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

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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.

Let the Water Carry You

It is almost a year ago that I traveled to New York City to the first annual conference held by Women of Colour in Solidarity (check them out/support their work, they are raddest people doing the real work). I had been on a journey to connect with my ethnic and cultural roots and this experience solidified that my ancestors were – and are – guiding me on a path of learning, growth and healing.

 

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with author and activist Lynn Gehl at the Racial Justice Symposium at Dalhousie University. Lynn spoke with my classmate and I about the memories our hearts hold. Gehl writes about decolonizing her spirit and identity in her book, Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit. I haven’t had a chance to read the book, but am excited to explore it this summer. Lynn spoke with us about the importance of connecting to our ancestral memories and the histories we hold in our heart. I left our brief conversation feeling shaken – in a beautiful way. I felt her words deep in my soul. There is an ancestral places of longing, belonging, remembering, searching, healing, loving, that exists in the bodies of people of colour. I have been discovering how deeply we hold these histories  which then manifest in physical bodies as well as our psyche.

 

Someone dear to me suggested I listen to a few episodes of  “How to Survive the End of the World”, a podcast hosted by Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown. The first episode I listened to is about Black Panther, and it’s obviously amazing (so many spoilers!) The second episode I checked out is called “Let the Ancestors Speak”, the hosts discuss their writing processes and the role of their ancestors in guiding them through their practice. Y’all should really listen to the podcast but I want to talk about their discussion of the memories that water holds and the ways in which the ocean remembers our ancestors.

 

The oceans hold the ancestors who chose death over bondage, the oceans hold our ancestors who tried to find their way back home, our oceans hold all their pain and all their creation. This water carried us, this water sustains us, this water was changed by our passage, this water flows through us, carrying the stories of our ancestors. The stories whose multitudes and intensities can only be carried by water and blood-memory as pages would crumble beneath them and there are not enough words in the colonizer’s tongue to tell the stories of our ancestors. The ocean is as vast and as powerful as our ancestors. The ocean moves, the ancestors speak.

 

I am on dry land. Parched. Trapped. The water has stopped flowing through me. My soul lies dormant. This is the imaginary that comes to mind when I reflect on the times that I have not been open to the ancestors guidance. When I have chosen assimilation with the colonizer, when I use my eating disorder to cut myself off – emotionally, physically and spiritually.

 

A year ago, in New York, I was able to connect to my ancestors in ways I had not imagined possible. Surrounded by women of colour who share my visions for a just future informed by the wisdom of our ancestors, I heard their voices clearly.

 

I have struggled to deepen and build this connection, but as the seasons change, I am beginning to hear their whispers again. I long for the ocean and what it can teach me, and as I prepare to go ‘home’,  I imagine the stories of my ancestors carrying me, teaching me, and reminding me that we hold multitudes within us. If we are open to receive the wisdom of our ancestors, the ancestral memories that live within us can be revealed.

 

Links:

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.

Existence as Resistance: A Three Part Series on Race and Eating Disorders

CW: discussion of eating disorders, ed-related thoughts, mild mention of behaviours.

I am writing this series of posts on race and eating disorders for a few of reasons:

  1. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada) just put on Eating Disorder Awareness week and the National Eating Disorder Association’s (USA) ED awareness week is at the end of the month; this year’s theme is “It’s Time to Talk About It”.
  2. I’m the only person of colour in my treatment program (to my knowledge) and have been noticing that the medical system is lacking in critical analysis of eating disorders.
  3. I hope women of colour who are reading this and may be struggling feel less alone.

 

Part I: Compare and despair

I watched all the thin, white women lined up in rows, partially covered in spandex, sweating, breathing – with each other, with me. I long to be like them. I am at the point where I know I can never starve myself to be 5’9”, blonde and an entirely different race. I know this, but it doesn’t stop the compulsive jealousy. I study them, I envy them. I stop breathing. What does my envy and my hunger accomplish? I shrink, literally, but more importantly, I shrink on the inside. My ex-boyfriend used to tell me he was watching my soul fade away. I often think of a summer day in 2012, I was just waking up from a nap and he told me I’d become bones and nothing else. I took it as a compliment in my fucked up state of mind. I had never seen anyone look so sad as he did at that moment. He told me I was fading in a way that he knew he couldn’t stop it and I didn’t want to. I remember losing myself that year, in search of something that I will never be. I am still searching, but I am finding direction. I move toward something nourish me, something that will create a live worth living.

