Jun 17, 2007

Intersections of Violence: Liberal Racism, Patriarchy and Women of Color's Sexuality

just when I thought I'd heard it all...

Violence is not solely physical. The violence of racism and patriarchy plays out on women of color's bodies in ways that we may not even realize. Most of us face that violence everyday, often through internalized ways.

I recently told a friend that I felt I policed my sexuality. I felt i controlled it, but i wasn't in control of it. I was surprised at myself for saying what I did. It's always shocking when you uncover another layer of internalized shit.

Recently, a fourteen year old student in the program i work for was brutally beaten by her mother because she had skipped school for a whole week to hang out with her eighteen year old boyfriend. Her parents disapproved of her boyfriend, and didn't want her dating. They had forbidden her to see him. I was well aware of this student's situation. She had talked to me before, wanted me to cover for her at times. I had had conversations with her about the repercussions of her actions. I had told her to be careful. I had told her to try to focus on school work. I had told her to be patient with her love, to take things slow (unrealistic advice for an adult, let alone a teenager). I didn't expect her to stop seeing her boyfriend. So when news came that she had been badly beaten, and would now be sent to Bangladesh, I wasn't surprised, just devestated.

As i write this blog entry, i am very self conscious about unintentionally reasserting the racist discourse that constructs Muslim communities, our cultures, as inherently barbaric, violent and fundamentalist. I resent media coverage of stories like my student's. I resent white liberal attittudes towards "saving" our women from, what they perceive as, the "violence" of our religion and culture. But violence does happen in our communities, and it needs to be addressed within our own communities - by us. Solidarity work is important with people outside our communities; however, that "solidarity" involves a lot of work in and of itself. It doesn't come so easy.

There was a recent "honour killing" in London. A young Iraqi Kurdish woman of twenty years was killed by her father and uncle because she had brought shame unto the family for leaving her abusive marriage and falling in love with an Irani Kurdish man. I had read the racist media coverage of this story just the day before finding out about my student. I had been thinking about all of this over the last few days. All this sparked heavy self-reflecting around my own perception of my sexuality, ways in which i have experienced violence (in its many forms), and ways in which my body has been controlled (by myself and otherwise).

The other night, I went out to a monthly jam friends of mine throw. After a few intense days, I wanted to dance, have a good time and escape from my thoughts. At the end of what had been a great night, I was approached by a lanky, white guy. From the get go of the conversation, it was quite obvious he was interested in my Otherness, and potentially, fucking it. In his politically-correct white liberal way, he had discreetly asked me my ethnicty ("where'd you get a name like that?") and had managed to "compliment" my looks ("I really love your long black hair. it's great"). And in his typical white liberal apologetic manner, he had established his whiteness by making fun of it ("my name is Dan, as in white Dan. Boring name, eh?"), though clearly not acknowledging his white privilege, of course.

Most women of color I know have encountered such situations, and this was not my first. However, just when i'd thought i'd heard it all, white Dan took it to a whole other level. After I declined his not-so-subtle proposition (read: do you wanna be my friend?), he asked, in a half-joking manner, if I was afraid my father would find out and do an honour killing on me. I was stunned. Of all the screwed up comments i've heard, this garbage topped it all. Was he conscious of what he was saying? Did he even think twice about it afterwards? probably not.

A friend told me that my experience with white Dan summed up the current state of white liberal racism in Canada: apologizing for being white, never acknowledging the privilege that whiteness holds, playing the politically correct game, and being so incredibly racist in the most subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways. But it was more than that. There was a whole other layer of violence in our interaction that went beyond white liberal racism. And it reeked of white man patriarchy (racist misogyny). This wasn't just about a man being rejected by a woman. It was a white man being rejected by a woman of color.

I'm not sure if this blog is very coherent. There's a lot of things I've mentioned and haven't really tied in together. In many ways, I feel they are obvious to some of us. But I'd like to piece it all together in a way that speaks the language of the liberal whities, and challenge them. I want to move these dialogues to other spaces that don't consist of "like minds." Having said that though, I also need the support of "like-minded" spaces. That support is necessary and crucial for the work i want to do (both personal and political).

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