Monthly Archives: August 2010

only abstract apologies allowed

posted by jroselkim

Apologies for wrongdoings of inconceivable scale in the past strikes me as a bit of a funny concept. But I do recognize the symbolic value of one government apologizing to another for colonialism. And it happened recently – the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued an official, government-approved apology to the Korean government on the 100th anniversary of Japanese colonial rule in Korea, and promised he would also return many historical artifacts taken during colonial times to Korea “soon.”

Japanese colonialism is characterized as one of the most efficient colonial rule, as the government was one of the most recent colonizers who got to study other forms of colonialism and analyze what worked best and what didn’t.

I recall my grandfather, who was only a child during colonial rule, telling me one of the most chilling cultural colonial techniques to which he was subjected. Not only was he forbidden from speaking Korean (or reading it) at school, there was also an ingenious monitoring system to enforce the rule. The child who spoke Korean would be given a card that condemned them to cleaning the washrooms daily – until he (apparently this punishment only applied to boys) spotted another kid speaking Korean. Then bam! He could hand over his awful washroom-cleaning punishment onto the next kid. Such measures eliminated any kind of solidarity between the kids to speak Korean collective, but also turned them into docile, disciplined bodies efficiently monitoring and enforcing state rules. Foucault would be so proud.

(Side note: my grandfather and grandmother speak Japanese fluently, but they refused to speak it after the colonial rule was over until recently, when they visited Canada for the first time and struck up a conversation with a Japanese woman at a pool.)

The colonial rule not only forcefully made disciplined bodies out of children, but of women as well. The word “comfort women” is slowly becoming familiarized in Western media (Vagina Monologues now has a monologue on the issue), women kidnapped and held hostage to “comfort” – i.e. commit sexual acts against their will -the Japanese soldiers. The Japanese government still has issued neither an official apology nor compensation, despite the ongoing protest of the remaining alive comfort women. January 2010 marked the 900th week of protest against the Japanese government in Seoul.

The overly generalized nature of the “apology” that refuses to address the specific victims of colonial rule – particularly, to those who were denigrated to being the “lowest factions” of society by stripping their rights and freedoms to act as sex objects – is telling. It is telling of the inadequacy of such an apology, as well as the continued oppression of women who are excluded from “official” discussion of culture and nations.

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are you a hometown tourist?

posted by missmsian

We drop thou$and$ to travel overseas, often overlooking the fact that the biggest adventures might exist in our backyards. I’ve lived in Toronto for almost 16 years, but still love taking a camera out and pretending to be a tourist.

Once, a guy spotted me snapping photos of a stalled streetcar–Toronto’s Red Rocket really is a unique red–and asked where I was visiting from.

“Nowhere; I live here,” I said.

He paused. “I hope you get some beautiful shots today.”

Do you love being a tourist in your hometown? Send blog posts and odes to your city to

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let’s go fishing, said the angler to the worm

posted by ellephanta

In response to this eloquent, wonderful post by missmsian!

I have played all three roles (expert, token, snitch) as a racial minority in a room full of ignorant people and their buttsniffers before, but now I’m devoted to playing an aggressive snitch. It always feels disgusting after you’ve played either the expert or the token and there were occasions when, after having sniffed the butts of some white people who’s “figured everything out”, I would burst into tears back in my room without being able to explain why exactly. Now I know it’s the feeling of repulsion towards oneself that comes from whoring out one’s selfhood to serve somebody else’s purpose. Much of my first year in undergrad was spent in a struggle through this.

But once I’ve figured some stuff out, I quit my post as an expert or a token. It’s really hard on a person’s dignity to play those two, and in comparison, playing an aggressive snitch, though the role warrants you the reputation of being rude or mean or bitchy or whatever, is the easiest on the spirit. Calling on bullshit with focus, once you get into the habit of it, is a lot more satisfying than trying to act like you represent the entire race of your “people” or whatever the hell they want you to do.

However, I don’t associate at all with people who would push me into any of these roles anymore. Also, if you make really good friends, the friends you meet through those friends are likely to be good too, and I find that I have had to deal with this shit less and less.

But when I do encounter this shit for whatever reason, I declare loudly that there is no way I can be friendly about it. (I apologize about the foul language, but I just hate to call it a “situation” or a “conversation” or even “stuff” because I care about words, and those words are good words that I refuse to associate with the shit that sometimes goes on at these social gatherings.) I tell them straight that they may not use me to jerk off and that I don’t “respect” their “viewpoint”, because it’s not a viewpoint, it’s just shit.

