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).



Anonymous dara said...

"Most women of color I know have encountered such situations, and this was not my first."

they typically see you as "exotic," but something about it doesn't seem flattering. sometimes i feel "dirty" after encounters like these.

10:29 AM  
Blogger pomegranate queen said...

it does feel "dirty". it's what's underlying all of it that's sickening...the power relations.

that exoticization is an articulation of racism. it's racist. so they could make "flattering" comments (the ones you and i don't find flattering at all) and they could turn right around and say the most harshest thing. as in white Dan's case, where he began with "i love your long, black hair" and after being rejected, ended with a comment about honor killing.

ugh! so gross.

in this particular case, with this guy, he began with what would be perceived as a "flattering" comment, and his comment was not flattering but completely offensive...and it was mainly a reaction to being rejected.

hope you're well!

12:22 PM  
Blogger Lin said...

thank you so much for writing this, PQ, because it’s true, women’s and girls’ sexuality is always policed.

the story of your student reminded me of this book that i want to read: story of a girl by sara zarr. 13-yr old deanna gets caught having sex with 17-year old tommy and the book is her experience of dealing with how everyone ostracizes her afterwards. except deanna is white so she doesn’t get sent “home” like your student. but reading the book summary on amazon, i just got triggered to when i’d hear about this stuff happening when i was a teen: “ew gross! why would a 13-yr old want to have sex? she must have been pushed into it, must not be educated, must want to get a guy’s attention, must be weak...” we assume that girls have no sexual feelings, and don’t know how to make choices. i really want/need to read this book! and if they do have sexual feelings, then we expect that they’ll know better than to act on them, otherwise we’ll brand them as “bad girls.” what sucks is my perception hasn’t changed. i would not know how to deal with someone like deanna if i knew her, was her teacher or parent. how do you be supportive of someone so young who wants to have sex, who has had sex? how do you not treat them like a pariah and at the same time, not condone their behaviour? i have no idea. where did i get these perceptions from? my mom, media, society, etc. and if i don’t do something to switch these perceptions around, i’m just going to perpetuate it. which really sucks.

so of course i’m dealing with the fallout of these perceptions on me too. i’m policed, my attitudes would police other girls...

in general, patriarchy just hates the idea of women having sexuality. of us being powerful in our sexuality. of us not wanting to be in an abusive relationship, successfully getting out of it, and being capable of finding a better relationship. patriarchy needs women to be controlled. and when we can’t be, then it’s ok to kill us.

i’m sorry you had to deal with white dan, after everything that happened that week. in saying, “my name is dan, as in white dan. boring name, eh?” (eh?!) i feel like he’s saying, i know that i’m white and boring and want you to know that so that you’ll see me as safe and want to fuck me, to make me less white. and if you don’t want to fuck me, then you must be afraid of your father doing an honour killing on you. so if you are, i’ll rescue you, because my culture is not like that. so i can feel good about my white culture, even though i want you to fuck me so i can be less white.

in some ways i feel sorry for white people because whiteness is such a pathology. but then i don’t feel sorry for white ppl cuz, haha! they have white privilege, so they don’t have to think about this if they don’t have to!

anyway, there is so much more to say, as usual. :D how do you feel about continuing this discussion (i don’t know how... :D )?

12:52 PM  
Blogger Ktrion said...

Pomegranate Queen, I just love reading your blog!

This is such a brilliant post! It could be an educational short film: Brilliant the way you lay it all out (with White Dan and all his mess.)

8:19 PM  
Blogger pomegranate queen said...

Lin, i wanna respond to the comments you made, but rushing around before i leave town! but i'd like to continue the dialogue...

ktrion, thank you for the nice words! it really means a lot. :)


11:39 AM  
Blogger Sath Andurby said...

On the girl - This is one of those things that I truly can't understand. I don't understand the thought-process that goes through the mind of an abusive parent where you would brutally harm a child that you once cradled in your arms as a fragile infant.

