Rahim Thawer, a social worker and activist in Toronto, was at Woody’s, a well-known bar in city’s LGBTQ neighbourhood, back on December 16th, 2012. His reaction to a racist, Islamophobic drag performance that night appeared days later in the Huffington Post. Donnarama, a famous Toronto drag queen, performed in a pseudo-burka and a bindi, with bombs attached to her abdomen, complete with choreography suggesting gun violence and explosions…
The media reactions that followed, a small handful at best, didn’t characterize the performance as seriously problematic. Instead, much of the commentary seemed to hide behind superficial arguments about freedom of expression, without any analysis of political, social, and structural contexts. Donnarama is not a poster child for the far-right in Canada. And the incident didn’t seem to sustain any broader, louder conversations about racism, sexism, and Islamaphobia in the LGBTQ community. While disappointing, this isn’t entirely surprising. Ultimately, the performance reflects how oppressive attitudes can sink deeply into communities that we otherwise may consider “liberal,” and become normalized to such a point that they may even be celebrated.
The second article, by Zev Chafets, offers an account of Maryam Basir, New York model and Muslimah, and a subtle view of sexism within Muslim communities. Basir’s experiences illustrate the tensions that exist between her firm, personal identity as a Muslim woman and others that don’t see her occupation as legitimate within the context of Islam.
I don’t think Hadiza was expressing an opinion that belongs solely to “radical, extremist Muslims.” In fact, the message smacks of the same long lectures I got from my mother in high school. “Those pants are too tight! That shirt is too short! What are the Aunties and Uncles going to think?! What impression do you want to give to the world when you’re on the subway?!”Fancy that my younger brother was never subjected to those same lectures or sunset curfews. Hadiza’s Facebook message to Basir carries a sexist subtext, alluding to the expectations bestowed upon Muslim women to always carry themselves as representatives of the faith and as models of purity. In other words, whether willing or unwilling, Muslimahs are being asked to live to a higher moral standard for the sake of upholding the Islamic identity and image.
Basir’s response to the sexism is sharp, unapologetic, and public…
Thawer and Basir offer snapshots into the subtleties of racism, Islamophobia, and sexism that help us think of oppression in bigger, broader terms. In contrast, much of the mainstream media discourse of oppression is limited to blatant, stark forms that also describe the perpetrators as extreme. The media, for example, largely identifies Trayvon Martin’s murder as racist but also describes the accused, George Zimmermen, as a vigilante. The perpetrator of the tragic Sikh Temple shooting in August 2012 is largely characterized as an “ex-Army, white supremacist” without any critical analysis of where his racist ideologies came from.
Khan’s article, the one which began this post, shares the same issues; If we focus upon the fact that the vast majority of anti-Muslim attacks upon Muslimahs are perpetrated by supporters of Britain’s far right, then we lose sight of the subtleties that Thawer describes along with understanding that Muslimah women likely experience Islamophobia daily, in a myriad of ways, across different contexts, and through their interactions with a range of people that represent the political gamete. If we attribute sexism in Muslim communities to the “extreme, fundamentalist” clerics, then we may be unable to identify the subtexts of sexism within the judgements we make about Muslim women like Basir.
I love hearing Black women laugh.
I was leaving the gym yesterday and I walked into a car (um, still building the stamina for hour long classes). The car jerked to a stop and there were two smiling sisters waving at me, but also not paying attention to me as they were caught up in their own conversation. They were giggling, one of them said, “okay, play the song” and they continued to laugh as they drove away.
I was struck by the interaction. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about it. Under normal circumstance, I wouldn’t have given it much thought. But, because of the events of the past two days: Sharmeka Moffitt was set on fire, number one and most important, and the perpetrator of the violence came into question. Because of these events, those two women, their smiles, their laughter made me stop and pause. If you haven’t heard, earlier this week, Sharmeka Moffitt was set aflame while she was out for a jog in a park in Winnsboro, Louisiana. Initially, she claimed that three men in white hoodies doused her and set her on fire. The FBI hesitated on declaring it a hate crime—you know, a Black woman’s body being set on fire (let me repeat: set. on. fire.) while her car is scrawled with the words KKK and Nigger isn’t enough to equal hate crime. Yeah, we’ll get back to you on that. Quickly, news surfaced that Moffitt, in fact, set herself aflame. Now, we call it a hate crime, as in the recent headline “Sharmeka Moffitt may have faked hate crime.” Now, it’s a hate crime. Now someone has done something wrong.