I literally say these things out loud to those that try to pigeonhole me into these roles, trying with all their might to be right and superintelligent with some help from a racial minority to fill in for their lack of perspective outside of their own, to nod along with them. I don’t even do it privately by going “hi, can I talk to you in private?” anymore. I have tried that before and discovered that one can easily evade a real conversation in privacy by saying stuff like “well, I didn’t mean to offend you, but I’m sorry I did, I didn’t realize that you were a delicate little flower that can’t take a joke,” and then asking “are we good? I hope you know that I’m a good person and that I mean well,” and walk away from it thinking “I took a criticism well today! I must be an open-minded person!”

So when I’m calling people out, I make sure that the audience is still there and what I’m calling them on has happened in the last five minutes. I want to be a snitch while it’s hot. I want them to feel the humiliation of being called on their bullshit and be punished socially for it. It doesn’t matter what political stance, opinion, awareness, etc. the audience has, because if I’m being honest, none of that should affect what I say to point out the absurdities of the “conversation” we are having.

Unsurprisingly, there is an element of surprise when I set out to call them on it. When their bullshit is pointed out and condemned, especially in front of an audience, it gets surreal for them. Wait, “Miss Minority Perspective”, hold on – I don’t understand – you are speaking up? Inconceivable!

Thoroughly humiliating them for trying to use me as a prop for some “theory” they have on race or crime or culture or psychology or whatever, prevents further encounters with them in the future, which is actually awesome. Once I actually told a guy who was talking about the permissibility of “positive” jokes about race along the lines of “Azns are good at math yay” and tried to bring me, the only racial minority there in a room full of white people, “into the conversation” to “offer a perspective” (a euphemism for “tell this people oh yeah, I find those jokes about my race funny because they are positive! so that they notice how bright I am”) in these exact words: “Sorry, but I can’t let you use me as a dildo.” I proceeded to explain to him as one would to a child who doesn’t know better how my race is not a joke, etc. and then I have never had to talk to him again after that, which was really damn pleasant. It was like a breath of fresh air to never again listen to him lecture people on something he doesn’t know anything about.

Oh but wait, Celine, don’t you think you should have an “honest dialogue” with people you don’t agree with? To that, I say: I don’t “disagree” with them. I refuse to “disagree” with them because, how do you “disagree” with ignorance? “I disagree with ignorance” just sounds ridiculous. It’s not a real opinion and there is no real dialogue here. It’s just dangerous idiocy.

Secondly, let’s put it in perspective: Alas, I do not know or interact with 99.9% of the global population anyway. I can only hang out with people within my reach, and the rest of the people I may enjoy the presence of, I have no access to. This frees me from the need to hang out with people I do not want to be. Also, I may die at any moment. Life is short and I happen to want to derive as much joy and happiness from my short life as possible. So I have absolutely no obligation or desire to talk to people that are interested in using the already marginalized minorities in the room like a blowup doll for the end of some quasi-intellectual orgasm. (Though, if they are Stephen Harper or someone influential or whatever who can actually do something about some things, I may against all my inclination take my time to talk to him and give him my all but that’s neither here nor there, because our prime minister probably doesn’t want to talk to me.)

The only kind of real dialogue about race between someone ignorant about the racialized experience and someone who lives it is one that involves a lot of listening. It involves real honesty and an authentic desire to figure this whole mess out, to make the world we all share a more tolerable place so that we can be happier together. Just because you decide to call an interaction “a dialogue”, it doesn’t make it so. I find that it’s harder than you think to have a real dialogue. But like learning to ride a bicycle, you try it and when you fall, you pick up and then try it again.

I haven’t come up with a rulebook or anything, but I think one thing is for sure: In a real dialogue, nobody tries to use each other to claim the superiority of one’s own experience. It’s not a battle with guns and bombs thrown at each other. The desire to exploit the other doesn’t belong in it.