Media coverage only makes problems like this in non-majority communities worse - Since news coverage is directed at the majority (which in most Canada, is still white) the angle of the stories is along the lines of: "filling you in on the latest atrocity committed in brown-community-X" If they really wanted to serve the public interest, they'd report incidents like this, but go to community leaders for commentary instead of officals from outside. I remember listening to a CBC podcast on a Bengali support group for abusive husbands - maybe they should start there and support people making a difference instead of assuming that nothing is being done in the community.

On White Dan - The brilliance of white folks who don't acknowledge their place in society on a regular basis never ceases to amaze me. I haven't decided yet which rolodex I'm going to put this fool in, either - "I'm not racist, I voted for the NDP" or - "I can't be a bigot, I slept with a black girl once"

I still think a knee to the groin would've done wonders, but fail that, I hope next time this happens you won't be in too much shock to not call these idiots out on their shit.

I'm tired of hearing it too, being white - the morons who think like this are more comfortable saying this garbage around me because they assume "I'm on their side" Sometimes it gets tiring arguing with them, sometimes I'm the only one but it's ridiculous cats like White Dan who make me want to keep on challenging the liberal-racists in my life.

And hey, you enjoy yourself out there girl!

12:14 PM  
Blogger Blackamazon said...


Racism is not a sexually cureable disease

and frankly sex is often on of it's biggest markers

I find it strange taht so many white peopel think that because teh othe rthem we musthave no idea what tehya re after

5:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One point, when Muslims are living in the West then its not about 'them taking on the voicing of violence' its about respecting and obeying the laws of that country. So honour killings should not be tolerated or excused by whites or westerners, just becuase its culture or a community, this applies to any religion. The laws should be applied to EVERYONE culture or not, religion or not. Thats why whites get up in arms, its not about 'racism' when you are talking about barbaric practices and violence against womyn, its about the 'tolerance and protection' of these CRIMES just to appease or not offend--and that is where you are seeing a lot of people start to rise up and condemn and to pull the 'race' card is in itself a protection of another form of 'imperialism' and thats religious imperialsm.

The tolerance for honour killings, fgms, child marriages in the West is what the injustice is, not by Muslims but by the Westerners themselves, either apply and enforce the laws to everyone or throw the constitutions and laws away and just have chaos and anarchy. And this is from a far leftist, not a liberal. In fact, I think its rather disgusting that 'liberal values' are being twisted to condone the very actions that liberal values were in the beginning opposed to. If people want to live by said laws of religious rule, then they should live in those nation states with those religious rules, not try to impose and expect tolerance for human right abuses that the west and the laws of the west [though we know are not perfect either] but you know what I'm saying here, in nation states that the laws clearly state: these are crimes.

White or Black or Brown, doesn't matter, if the law says, you don't sell a child in marriage or commit child abuse, then you don't do it, NO EXCEPTIONS. PERIOD.

we don't live under Religous tyranny nor should be be forced to put up with religious [don't care if its Islam or Christianity or Frog worship, could care less] tyranny and invasion of culture and laws. Thats total bullshit,

and any westerner in their right mind, white or black or brown, would oppose such cultural imperialist invasion if they were thinking at all. the fact is, beating a child--the parent should have been arrested for CHILD ABUSE,

PERIOD. IF THEY DON'T LIKE THE LAWS THAT STATE CHILD ABUSE IS ILLEGAL--THEN DON'T LIVE HERE. Go live where it is acceptable and state sanctioned. And the citizens of the countries who are having their laws blatantly disrespected have ever damn right to be madder than hell, and it isn't racist to be mad either, you know as well as I do, if a Westerner goes to Indonesia or Saudi, they will be expected to ABIDE BY THE LAWS OF THAT NATION STATE--REGARDLESS--AND IF THEY DON'T, THEY WILL PAY A HARSH PRICE.

