US-centrism is people in Australia following the US news cycle incessantly about violence in Boston, but having no awareness of violence in Bangalore, and simply being desensitised to violence in Baghdad.
US-centrism is people in Australia following the US news cycle incessantly about violence in Boston, but having no awareness of violence in Bangalore, and simply being desensitised to violence in Baghdad.
I live in cracks and nooks. I exist nowhere and everywhere. My feminism is a territory cast aside from the big island that is Feminism, at least, the feminism that everyone has been discussing regarding #femfuture.
There is this US territory, not coded as such but as “online feminism” (presented as neutral, deterritorialized, homogenous) but this construction is not online feminism, it is American or perhaps North American, or should I go all Latina and just call it what it is: Anglo feminism and then there is me in the sidelines. So, when Jessica Luther wondered out loud what I thought (there have been a lot of polemics about the report), I sincerely have no thoughts because I don’t belong in this.
To call what is going on in an Anglo centric environment “online feminism” is to cast me (and millions like me) away from the umbrella. We live elsewhere. We communicate in English but we are not part of the culture that is being discussed. We are the outsiders that have issues that are alien to this “online feminism”. I highlight the attack on reproductive rights going on in the US as much as I can, but this is not my personal fight; I point to the need of US immigration reform as much as I come across topics that cover it, but my reason of existence is EU immigration reform and its intersections with gender; when something that happened in the US needs denouncing to harness the collective attention, I gladly lend myself to it because I believe feminism is not a zero sum game (i.e. if I spend a few minutes or hours talking about an issue in North America, it doesn’t detract from my long term goals about policies, racism and gender in Europe). However, that’s not my “online feminism”. I might get lumped into the term because I communicate in English but my reality is rather different: I live in Amsterdam.
And here’s what happens when you inhabit these cracks: you pretty much don’t exist. Years ago when I started writing publicly, I made the decision to write in English (instead of Spanish or Dutch) because a) it’s the language most spoken in my surrounding and b) my written Dutch is appalling. I lack nuance, I lack depth, I have the vocabulary of a child and quite frankly, it’s a language that limits my ability to communicate on the level I wanted to. Besides, when in 2002, the Euro came in, I quickly threw myself into the political consequences of this Union and I thought I’d be more effective writing in a language that is widely spoken within the area. However, because I am simultaneously in (i.e. part of this online feminism by virtue of writing, blogging, creating media, etc in the English language) and outside (i.e. I live in Europe and the bulk of what I write and communicate is about WoC living in Europe), I get pretty much ignored. When feminist organizations in The Netherlands organize events, they do not know I exist. Sure, I know for a fact I am read by some (in fact, the biggest feminist NGO in the country has me listed in their blogroll), but I do not speak the “local language”. Oh I do speak Dutch all right. But I speak of a feminism that is practically alien to them. I shout about immigration reform and death of WoC, I yell about State violence directed at WoC, I insist on the hierarchical nature of a White Supremacist Patriarchal State… all the topics that local feminist organizations won’t touch with a ten foot pole. So, I simply do not get invited. They will happily bring Caitlin Moran over from the UK to give a talk (they did last year) but those like me simply do not exist locally.
Then there is the American version of online feminism, which has other realities and other goals and other culturally relevant issues, to which I do not get invited either because frankly, I have nothing of meaning to contribute (thousands of WoC are doing that locally and passionately, so why would anyone bring me over to talk about what people with better local knowledge and ideas are already doing?). In the UK, the online feminist discourses seem to be dangerously US centric as well. The exception being Black feminists who are contributing a wealth of knowledge and creating their own epistemic histories but that is not (yet) mainstream UK feminism. Mainstream is, once again, Caitlin Moran. Online, British feminism looks either inward (rightfully so, because they are focused in their local issues) or towards the US (as if the US was the feminist Mother Ship one should aspire to) but there isn’t much in terms of a European focus. “Things” happen either in the UK or in the US and once again… I inhabit another space.
