OPACITY

i feel like i am drowning

swallowed by whiteness

fragmented

alienated by sameness

 

multicultural *

 

*stands for _______

 

assimilation

polite smiles

and working twice as hard

for half of what [they got]

 

Canada*

 

*stands for ________

 

stolen

h o m e

forgotten

[a better life]

 

i am tired

of white women asking me to explain

Why we feel this pain

of white women touching my skin & my sister’s hair

stop girl – you gonna hurt yourself before that hand gets to this body

 

i am tired

of our men

making h o m e s in our hearts

only to set them on fire

for becky with the good hair

 

their healing and our heartbreak

are touched by desire – not for our love – but the

O p a c i t y of [whiteness]

 

i am tired of skin bleaching

and hair relaxers

more common that shades beyond ivory &

mayo

 

i am tired of shame

and hiding our magic

i am tired of my brothers & sisters dying

i am tired of my relative safety

that my proximity to whiteness equals proximity to safety

and not knowing what to do –

and how to shed this shame

trade it in for action

not reaction

 

mixed *

 

*code for _______

 

“you’re pretty for a..”

“don’t tan too much”

existing outside the lines

“but what. are. you?”

of love crossing lines

 

May 5th 2018

skin

 

S K I N

tracing fingertips along

lines made of our ancestors dreams

 

S K I N

tastes sweet like peaches

in hot summers

 

S K I N

smells of oceans salt

sounds like i love you, whispered

 

S K I N to S K I N

i let you envelop me

i drink in sweat//memories

2018

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.

Keep Calm and Shut the Fuck Up

 

I am angry. These three little words make many people very uncomfortable. I have been thinking of writing this for a few weeks now but I couldn’t get up the courage to do so. It is true. I am angry. Not at one person in particular but at events, and the systems and frameworks that serve to oppress over half the worlds population.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about the events in Baltimore, and before that in Ferguson. As much as we hear we now live in a “post-racial” society, we do not. The only people who try to claim this are the ones that do not have to deal with racism or other forms of ethnicity-based oppression. For purposes of clarity, I will give a definition of racism.

Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. Now this is important: racism is systematic.

Let me say this again: racism is systematic. There is no racism against white people. This seems to be a point of contention among many white people, which still confuses me. I have never understood why so many people wish to experience racism. I understand that it isn’t that simple; it’s not racism these people wish to experience, but an alleviation of guilt/knowledge/responsibility of their participation in systematic racism.

In the last few weeks, I have heard or been told that I (or other people of colour) “make too big of a deal” about racism or are “too sensitive” about racist comments. I have heard countless excuses for the behaviour of police officers in the United States or the refusal to do anything about the thousands of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada. I saw countless, I mean that I stopped counting because I couldn’t keep track: the excuses for racism were too numerous and too upsetting to keep counting.

Often times, when the conversation turns to race, people get visibly uncomfortable. That makes sense, especially if they are not used to this kind of conversation or are suddenly aware of their own racism. Here’s the thing: It is ok to be uncomfortable. It is ok to realize that you have been wrong and to feel bad about that. What is not ok is continually excuse and reinforce racist attitudes and behaviours.

When I, or another person of colour, says that they are angry with white people, it is does not mean that we hate you. It means that we are pissed off, hurt, and tired because of the hundreds, thousands, of years of oppression that we have experienced at the hands of white people.

I remember reading years ago that during the Civil Rights movement in the US, white people were panicking at the thought of black people getting rights. Their fear was, of course, loss of domination. One thing that stuck out to me, was how many people stated that they fear black people/people of colour would turn the tables and begin to treat white people as they had treated them. Nowadays, this irrational fear is heard in arguments of gender equality, and still sadly, of race.

I want to make one thing clear to all my white readers: oppressed people do not want to recreate the system of oppression and racism that is in place now. We want to tear down this system and create one that is equitable and free of violence. Let me put that even more clearly (just in case). People of colour, women (included in the first as well) and LGBTQ+ communities demanding and taking rights does not mean the loss of rights for white people, men and heterosexuals.

I am obviously not the first person to say this, and certainly not the last. I do not understand why it is so difficult to accept. I wonder if it is because those living with the most privilege are so bound to their ideas, structures and norms that they can not imagine a world where one is not given power through the oppression of the other.

I am mixed race. I have respect for both of my cultures. I don’t feel more white or more brown, yet I have been told for most of my life that I should choose. It seems that the only thing people hate more than a different culture, is when two cultures unite.