So--whats good for the goose is good for the gander--the problem however is that the West has been far too tolerant of people who think they are ABOVE THE LAW--

its time to put the law where it belongs, and ENFORCE THEM TO EVERYONE, NO EXCEPTIONS.

Third Camp communist-feminist

2:46 PM  
Blogger Blackamazon said...

PQ please pleas excuse me for a minute


Like that had ANYTHING ANYTHING AT ALL wtith what she was talking about

ARE YOU THAT OBTUSE or just that disrespectful

9:10 AM  
Blogger pomegranate queen said...

Lin, you asked the big questions that I’m trying to figure out. You’re right, perceptions haven’t changed much and what’s scary is that with so much information out there, there’s still so much young people don’t know about sex and sexuality, and also so much misinformation (i.e. some students of mine thought that the “pullout” method is ok because they’ve read it somewhere on the internet!!)

The judgment (societal or otherwise) is there big time. Some young women (e.g. from my own community) cannot talk to one another, their friends, about their sexuality. Not only is there no support (community wise) but there’s serious judgment and policing by one’s own friends (i.e. so and so’s not a virgin and so she’s a disgusting slut, etc.)

It’s all very upsetting. But that’s where I feel we need to do the work within our own communities, with our young women AND men. The boys need to know this shit too.

I couldn’t agree more with you that “patriarchy just hates the idea of women having sexuality.” Control of our bodies, that’s what it’s about. And we are a part of that discourse ourselves, rearticulating it, reasserting it…

I could go on and on and on and on in response to your awesome comments. There’s much discussion to have around this issue. Perhaps I’ll continue with another post.

3:00 PM  
Blogger pomegranate queen said...

Sath, I really appreciated your comments. And thanks for mentioning the fuckedupness of that assumed “white solidarity” thing by white liberals. there are white anti-racist folks that challenge liberal-racists like white dan on their shit. And that’s SO necessary for white anti-racist folks to do, and for white dans to hear.

3:05 PM  
Blogger pomegranate queen said...

girl, it's all good. I'm just trying to take some deep breaths and think about a response that doesn't involve cuss words.

third camp, you've said some intense things that definitely need a reply. i need some time to gather my thoughts.


3:08 PM  
Anonymous Maryam said...

Speaking of white liberal racism against Muslim communities, has anyone ever heard of Phyllis Chesler’s book, The Death of Feminism?

4:20 PM  
Blogger pomegranate queen said...

hi maryam,
no i haven't heard of her or the book. i just quickly googled it, and saw something about psychoanalysis, gender and something about Islam and was like, "OH BOY, HERE WE GO". didn't look so hot from the looks of things. if you have any thoughts on it, please let me know. otherwise, i'll check it out at some point.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading your post filled me with a whole host of emotions. Shame, worry, and a bit of defensiveness.

I am a white South African. My whole life has been spent believing things which turned out to be lies.

I live a life of priviledge while around me people suffer in extreme poverty. The more I become aware of the unfairness of it all the more I want to change things.

The problem is I don't know how to. How do I not become the I am a white liberal playing the lady of bounty?

I'm sure Dan was an ultra creep yet I also wonder how often I insult someone without even being aware of it. More importantly how do I stop?

I can relate to making fun of whiteness. It comes from an insecurity where I know I am judged and found wanting partly because of my colour but also partly because I probably said or done something I was taught is ok but isn't.

I read your blog and really enjoyed it and then suddenly I was afraid to say something because of my whiteness.

And then I thought; Maybe I am assuming something which is not true. Something which stops me from interacting with someone else.

I would really like to know.


2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does one diplomatically acknowledge the privileges of belonging to a certain race?

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, your link is dead. What made the article racist?

3:18 AM  
Blogger pomegranate queen said...

anonymous, sorry for not replying till now. i often forget to check the comments on old posts, not realizing that readers may have responded. it's late and i can't comment now. but i'll get back to you. thanks for stopping by my page. i'll check that link too and see why it's not working.

11:54 PM  

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