So, all these talks about #femfuture are certainly not about me. If anything, I try to firmly stand my ground so as not to be colonized by this increasingly US centric version of online feminism. My resistance ends up being a double bind: I need to resist the policies, racism, discrimination, etc of a State that considers those like me disposable and I need to resist the absorption of the “Mother Ship” that owns the discourses around which feminist issues matter the most. In the meantime, I can tell you this much: my #femfuture is about yelling louder. Because really, there isn’t much else I can do, further than assimilating (which, no) in order to create the awareness I believe is needed.
God, do I know this feeling. It’s mostly why I stopped capital-b blogging.
What rankles as well is that here there are some pretty vocal & strong voices from women of colour. But often white feminists in Australia will ignore them in favour of an analysis of racial justice coming from the USA. Sometimes in favour of people coming from the USA.
Also, Flavia is more generous than I am, I suppose. After trying to be heard by US-centric bloggers, only to be told I was “doing nothing” and “build it yourself”, I pretty much gave up on showing solidarity when none was being shown my way.
I wonder why that is.
Hmmm, because Gabrielle is cute and sweet and caring and all these other things typically associated with femininity which are devalued?
There’s that, sure, but I think it goes deeper.
I’ve been thinking of this off and on, and I believe that, when it comes down to it, Xena knows that Gabrielle loves her as a person while Caesar and Ares love the idea of her. I notice that they only love the parts of her that they associate with power and domination. They are oblivious to, discount, or outright ignore those aspects of Xena that don’t pertain to power and domination. Gabrielle saw and appreciated more facets of Xena than any of these powerful males ever conceived of, and I think that’s significant and points to a particular weakness when it comes to people (especially men) whose first love is power.
[Edited and reposted from fb - these thoughts are part of ongoing conversations about power dynamics in “radical” or anti-oppression circles but more immediately the Deep Sea Creatures “deep lez” group and exclusion, humiliation and oppression against women who are trans as well as women minoritised in other ways - also probably contextualises the switching of my subject position in the last post “what should white people do”]
People keep talking about process, what’s the best way to have this discussion, how to we include more people in the discussion, what should cis women do, why won’t trans women tell me what to do etc etc instead of starting with yourself. What are you going to do? What have you learned? Think, make some suggestions and be prepared to be wrong.
It’s a type of derailing to endless defer to an ideal forum in the future. First the ideal forum doesn’t exist, because everyone has different accessibility needs - eg some people are going to prefer things in person, others in writing etc. Second we don’t have the capacity to organise an ideal forum because our community is fucked! It’s not suddenly going to be inclusive next week. Third people who’ve been hurt are being asked for more and more time and energy, as if what they’ve already said isn’t enough. Obviously trans women’s voices should be centred in this conversation but sometimes people use that as an excuse to not say or do anything.
Work out for yourself is something is problematic, next time you do something fucked maybe someone will point it out, maybe not, but people aren’t gonna be there to hold your hand through every decision, vetting your playlist and your outfit and your vocabulary, seriously. There’s a lot of writing and stuff out there already that you can learn from but you do actually need to think about it too. Checklists and tumblr posts aren’t gonna undo cissexism, racism, ableism, fatphobia, whorephobia and everything for you. You need to have your own understanding of what these things are, what’s transmisogynist, what’s cultural appropriation etc.
And when I say you I mean me.
And I don’t want to say “cis white women” because that makes a whole bunch of other oppressions less visible, less important, and also suggests that those of us who are marginalised in one way are gonna be cool. That’s not the case and for race at least, even as a woman of colour there’s heaps of things I don’t automatically know about how other women of colour are racialised, how other cultures are exoticised and appropriated, it takes work to learn.
Anyway, I think it’s no accident that a lot of us talking here are white trans women and cis women of colour who are mostly normatively abled, thin, university educated, speak Australian accented English and privileged in a bunch of other ways. For myself, I think I often speak about oppression but it’s my privileges that bring me here and that get me heard. If I couldn’t write and talk like I can, I would not have made it here. And fuck it was a long fight anyway.