 

For the majority of my life, I have attempted to shrink, to tone myself down, to fit into the image of femininity that is deeply rooted in misogyny. I aimed to be quiet, docile, weak, small, chill. The perfect woman is free from want. Therefore, I stopped wanting. I turned off my desire. I gave everything in myself, and whenI ran empty, I scooped out every bit of myself and offered it to anyone and anything that I thought may fill the void.

 

Part II: Not so black and white

The world is not made for us. When I say world, I do not mean the natural world, I don’t mean our human bodies. Those do belong to us, we are the stars and earth and water. We are also fire. Birth and death and rebirth. The world that doesn’t belong to us has been created with our destruction in mind. My ancestral roots and deep and vast; the span the globe and exist in ancient texts and slave trade routes, in agrarian societies and plantations, The society we live in – from its economic structures, to academia and institutions, has been created to serve certain groups at the detriment to the rest. These systems are also detrimental to the majority of those they are supposed to serve. Toxic masculinity, capitalism, and white supremacy also hurt those that they appear to benefit.

 

There is radical sense of relief that comes from realizing, accepting and possibly embracing this truth. Yes, the world is not made for me, but here I am. I exist in spite of it. I may even be able to thrive in spite of it.

 

Indulge my slightly bitter nostalgia for a moment: I was 15 and with a new group of classmates. The topic of mixed race people came up but I had not not mentioned that I was mixed. A girl in my class stated that she found interracial relationships “disgusting” because you “never know what you’re going to get” and “black (men) are gross.” Obviously, this girl was a budding young racist and I felt terrified to speak up. One of the other white kids in the class made some comment about how people can do what they want and the conversation moved on. This was one of the instances that lead to years of me wanting to change my last name, dye my hair, bleach my skin and deny my heritage. Up until recently, this memory along with countless others of white folks either condemning PoC or exoticfying us  would cause my stomach to drop and my chest to tighten. However, I have recently turned a corner. It could be slowly entering recovery again after a relapse into anorexia, it could be that I have dated one too many white dudes who found my horror at the rise in racism and xenophobia inconvenient, or maybe it’s part of growing older and learning. Whatever it is, I am quietly learning to celebrate myself and my browness. I will never be a white girl. I will never fall neatly into any racial category. A mixed race pal in high school used to say, “We’ll never be white enough and we’ll never be brown enough”, she had insight that I am only just learning. She was amazing and mature for 16 and refused to “pick a side”. She would call out our dance teacher for her eurocentric (and frankly, racist) style of teaching, she refused to identify as one race and she proudly embrace her multi-ethnic identity. These are the women I hold in my heart long after we lose touch. These are the women I carry with me every time someone asks “what are you?” These are the women I allow to lift me up when I want to starve myself into whiteness. I am thousands of years of women – strong and vulnerable, hard and soft. I cannot erase or shrink that unless I am willing to dishonour them.

Labels and the discomfort of white liberals

I feel as if every so often I’m picked up by the wings like a insect to be examined. I’m pinned to a white board, magnified, studied, not identified. They can’t place me, so I’m pushed to the back, with all the other pinned creatures waiting for neat labels and museum displays.

But 

My wings are still fluttering. 

About a year ago, I moved to a new city. I had visited before and had a couple of friends here but hadn’t spent enough time here to get to know it. There have been many wonderful things about my time here so far: jobs, new friends, new loves, learning, unlearning, growing and settling.

As it happens when we leave our familiar places and people, we are challenged. Since being here, I have had four or five instances of my identity being questioned. That feels like a weird way to say it but I don’t know how else to. Racism and sexism are thing a I have experienced my whole life but these were different. Saying my identity feels so cold and impersonal, maybe I can edit this when I think of something that sounds more fitting.