Look, this is all too stunning and heartcrushing to really write a full on critique of the media or go into the ways that racism has structured not only the media and federal response to Moffitt, or her setting herself ablaze at all.
This is racism. This is what racism looks like. This is what racism does.
That’s all I got. But, I want you to hear it (and by you, I mean me too). Sharmeka Moffitt is not crazy. She is not an attention seeker. She is not someone who hates white people or is racist against white people. She does not hate the KKK (I do, so come at me if you will, gladly).
No, she’s a Black woman living in the U.S. Not the U.S. South, although that’s where she is physically, but in. the. U.S. And this was her response.
I hope you understand that you follow in a long tradition of sexist institutions that have told women and girls, particularly those of color, that they are inadequate and ugly; that they are undesirable, and so disgusting that they should not even be in public. This was the message you sent to Taylor and millions of other girls. If you can’t get this idea through your thick privileged skull, head over to Sports Illustrated to read the words of Courtney Nguyen.
Maybe the USTA needs a few more women in its ranks (as suggested by Lindsey Davenport); maybe its men should check their racial and gender privilege at the locker room. You have a training program for that? Given her ample success on the court, I can’t help but think your sexist shaming has NOTHING to do with her play on the court; your claims for concern about her “health” are absurd and offensive. This all seems to reflect your desire to produce a profitable commodity. Do you think she can only be successful if she wins titles and covers of Maxim? Are you searching for a great tennis player…or a body to market to men throughout the nation? Irrespective of your intent, your methods and message are disgusting.
Is it just a coincidence that the two girls/women who have been chastised, ridiculed and demonized for their weight, for their body, for their appearance, are both African-American? Did that even cross your mind? It is hard to look at this as anything but racism and sexism, as yet another African-American tennis phenomenon dominating the White world of tennis only to face unfair criticism. Yet another Black female tennis player being reduced to her body parts, prodded, and examine as if her worth and value could be measured by your hands. To get back on the court, will you examine her, checking to see if she meets your expectations? Disgusting.
So, what the hell happened that seemingly led some of the top online media to rabidly become illiterate? The earliest instance of the story being reported seems to come from a RussiaToday article (August 10th), which consists of actually very little information (and substantiation) of the claim of an all-woman city. It seems to brush past that, but includes quotes female unemployment in Saudi Arabia and the need to have more women in the workforce, and then discusses Saudi women in malls, how much Shariah sucks and the Olympics. Other articles follow a similar suit; many cite the RussiaToday article or a Guardian article from August 12th or just the press release mentioned in those articles without bothering to read it and include the same quotes and stories about Saudi women …malls …Shariah …and the Olympics.
From The Atlantic to ABC News to the Huffington Post (although they at least had the decency to post an update) to Pakistan’s Aaj News, the story spread like wildfire, made all the more “authoritative” by being buttressed between socio-economic commentary on women in Saudi Arabia and changes to their social engagement under King Abdullah.
While mistakes in journalism and reporting are nothing new and part of the industry, the Amazonian Saudi Working Woman Haven story was not an innocent mistake. It was not an oversight. It wasn’t even an intentionally malignant attempt to something or other. What it was, however, was knee-jerk journalism cemented in orientalist perceptions and assumptions of Muslims. Predisposed ideas and conceptions of Muslims and of gender relations in the Muslim world and Muslim countries make it easy for sloppy and reactionary journalism to gain momentum. They love to publish it, and we love to read it. There’s something wrong with this equation, but we still continue to gobble it up every time it’s thrown in our collectively gawking face.
And while such sexism and racism is relatively predictable from the tabloid press and bitter US coaches, the more liberal media and all kinds of “sports scientists“ came out publicly raising their well-educated eyebrows over Ye’s performance and analysing her race down to her last stroke. I can guarantee you that Ledecky’s swim will not come under anywhere near the level of scrutiny as Ye’s. Of course, I have no idea whether either of them are on drugs. Both their tests have come up negative but it’s possible that they might still be found positive in years to come as technologies catch up with each other. But I’m no more suspicious of Ye than I am of Ledecky, or of any Olympic athlete for that matter. And whatever happens from here, the level of quasi-scientific objectification of Ye’s body and performance that has already taken place (overwhelmingly by white men), is overtly reminiscent of an Orientalism that has formed the basis for shameful histories of sexual violence and racism.