I want to say too that as well as all these structural oppressions, there’s a huge “cool kid” kind of high school dynamic. Like I remember feeling really uncomfortable with the Some of My Best Friends are Femme photoshoot because yes it wasn’t all white or all AFAB or all thin, sure, but like it was still cool kids dressing up and looking hot and getting on the cover of Cherrie. Even though this current thing isn’t about me and it’s been much easier for me to be part of conversations about transmisogyny than things that affect me personally, it’s brought up all these feelings from being in and around the scene for years and then people suddenly thinking I was worth talking to after I did some shit they thought was cool (like with LOCA and POC THE MIC and the flagging blog). We all need to think about how we socialise, who we think is cool and worthy, what personal qualities we valorise. We are all co-opted into this culture, we all have some power to include and exclude. I have definitely internalised heaps of shit that was used against me and turned it on other people. Often the language of autonomy and safety is used to be suspicious of new people who don’t look like everyone else, who aren’t already using the same language. I think people talked last night about being gentle with people when it’s not something affecting you personally, because you can afford to - I think that’s important and that’s the spirit with which I’ve tried to engage here but it’s also annoying to see how some people have been more receptive to that.
I can’t claim to be a part of the original conversation, (and thank the gods for that, it’s why I gave up faceborg) but I’m really suspicious of anytime people try to defer to a static text (blog post, article, book, video, film, etc.) as a script, to avoid accountability. I really appreciated your post on ‘what should white people do’ but part of me also wanted to just delete it and replace it with “be accountable”.
Obviously this is a massive generalisation, but I think that most times privilege is about impunity and being insulated from the consequences of your actions, including the consequences of the structures that privilege you. If anything is the opposite of that, it’s accountability - actually facing the consequences of your actions & having to deal with them.
And while I think your calls for patience, kindness & gentleness are valid & important, I think those approaches still have a connotation of requiring some reciprocity - like it’s unfair if someone is kind/gentle and they’re met with assertiveness or defensiveness, and there’s an expectation that you get the same back.
Whenever I’ve spoken up on issues that don’t affect me, structurally, both the most useful and the most difficult thing has been keeping accountability in mind, even if there aren’t people actively watching my every move and letting me know it. Often marginalised people have already said what they expect & want more privileged people to do in their name/on their behalf, but hardly anyone listens. Keeping true to that, and acting with a strong awareness of how what you say & do will affect others is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned about activism. And also the lesson nobody else seems to care about, which is why I don’t do any “Activism” any more.
I also think it’s a really important conversation that the whole concept of “people of colour” as a term is that it’s about people in alliances/solidarity with each other, and that takes constant workthat you can’t just assume is done because you adopt the label. But we never seem to get around to that because we’re always responding to whitey…
At the end of the day, racism won’t undo itself for everyone else just cos someone undid it for themselves.
Being in India helps me retain perspective. Not only do I feel less alone, I see the diversity of the Indian people that gets masked in America, by selective immigration patterns, by the small sample sizes that we are forced to deal with. I feel the need to critically evaluate aspects of our culture that I am usually tempted to let fly, in the west — not everything can be justified by reference to the white people who are oppressing us.
When a person is so intimately connected with a nation of one point five billion people who are all ‘people of color’, what does the term poc even mean, really? people of color… that’s the entire damn world. There is just so much complexity in the part of the world that is colored. The idea that there exists solidarity in the face of encroaching whiteness is a joke. It is premised on the fiction that whiteness is the main problem we are dealing with — whiteness ranks last on the list of concerns for Indians. Caste, class, poverty, environmental problems, access to water, communal problems, dark skin bias, corruption, the disintegration of public spaces, overcrowding, language differences…. lord, who has time to worry about white people?
Colonialism as we knew it has largely ended. It should be resigned to the history books — it should not be the framework that we build our (modern) theory upon. Because now we must deal with neo-colonialism, which is not a function of whiteness, but of capitalism. Africa’s resources aren’t being stolen by the Belgians and the Germans anymore — now its the Chinese and the Indians we have to worry about. Japan is sounding frighteningly nostalgic for the old imperial days, and China and India have refused to give up their claims on disputed territories. There are other concerns that occupy the attention of the colored world.