The first time,  I was in cafe working on a summer and feeling very accomplished since I had my first post-grad job. I had also just got my first post-grad paycheque and of course spent it promptly. One of the things I had bought was a new packet of bindis. I wore one that day and felt a little more at home, in myself and in this new city. Like my ancestors were watching over me. I was also feeling cute as fuck. As I drank an iced americano and poured over some journal articles, I felt like I was in the place I was meant to be. It was short lived. I noticed a white-presenting young women with blonde dreads staring over at me. I didn’t give it too much thought, assuming she thought I looked familiar or had zoned out in my general direction. Then I heard it – the now familiar tone of the young white liberal calling out. “You know you really shouldn’t wear that. Bindis are really important to Indian people, it’s cultural appropriation.” Becky also said something about how I thought I looked cool.

I couldn’t respond. I looked at her, my mouth open to speak but no words came out. Her ripped jeans and flowy shirt, her blonde hair in tattered dreads. I couldn’t handle the misplaced judgement or the irony. I mumbled something about being Indian but she had already turned away.

It isn’t enough that y’all take our cultures, you now don’t even want us to have them. Unless we look like a fucking National geographical article.

There have been a couple of other instances, like white folks telling me I can’t be upset about police brutality because I’m light-skinned, or worse assuming I am white because I’m well-educated (becky 2.0 actually said this).

I am lucky to have found support in white and poc pals and I feel a lot more at home and comfortable in my own skin. Yet, the feeling of unease hasn’t left me. I still feel as if the ground beneath my feet could shift at any time, not enough to knock me over just enough to shake me, change me.

My experiences are quiet and hard to explain. I don’t like to compare oppressions, however I have an acute understanding that I can walk in my neighbourhood without the police stopping me, I am not seen as a threat, people don’t cross the street when they see me.

I have privileges which I recognize and (try) to use to speak up for those who’s voices get drowned out. Like I said, what I have experienced is hard to place. It’s the recent tinder match, despite being POC, would not stop questing my race/ethnicity – “what’s that thing on your forehead?”, “I’m confused, what are you?”

It’s friends who say “don’t worry you look white” and “You’re English is even better than mine!” When I have said a thousand times I was born in Canada and embarrassingly can only speak English.

It’s that nagging feeling that someone I was dating and cared deeply about maybe stopped seeing me because I brought up the pain racism in our city was causing me. Because I told him to stop using word coloured and he said “you’re looking at me like I’m a racist” and I paused because I’m never sure. I hope he just stopped enjoying my company, but I can’t shake the feeling that if I had just stayed quiet, not challenged him, we may have continued to see each other. His whiteness lay heavy on him, covering him in guilt and defensiveness. I have see this in many white people I care about. For years, I would try to make them feel better. I won’t do that anymore. Not just for myself, but for other mixed people who feel shunned in poc spaces and just as alienated in white spaces. I will not stay quiet because I should not have to pick a side, I am a multitude of histories, cultures and traditions. I am the amalgam of my ancestors and my own convictions. I can exist outside raciam binaries and your discomfort will not stop me from celebrating my culture. My identity will never be listed in a census box and that is okay.

You Don’t Look Like A…

“You don’t look like a feminist”

“You don’t look like an activist”

These are phrases I have heard quite often, more so in the last year when I began working more seriously in women’s rights and social justice.

In my first year of university, a few friends and I were sitting in our Meal Hall and chatting about our beliefs relating to religion and Atheism. I mentioned that I believe in a higher power, but don’t consider myself religious (despite attending church at the time). The conversation shifted from philosophy to sciences and back to religion. I made some comment to which a male student at our table responded, “You wouldn’t understand cause you believe in God and are really girly, like you wear a lot of flower patterns.” I don’t remember what I said in response, but it wasn’t much because I was so shocked. What did my personal faith have to do with my ability to understand? Even worse, when did floral clothing become an indicator for lack of intelligence?

