fragile

masculinity

I won’t punish you any further with my magic and grace

I won’t make you sit across from a queen,

while you desperately try to think of ways to cut down

women made of stars.

I’m too high for you, boy.

I’m a chill right here, boy

while I rise beyond your greatest dream

I’m a chill right here

far from you and your small mind.

So chill boy,

I won’t trouble you with my vastness,

So chill boy, I’ll keep shining.

The Cult of Busy

If you ask me what I have been up to, I will tell you that I have been busy, same answer for what I will be doing. I – like many other people – am always busy. I am always on my way to an appointment, work or a meeting, coffee with a friend, or just running errands. When I’m not physically doing something, I’m thinking about it. Time for rest is rare and fleeting and I’m usually weighed down with a sense of guilt and anxiety of what I should be doing.

I am not alone in feeling like this, most of us feel like we must always be busy and occupied. Anything less must mean we are lazy.

I recently had a week off and for the first three days I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt bad for taking time off. I haven’t taken time off for anything other than a family emergency or medical reasons in years. I felt a bit lost at different times during the week – when I tried to think of what I should be doing or where I had to be, I realized I didn’t have to rush anywhere. The projects I’m working on are well underway, I would have plans to see a friend later, but there was no rush. It felt weird to not be stressed.

We equate being busy with being successful. If we are always busy, we must always being working and if we are always working, we are then viewed as successful. It may sound trite, but I blame capitalism for our obsession with busyness.

Under capitalism nothing is ever given. We trade labour for money; we trade money for things we need to live – food, shelter, coffee to keep us awake so we can keep working. Capitalism teaches us that nothing worthwhile comes for free. We must give something to get anything, but at the same time, we can’t expect anything in return. We often work – or stay busy – just for the sake of it. We have become so accustomed to working towards something – an education, a 15-minute break, money, or whatever else drives you – that we do not take the time to just be.

Halfway through writing this blog post, I came down with a cold. What I thought would be one or two days of sniffles and a headache turned into a full week of being sick and being sent home from work twice (thanks Nicole!) In my feverish state, I just went to work because that is what I always do. Taking a sick day, even though I was sick, felt like I was being lazy. Luckily, I have people in my life who are more sensible than me and made me go home.

During my forced time off, I had a lot of time to think, and since every time I moved I felt like I was going to fall over, I had to sit with my thoughts and let myself rest. It was uncomfortable, and needed.

Having a full life is not the same as always being busy. It is a hard lesson to learn, and one we will probably continue to forget. There is nothing wrong with having a lot going on in your life, but learning to focus more of what adds value to your life rather than being busy for the sake of being busy can lead to lessened anxiety, better sleep, and generally more enjoyment. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life; we don’t have to punish ourselves to deserve a break or a self-care Saturday. Capitalism teaches us that our only value is our productivity – we are so much more than our ability to work. It is a lesson we must continually learn in a society that teaches us the opposite. Be gentle and patient, doing nothing takes time.