And the problem is, the sliver of people of color who are predominantly concerned with combating whiteness tend to speak the loudest — due to western privilege. These voices universalize their concerns, and therefore ignore the frantic shouts of their brethren in the global South, who are by-and-large more occupied with the differences that exist between themselves, then they are with combating the first world.
Economic exploitation and military occupation by the first world against the third still exists. Its still an issue. But its not the only one.
Yes to all of it. And no. Replying in sequence.
Here too, there is a huge majority of certain kinds of people and immigrants stand out. Bangladeshi and Nepali youth especially in North and Central India—in West and South India, you’d see South Korean, Chinese and Tibetan populations in all kinds of jobs in the service and modelling industries . We have huge number of diversity within Hindu, Jain, Christian, Sikh, Muslim, Parsi, Buddhist populations—the regions they come from or have settled in also influence their expressions and mediations with their religion and communities (for instance, where would you place a Hindi-speaking Japanese-Tibetan monk? Or Hindi-Marathi-Gujarati speaking Jews? Both communities have lived in Mumbai for generations now). Diversity isn’t the question—it is beautiful and overwhelming at once—but! how *all* of these ‘minorities’ have to assimilate in “mainstream Indianess” which overwhelmingly is code for Hinduness, especially since the late 70’s. Definitely, white supremacy doesn’t work the same way here, and the sea of colour is reassuring, but we’re far from an immigrant-happy society.
Again, not entirely true. Sometimes I wish in this current phase of global capitalism and militarism, we had an *identifiable* source to organise against, but this is not how our worlds are distributed—masterstroke of neoliberalism, really. In the wake of MNC’s, India becoming the global back-office in the IT arena, we’re actually interacting with whiteness, and articulating ourselves as this *new* kind of Indian equipped to deal with the “threat of globalisation”, or as most of the Hindu Right would call it—the McWorldisation of our lives. From celebrating 26th January and 15th August in these offices, to overtly expressing their “Indian-ness” via Hindu-ness and celebrating Ganesh festivals, Diwali, Durga puja, wearing saris and salwar-kurtas (the men’s versions), is all a part of interacting in this “international” space, in *direct relation* to Whiteness. It’s *different* from say, white-settler states, but this interaction is there. A small, but influential population (the young stalwart’s of India Shining, if you will) are in the process of spelling this out. And worryingly so, Indian is Hindu is Indian is the relation that is put forth. We don’t use the term “person of colour” (duh), but this reaction against, around, for, with whiteness is one that begs further scrutiny.
Colonialism as we encounter it in textbooks has ended *for us*. If you look at the Maoist student wings in West and North East India, they’ve taken up *arms* against the Indian state, saying Independence was just as transferal of power from the British to national elites—whether the transition is as seamless, is debatable. What I find significant about this whole rigmarole is, *generations* of people who are militantly organising around the State, *why* do they articulate this State power as colonialism and imperialism***. Colonialism can still be an important frame with which to interrogate the nation (or even neo-colonialism as you say) (then again, there isn’t much that is “new” about this form of military and cultural domination) (can it be “new” if this racket has gone on since the 30’s, like it has in J & K and North East from the late 40’s?). And even if we’re talking about neo-colonialism, capitalism *today* (and I suspect ever) does not operate outside the structure of white supremacy, no? Like, can you really say imperialism, patriarchy, capitalism are always *overtly distinguishable* processes? Something has to be said about capitalism and patriarchy being able to mold themselves to whichever society they encountered—be it semi or totally feudal. Because, as we know them today, they read such similar histories of “ethnic cleansing” etc.
Yes, we have other concerns. But we are also concerned with whiteness and white supremacy, but in *different* ways. Like the Indo-Israel-US pact, it is our common alliance against the Islamic populations of the world (broadly generalising but Pakistan, Palestine and the Middle East, we could go on), a “global common enemy” of sorts****. Yes, there is a certain voice that is heard, especially online, given that *most* of our conversations on tumblr (and otherwise) center the US. But, it’s a matter of how white supremacy and militarism is articulated. Which is why, the Bindi-sqaud I see around here creeps the fuck out of me. It’s a reasonable reaction to racism and white supremacy, but it isn’t a stand-alone, like we see round these parts.