The first time I remember someone telling me to choose was in high school. A “friend” told me I didn’t seem “black, because [I] didn’t listen to rap.” I was shocked. It never occurred to be that my love of punk music would completely discount my ethnicity! Thankfully, some white teenager told me or I would have lived in ignorant bliss my entire life! I mentioned this to a black friend of mine, and she suggested I “just choose a side” to make things easier. I wanted to tell her this was impossible. I am a whole, not two pieces I can separate. I had one mixed race friend in high school and luckily she understood what I was going through, as she was experiencing the same thing. When you are mixed race, it seems like there is not safe place to land.

I grew up in a rural community that was predominately white. Although I have experienced racism my whole life, I didn’t begin to notice it until I got older and more aware. When I was younger I assumed racism was racial slurs, not being served at a store or racial profiling by police. I did not realize there were more subtle forms.

Just recently, I was very upset about the violence against black men and women in the United States and was talking about this with a group of friends. I said something about being a woman of colour, and one of the people there responded with, “but you’re so light, it’s not like you can even really call yourself brown.” I was so angry and taken aback that I couldn’t respond. Yes, I have lighter skin. But that doesn’t mean I am white, or that half of my race ceases to exist because I’m looking a little pale. My race is something I am proud of. I come from a long line of farmers, travellers, and fighters. My mother’s side (Irish) were expelled from their land by English colonizers and had to begin a new life in a harsh environment. My father’s ancestors were conned into coming to the ‘new world’, where they were enslaved on sugar cane plantations. They survived. My grandparents brought my parents to Canada for a better life, and now I am trying to create a better world, not just for myself, but also for all people of colour.

I have been told many times that it is shameful to be mixed race, to be a woman of colour, but I refuse to believe this and I refuse to be quiet. My anger may make you uncomfortable, but I have the right to express it. I have the right to work for a better, more equitable, future. I do not need your permission to move, to speak or to be. I will not be limited by stereotypes of submissive Asian women or sassy black women (who aren’t taken seriously). I will express my anger, my joy, my sadness and my strength.

Yes, it’s easier for you to ignore racism, sexism and other forms of oppression, but do you wan to live in a world where your freedom relies on the oppression of others?

 

Media, Mental Illness and Race

In recent years, the media has focused more on mental illness. That should be a good thing right? Not always. In the past few years, we have been hearing about mental illness in relation to violent acts. Cases like Elliot Rodgers, the 2012 Aurora shooting, and Sandy Hook have drawn mass media attention and many pointed to the perpetrators supposed mental illness as a reason as to why these men committed mass murder. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators but because stories like this, many people think that mental illness equals violence tendencies.

There were different motives in each case, however they all have something in common: young, middle or upper class white men committed the murders. Each time a white man commits mass murder, the media points to mental illness as the cause. This excuses the behaviour of murders and vilifies those with mental illness. Compare this media attention to that of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or John Crawford (a young man murdered in a Wal-mart because he was holding a BB gun, which was sold in store); when these men where brutally murder while unarmed, there was very little sympathy for them in the media. Martin was branded a thug and Crawford seemed to be blamed for simply picking up an item on the shelf. Let’s say these men were armed, let’s say they shot first – how would the media react? Would they defend these young men, say they were mentally ill, not in control of their actions? I highly doubt it.

There is another aspect of this; the media portrays mental illness as something that only affects white, middle class people. When I was younger, I thought I couldn’t have an eating disorder because I wasn’t tall, blonde and rich. I saw girls with EDs portrayed in the media in a very certain light. Honest and diverse portrayal of mental illness in the media is really important. While the media does discriminate, mental illness does not discriminate.

One in Four will be affected by mental illness. Take a look around; at least one person you know is currently dealing with mental illness. It could be depression, an eating disorder, PTSD, Bipolar, anxiety, etc. Mental illness can manifest in many ways; it does not matter what socioeconomic class you are, what your race is, religion, sex, mental illness can affect you or someone you.

Mental illness is not a white, middle/upper class issue. Mental illness is also not an excuse. I will admit I was an awful person at times when I was deep in my ED. I was mean, rude and a liar. My illness was a reason, but not an excuse. I am in charge of my own recovery. There are things we cannot control when we are mentally ill, especially when we are not getting treatment, but once we are aware of our illness and getting the help we need, we must take responsibility for our actions.

*1 in 4 source: http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/