Unable to offer any actual evidence that Ye was doping, media attention turned to her training regime. Whereas sports enthusiasts generally pride themselves on how hard “their” athletes train and how much they want to win it “for team GB/Australia/ team USA/insert country here,” the Internet was suddenly full of scathing attacks on what, having never been to China and having no understanding of Chinese culture, they assumed Ye’s tortuous training regime and nationalist indoctrination to be. Images from a Chinese article about unhappy children at gymnastic training camps were taken out of context by western journalists to prove how heinous and inhumane the “brutal training camps“ of China really are. Whereas identifying sporting potential at an early age and receiving a sport scholarship to live and train at a specialist institute is held in the highest prestige in Australia, the US, and other western countries, the same practices in China were deemed barbaric, heartless, and reflective of China’s vicious one-party “totalitarian” regime.
Now, I don’t have room here to go into the details of the Chinese political system and the life chances or “happiness levels” of an average Chinese citizen compared to citizens of multi-party western states. But no one reacted to Michael Phelps’ highly anomalous 17 Olympic gold medals by opening up a debate about the various problems of the US political system and the desperate measures that US athletes go to in the hope of Olympic glory. And at any rate, anyone who thinks human rights violations and standards of living are significantly worse in China than they are in, for example, the US, needs to have a critical think about the criteria they are using to make those judgements. None of this is to say that they aren’t massive problems with the Chinese state but, ultimately, it has to be asked why it is that when a young Chinese woman wins an event in a white-dominated sport, white men the world over feel both the need and entitlement to prove that she must have either been cheating or that she’s subject to a tortuous training regime unthinkable in the liberated west. So, true to every bad Hollywood movie you have ever watched featuring an Asian woman, she must either be a villain or a victim. In actual fact, Ye Shiwen is the hero in this story, and it’s about time we let her have the credit she deserves for playing that role in these Olympics.
The only thing I’m going to say about Sarah Keenan’s right-on breakdown of the racism and sexism on full, waving display against Ye Shiwen is:
The latest available figures show that only 48 percent of voting-age women with ready access to their U.S. birth certificates have a birth certificate with their current legal name. The same survey showed that only 66 percent of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name.
Ultimately, these measures make the voting process more confusing and place additional burdens on groups who each had to struggle to obtain the right to vote and the right to access quality & affordable reproductive health care.
What are leaders in the movement saying?
“If you can’t access the ballot box, how do you ensure access to reproductive health care?” — Aimee Thorne-Thompson, Advocates for Youth
For reproductive justice advocates, voter suppression is a reproductive justice issue. Many groups like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (RCRC) and NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition (NYC RJC, formerly SisterSong NYC) and Advocates for Youth work year-around to educate communities on the issues and mobilize them to vote for progressive candidates and ballot measures.
Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Justice Director at RCRC, Angela Ferrell-Zabala says voter suppression has the potential to affect down ballot measures and local races in states like Florida.
“Down ballot issues like Amendment 6 will open the state’s constitutional privacy laws and make it very difficult for women to seek abortion care’’ Ferrell-Zabala states.
If Amendment 6 is passed, politicians will be allowed to intrude on personal medical decisions and take away access to healthcare that many women who are Florida public employees currently have.
There is much at stake and “we have to look at the repercussions, it all leads back to reproductive justice. Accessing healthcare and education — making informed decisions about your sexual health and family planning.” Ferrell-Zabala explains.
This is about agency and the power to transform communities.
“To limit the agency of women and youth who are disenfranchised by the social conditions of our race, gender, age and socio-economic status is unacceptable at best, and a direct violation of our human rights at its worst.” says Jasmine Burnett, NYC RJC lead organizer.
Gloria Feldt, author and past president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America argues that “the young, the poor, the women struggling to make ends meet for their families are most vulnerable to disenfranchisement yet have the most to lose if right-wing perpetrators of voter suppression succeed.”
The power of the women’s vote can only be effectively leveraged if every woman who is eligible to vote is able to enter the voting booth and have her vote counted. If they are not counted in 2012 then, “reproductive rights, health, and justice would be among the first freedoms to go, and economic justice not far behind.” said Feldt.
Living in this society, yes, there will be books, music, movies, etc. that have problematic themes in them. Also, there will be actors, singers, performers, etc. that have done and said problematic and hurtful things to marginalized groups. Some can apologize and change. But a lot will not (because their aim is only to market themselves to the majority, and they don’t really give a shit about you if you’re marginalized).