TL;DR: We interact with white supremacist structures too, perhaps not in ways, say, people of colour in North America do. People of colour may not be the frame we use to organise against white supremacy, capitalism etc, but we are very much “worried about White people”, as you put it. We use this historical moment to articulate a new “secular” (read Hindu fascist) State, and it’s worrying, that we’re marching so quickly to militarism, in the name of progress and “globalisation”.
Thanks for writing this, spurred some parts of my brain in action!
***and if anyone so much as hints as “propaganda”, I MAY JUST CURSE YOU WITH ALL MY MIGHT THAT ALL YOUR KHANA SHOULD GO PERMANENTLY KHARAB.
****You can thank Chandra Talapade Mohanty for framing the question of homonationalism and empire-building and the vast body of work on the “Pink-ing” of IR.
how the voices of POC get pitted against each other all the time, and it’s usually done to
- affirm some kind of racist/ culturally appropriative act
- affirm the idea that POC are a monolith
Like during The Great Bindi Debate on Tumblr, there were so many ppl going ‘but I talked to someone who lives in India and they said it was ok!’. There were even desis from the homeland chiming in to tell us diasporic desis that we’re making too much of it and that they don’t care if white people wear bindis and so neither should we.
Let me be clear: these are not conversations in which white people have any prerogative. The concerns of our activism and identity are ‘family’ conversations that POC have with each other, so stop appropriating the differences in our perspectives to further silence and disenfranchise us.
And secondly, I’m tired of the voices of POC in the homelands being used to discredit diasporic voices. The issue of western privilege is real, and I know that many times POCs in the global north speak over our brothers and sisters in the global south. But, it’s never ok to tell me that my activism is not valid because you it doesn’t affect you. Sure, when I’m in Sri Lanka talking to my friends and reading the news, I don’t care as much about some white girls wearing bindis. I care about issues like the genocide of Tamil folks and the issue of IDPs and resettlement and gender violence at the structural and personal level and shadeism etc. I’m capable of having multiple avenues of activism!
I’m capable of thinking in multiplicity, according to how I’m positioned by social and political forces, according to how I’m connected to the communities I’m immersed in.
So like…can we just broaden this conversation and stop invalidating different forms of POC activism? White supremacy and imperialism are chimerical and they manifest differently according to a host of other factors. Our responses need to be equally diverse and versatile
IDK i’m possibly talking out of my ass here, so check me if you think so
YES. Tassja, this is a long-overdue reply to another conversation you started a while ago. First off, thank you for writing this. My friends and i have been talking about the tumblr bindi squad for a while now, away from tumblr, and that is saying something. That we, as south asians don’t feel *comfortable* opening this up on tumblr. I don’t know what it means, but I know the clogged mouth it leaves me (and others!) in isn’t something that has been the subject of discussion before. So, in this post, one of the above mentioned friends and I will be replying together, I’ve been meaning to write with her again and this seems like the perfect space for just that.(Aside: Issuing the same warning, this is a *specific* conversation between a spectrum of POC, third worlders etc, and if you even so much as use this conversation to further rationalise racism, I’m going to hunt you down and curse you. Don’t blame me then if you all the chai in your house turns against you).
B: I don’t know if I’ve been following the “right” people talking about the bindi or no, all I remember is a string of posts on how the bindi isn’t a *lifestyle* choice, it’s a *cultural* choice and therefore you—and by this, I assume the OP was signaling to white people—must get your hands off it. I realise this is what we do whenever in conversation and concert—in, out, against, around, you name it—with whiteness, we revert to the “but it’s cultural!” defense. If that isn’t a parting gift of colonialism, I don’t know what is, that our lives need to be sorted in a hierarchy of meaning to whiteness. But. I’m not even sure we’re talking about the *same* bindi anymore. Yes, it’s not “just” a lifestyle choice. But I refuse to say it’s “culture”, as if culture was ever unidirectional and a monolith.