Despite my apparent stupidity and love of floral dresses, I continued my education (You can pause reading to congratulate me on my perseverance). Over the next few years, I heard much of the same: I was too pretty to be a feminist, I was too into fashion to care about social justice issues, and I was too girly to be smart.

If you’re still with me and haven’t zoned out due to my gender or reported appearance, please listen to why all of those claims are complete bullshit.

“You’re too pretty to be a feminist.”

 

This statement has absolutely no merit. First of all, there is not required level of unattractiveness to be a feminist. Secondly, the assumption that attractiveness is limited to certain features is archaic and rooted in patriarchal, hetero-normative values – something that feminism aims to deconstruct.

As misogynist/TV personality/all-around asshole Pat Robinson said in 1992,

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Well, Pat, I give you credit for zeroing in on our agenda, but you misspoke on a couple of things: Feminists will only leave their husbands if they are assholes like you. And no one “becomes a lesbian.” Being a lesbian is not like becoming a member of Costco.

I’m sure if pressed Pat, and his modern-day counterparts like Men’s Rights Activist and advocator of all things terrible, Paul Elam and rape advocate and “Pick-up artist” Roosh V, would all tell you how ugly and gross feminist are. It must be very disconcerting when women who are considered conventionally attractive by millions of people, like Beyoncé, Emma Watson, Nikki Minaj and Taylor Swift all call themselves feminist.

You see, dear readers, feminism is not based upon how you look, because it’s a human rights movement, not a fucking modeling agency.

I have been a feminist my whole life. I was raised by a feminist (my mother, who by the way has never tried to kill any children and is not a lesbian or a witch – not that there’s anything wrong with either), and at least by some people, I’m considered attractive. My looks and being a feminist are not related at all. I could not shower for three months or I could spend 2 hours on my hair every morning; I could never wear a bra or spend half my paycheck at Victoria’s Secret, and I would still be a feminist.

One of the many wonderful things about feminism is that you don’t have to look a certain way, hold a certain job, be a particular age or gender or race. Feminism is for everyone.

 

It seems like no matter how a woman dress, she will be criticized. Are you wearing a cute dress? You’re probably a bimbo. Baggy jeans? You’re a slob. Crop top? A slut. All covered up? You’re a prude.

So what do we do when it seems like no matter what we can’t please anyone? Wear whatever the fuck you want. Your clothing choices can express part of who you are, but they don’t accurately reflect beliefs, intelligence, or personality.

At various times in my life, people have not taken my seriously, whether due to my gender or race. This used to upset me a lot when I was younger. I tried to change my dress, the way I spoke and at one point even tried to bleach my skin or wear makeup to appear more “white”. As I got older and became more educated, I realized I would never please everyone and the only person who I have to please is myself. I know that I have worked hard to get where I am, I know I’m intelligent. I know I will always have to work harder than my white, cis-male counterparts, but that’s not going to stop me. If someone thinks I’m stupid because of how I dress or my gender, that’s their problem. I will not change how I look to please someone else, and neither should anyone else.

I was running some errands a few weeks ago and was wearing a crop top. An older woman look at my and made some kind of noise in disgust while looking at me. Even last year, this would have made me want to run home and change. Now I can laugh about it. If you are so upset by how another person is dressed, you are the one that needs to change, not them. My midriff caused this woman emotional distress, so I must be pretty fucking powerful if I can do that with two inches of stomach. Imagine if I was wearing a bikini, she probably would have had an anger-induced aneurysm right there.

My point with this whole post is that people suck and will judge. BUT there is a silver lining: when you stop giving a fuck what other people think of you, you can accomplish more and are generally a happier person. The more you speak out, the more judgment you will notice, but you will also notice that you feel more free and authentic. When you are an activist and a feminist, you are going to encounter opposition and judgment, but try to meet that hate with love. You certainly don’t have to love homophobic, sexist assholes, but love yourself, love your world, love what you do, and you will surpass all those fuckboys who ever made you feel insecure.