Then for some of us, we probably won’t notice the problematic material until later in our lives when we’re more self-aware, then we learn that a lot of crap we like was actually bad for us.
It’s disappointing to find out that a media that you liked or a celebrity that you liked has actually said and/or done hurtful, bigoted things. It feels like betrayal if you’re a part of that group yourself. And if you’re not, you just feel dirty continuing to like the problematic media or person.
Lots and lots of feelings surrounding it, I know. But here are some tips on how to deal:
- Just calm the fuck down jfc
- Just listen to what people are saying about the person, and don’t leap out to defend them and interrupt people. If you do, then you really have to pull back and evaluate how you can be so fucking petty and childish. Also, expect people to tell you to STFU and call you out for derailing.
- If you don’t know the context, be brave enough to look it up yourself instead of interrupting conversations and going, “I am a HUGE fan and have been for many years! I DEMAND PROOF! STOP YOUR GROWN-UP DISCUSSION RIGHT NOW AND SPOON FEED ME!”
- If the celebrity/book/movie/etc. hurts a marginalized group you’re a part of, and you want the marginalized group calling the problematic shit out to stop and validate you and your feelings so that you will feel less like a privileged asshole, then guess what? YOU’RE A PRIVILEGED ASSHOLE! One of the worst types, actually — a gross, emotionally manipulative one. You SHOULD feel like one, feel bad about it, and then stop being one if it makes you feel so bad. Seriously, don’t talk about how mad it makes you and whine about how much you like a certain movie or so-and-so celebrity. Also, if you are trying to be more aware of your privilege, yet you act like this, you’re failing extremely hard no matter how bad you feel about Dan Savage being an abusive shithead, Lady Gaga being transphobic and racist, Gwen Stephani being a typical racist white lady, etc.
- If the celebrity/book/movie/etc. hurts a group you are a part of, but you still like the celebrity/book/movie/etc., that’s great! Now, please just let people talk and share their opinions and don’t try to shut down others or think your voice is more important than anybody else’s. And if the problematic shit is indeed there, without a doubt, while you can have your own feelings about it, you don’t have a right to tell other people how they should feel. And if you’re just in denial about it all, then unfortunately, your own internalized stuff is yours for you to deal with. Go deal with it and let people talk, or better yet, just listen to what people say and think about the media you consume. You don’t have to make judgments on anything immediately — just think for yourself.
- It’s not the end of the world, you’re not “evil” for liking the person/media in the first place, up is still up, down is still down, etc. Seriously, it’s ridic how defensive people can get about these things. I can understand why — some books, movies, and celebrities have changed my life, too. There’s no undoing that. But there’s also no undoing the fact that we live in an oppressive society where bigotry is still very much alive and perpetuated through the media and the news. This is how stereotypes are kept alive, this is why characters are often whitewashed, this is how rape culture hasn’t died yet. It’s horrible. You might feel horrible that such a horrible piece of our culture has helped you at one point. But maybe you should learn not to worship people or put them on pedestals and realize that people, yes, even people you like (!), can do bad things, say bad things, write bad things, direct bad things, etc. that really, really hurt people. That’s on them. But it should be on you to see the problematic behavior, deconstruct it, and see it for what it is instead of losing your shit over it. You can take parts of the good yet acknowledge and condemn the bad. You can still like an idea behind a movie yet hate a bigoted actor who’s in it. You can still like music from a certain performer yet realize they’re -ist assholes. That’s totally possible to do. Not everything is all-or-nothing or “black-and-white.” Everybody has the ability to be perceptive, so ffs, work on your own perception. But if you shut down marginalized people calling shit out, then you ARE a bad person.
- And really, if finding out that something you like is -ist, oppressive, or bigoted completely destroys your foundation, then the person who called it out to begin with should pat themselves on the back for a job well done. And you should try to have a stronger foundation for your principals and morality instead of building it around a celebrity. For example, if Lady Gaga is the sole reason why you’re supportive of the LGBTQ community (and yes, lol I’ve heard this), then you find out she’s problematic, and that just changes EVERYTHING for you, then actually, you don’t give a shit at all. If that hurts your feelings and you want to scream at me, do two things. Go back and read the first point then the rest of this post, then go look up Lady Gaga and her transphobia and racism. Also realize LGBTQ should (doesn’t, but should) include trans* people and PoC.
For the balcony.