So, when *I* think of the bindi, this is what comes to mind, given where I was raised: Muslim women getting “rounded off” after 7/11 and 26/11 attacks from trains and buses. And these weren’t your “burkha clad” women—or anyone you’d assume a Hind fascist state would round off, these were middle-class working women working in South Bombay. And this isn’t a shocking development, everytime Mumbai has any terrorist/bomb attacks, it’s the Muslim community in the city that is blamed. This is something that always amazes me about any city with the kind of labour circuits like Bombay does—women from many communities and religions had taken to travelling together, they knit, gossip, cut vegetables while going back home etc—and in some cases, when there were rumours that Muslim women were being rounded off by the easy identifier of “no bindi” or “looks Muslim”, many switched their train ID’s; many women took off their bindis. Some of us in colleges started wearing duppattas and headscarves to further obscure the police check ups at the railway stations. But we’ll never discuss this on here, right?
Yes, I’ve seen wonderful reflective posts on the bindi too, one that places it in a larger picture and not just casteist outrage of, “you’re not Hindu, you don’t hold any claims to the bindi”. But, again those kinds of responses are as rare as they come, and almost never see any desi Hindus making them.
N: I started thinking about the discussions around the bindi again recently because I saw this post about “dot-busters” come up on my dash a couple of days ago. I think the story was of how women with bindis were attacked violently by white men in North America (I forgot the specific place/time). But yeah, that story totally struck a chord with me, because I know what it’s like to wear saris, salwar kameezes etc. and get mocked/othered for it in white dominated spaces. White people wearing stuff and not getting shat on for it when I do, that gets me! But then when the bindi discussions became about how sacred and special and culturally meaningful the bindi was to us desis, I was a bit lost because well to me, the bindi is an accessory. Like bangles! They come in different colours, I can match them to my outfits. I don’t really think of them as special and I think it’s the same for many Bangladeshi muslims. So where does my experience leave me in these discussions?
I like the term ‘desi’ much like I like the term ‘POC’ because to me they both signify political alliance against whiteness. Although, I guess the term ‘desi’ is more about cultural/geo-political similarities that we share. Which I also like, and think of as useful in the West, where we’re (South Asians) all lumped together as a monolith, and finding the similarities makes sense. But, despite the good intentions, I think we do need to look at who gets to say what it means to be desi. Because let’s face it, the connotations of the word don’t ring true for all of us.
B: We have many such stories to tell. Like, my grandma’s communist and gandhian comrades all wore bindis in prisons in the 20’s—even Parsi and Muslim women—because for them *at that time* to be Indian was to wear the bindi as opposed to European women who never adorned their foreheads. All we want to say is, context matters. And that “culture” doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
And I get it, not every blogger here has to have the same worldview as I do. For me, the bindi is another signifier in the strand of casteism and Hindu fascism, and for *me* talking about it as “culture” without ever making these connections is pointless. That has much to do with the fact that right now I’m living in a country that is *definitely likely* to elect a Hindu fascist party as the central government next year, so for me, talking about Hindu fascism is paramount. Just like combating and responding to white supremacy is the diaspora’s concern (it is mine too, but in a different way as I’ve said before). And our concerns don’t always have to align to stand in solidarity with each other. What gets to me is that you—and I mean the diaspora at large—can call on this larger affective community of desis, but when me and mine talk, we’re talking “local issues” that will *never* solicit the kind of response you’re asking of us. This isn’t to say, “where were you when we rallied for [x]”, my question is: will we ever address how this imbalance plays out, especially on US-dominated places like tumblr? And perhaps more importantly, how to build and sustain a conversation that doesn’t pitt you and me against each other?
N: Yes! No more pitting, is not nais. Basically, I am a fan of nuance, and I just don’t want to see reductive conversations that make it seem like we are a desi diaspora borg. Like things can be complicated, we can talk about that! We don’t all speak Hindi, like bindis, eat bhindi, okay I don’t know what bhindi is, maybe firni?
I apparently have a lot of feelings about this… maybe I’ll talk about it later.