As a result of my lifestyle as an aggressive snitch, I sure have my share of enemies but on the other hand, I have no shortage of sane friends, and I actually think I owe that to my very conscious refusal to deal with bullshit (it didn’t come naturally to me like it does to some people and I have to sometimes fight my laziness and order myself: “You can’t let this shit continue”), how comfortable I feel in my own skin as a result, how much I love and respect myself, etc. which comes from refusing to feed interactions in which I feel like a symbol or a “point” or a prop, rather than a person. I know some people are capable of being friends with people with fucked-up politics, but I’m not. The very sight of great ignorance mixed with great arrogance makes me want to vomit. I realize that this visceral reaction to bigotry is a hardness and a flaw, but anyway my life is a blast and relatively bullshit-free and I have yet to encounter what I would consider a negative consequence of this lifestyle.

I know in the first paragraph I callously called those who play a token and an expert buttsniffers, and I sincerely apologize for that. Often I am just harsher on those that do, because I was once doing all that stuff, sometimes even actively. I am humbled again and again by how hard it is to be a good and strong person, and how bad I am at it. So I don’t want to blame those of us that sniff butts and it is no one’s responsibility to correct the wrongs except their own, but I am nonetheless angry when somebody says “well, my other Azn friend said…”

I used to respond to that with “well, your other Azn friend is a buttsniffer,” but more and more I realize that I should instead say “identifying as a racial minority doesn’t make you anti-racist, just as a white dude who is actually committed to anti-racism isn’t racist by default. And also, here you are, doing it again, treating your friend like a token and an expert.” And so I try to say that instead. I’m learning. It’s a process.

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angels and chinks

posted by telleou

“Biao mei, has anyone told you that you look like an angel?”

“Hahahaha. Unfortunately, no.  What do you mean, biao jie?”

“You have curly hair! And your eyes are very big! You have very round chinks.”

“Biao jie … What did you say?!”

“Chinks? Is that not correct?”

“No, biao jie! It’s ‘cheeks’!”‘

My cousin is an international student and a graduate of McGill’s biochemistry program. But Engrish is not her first language.

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the politics of fashion

posted by jroselkim

Thanks to my barely employed/”working from home” days, I have fostered a new internet hobby: reading fashion blogs. I know, I know. Can’t I read about more important things, or do something more productive with my time? I often wonder about the same thing.

But on one of my morning browsing photos of high-waisted skirts and vintage dresses, one thing caught my eye – a video tutorial on “How to Wear a Headscarf, Turban Style.” Yes, you guessed it; the use of a religious garb as a fashion statement (by a white woman, nonetheless) made me feel rather…uncomfortable. But I watched it, and to be fair, this isn’t tying a “complete” turban, and I could even argue that this style itself doesn’t appear very problematic (as the style itself does not resemble a full turban), save for its name.

However, as I dug around to see the posts where the blogger actually experiments with this style, I was met with this phrase: “Just yesterday my friend and I were saying how we couldn’t rock turbans.”

Now, this is where I have more of a problem. To say that one can’t “rock” a turban without even slightly thinking about how people in other cultures/religions wear them seems like the fashion world has stripped this religious garment of all its significance, only to reappropriate it as it sees fit. Then again, my quick Wikipedia search of “turbans” also reveals that women in the Western world also wore a modified version of “turbans” at the turn of the 20th century as a way of keeping hair out of their faces. I also admit that I do not have an extensive knowledge of turbans myself, so perhaps I shouldn’t be speaking too much on this matter.

Reappropriation (and its problematic implications) is what I’ve been thinking about a lot these days, with hipsters wearing native headdresses and the popularity of keffiyeh as scarves. You might say, but wait! people in Asian countries and African countries wear western clothes all the time. But the difference there is that many of those countries’ citizens were also forced to wear Western-style clothing and banned from practicing/continuing their native cultures as a means of colonization. The effect of such practices is that while “Western” clothes are the most affordable and available clothes there, while traditional garments have become more of a luxury and special occasions items.

So where do you draw the line? How might you distinguish between paying homage or tribute to a culture (or making “XX-influenced” things without making it totally problematic) and disrespectfully ripping off a culture?


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expert, token or snitch?

posted by missmsian

Have you ever, as the only non-white person at a dinner party or other social event, been awkwardly forced by the white folk around you to take on an essentializing role in the midst of a heated political discussion?

While you or “your people” are the subject of unintelligent debate, you’re never invited to be one of the main speakers. You’re also not allowed to change the subject.

What are some of the roles you could be asked to play?

Expert – your opinions are requested so long as they uphold the status quo or support the point of the white speaker. Your comments represent the views of every single person within your ethnocultural group. (Note: white people may occasionally guess what that is without confirming with you.)

Sometimes, if you’re not from the same group but a white person is desperate to prove a point, it’ll be enough that your ancestors were from the same continent as the group in question.

Token – similar to the Expert. However, whereas in the Expert scenario you’re asked if you agree that honour killings are a part of Azn culture or that Azns are bad drivers, you won’t even be asked as a Token.

A white person may simply point at you to validate his or her point. In fact, you may not even need to be with the person at the time of the comment. He or she can simply explain, “Well, my Black friend …” or “An Indian told me …”

Also called the “silent Expert.”

Snitch – in these white people’s minds, you’re the worst type of minority to have around (they won’t say that aloud, though, ’cause then they’d be called racist and THEY’RE REALLY NOT, THEY SWEAR!!!!) You ruin the fun because you’re likely to call them out for questionable comments or glare disapprovingly when they use racial slurs.

However, you’re useful to have at the house of anyone considering a career in politics. Between feigned whispers of “Oh, don’t say that! So-and-so’s here,” white political candidates silently gloat about how you’re helping them show off their liberal thinking and political correctness.

Watch out. At the next social gathering you’re not invited to, white people will complain that you’re the “touchy minority” and “reverse racist.”

Have you been forced to play the Expert, Token or Snitch at a social event? How do you deal with it? What are other roles  you’ve been pushed into?

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invaded: july

posted by missmsian

A look at Azns in media last month.

If it’s K-Town, I’m down … I think

This blog had some discussion about whether the reality show modeled after MTV’s sleazy boozefest “Jersey Shore” would ridicule its Azn participants or allow them to, for once, shed their bookish images.

I think most of us are anxiously waiting to see if a network picks it up. If no network does, much as I hate the show’s concept, I would have to cry foul and call racism.

Golden boy

Contrary to what I mistakenly blogged about before, Golden State Warriors’ draft pick Jeremy Lin is not the first Azn-American to grace the NBA. Wat Misaka, a Japanese-American, joined the league in 1947.

However, Lin does join a very small group of Azns who have made it to the big leagues. Here’s hoping he has a long, successful career–and that he develops a signature jump fans can start calling the “Lin-dy hop.” (If this actually happens, you read it here first.)

“Ching Chong Song” is just wrong

Village Voice recently voted white indie band “Ching Chong Song” the worst band name of all time. Uh … yeah.

A band member’s response to ongoing criticisms about the name:

“Growing up a child of a gay parent in a tiny town, a poor second-generation Italian girl, I also have experience with the nuances of language. And give me a break you stupid twats. By the way, ‘ching chang chong’ is what people in Germany call the game rock paper scissors, and stupid petty retards is what I’m calling you.”

Wait … your parent is gay so that makes it okay to be racist?!


It’s that good.

Canada hates Iranians

Nuclear weapons! Ahmadinejad! Muslims! Apparently, Canada has a lot to hate about Iran. So much so that new sanctions against the country were announced July 26 in an effort to curb the possibility that Iran might eventually develop some type of nuclear-related weaponry.

“These sanctions are in no way intended to punish the Iranian people,” Prime Minister Harper promised in an official statement.

Change your skin colour or get out of this country

Sob. Sob. Sob. White people everywhere started crying “reverse racism” after Sara Landriault, a white woman, couldn’t apply for a federal government job because the application is limited to applicants of colour and Indigeous applicants. Cabinet minister Stockwell Day was prompted to announce, “We want to ensure that no Canadian is barred from opportunities in the public service based on race or ethnicity.”


The only difference is, we mean that people of colour, Indigenous people, differently-abled people and women who have the same (if not more) qualifications as able-bodied white men are systemically denied jobs because of arbitrary judgements based on their appearance.

And Day and fellow white male Cabinet minister Jason Kenney mean that the current employment equity policy (which, hello, is different from “affirmative action,” but neither has acknowledged this) bars white men (and sometimes women) from applying to 2 per cent of the federal government’s jobs. That’s 91 out of 5,000 jobs, according to 2008 figures.

The Tories are ordering a review of “affirmative action” policies. That will likely result in the designated “historically disadvantaged groups” being even more underrepresented in the public service.

Conservative Senator Donald Oliver speaks very eloquently about the need for employment equity. I can’t link to other articles on the subject … the comment boards are too terrifying.


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