Author Archives: Celine

salt

by Celine/ellephanta

These are reasons why I cried (way too often to admit) when I first immigrated to Canada:

I wanted to express how all of this felt (the rude culture shock and other consequences of uprooting one’s entire life and throwing it on foreign soil) to someone who might hear me, but I didn’t speak the language. I wanted to understand what was going on around me and be an active member of my surroundings, but I didn’t understand the language. I wanted to be able to read my textbooks and get the right answers to teachers’ questions, but I couldn’t read the language. I wanted to write, because it was my favourite thing to do and one ability I prided myself for having, but I was illiterate. I wanted to be popular and loved – who doesn’t want to be popular and loved at that age? – but I was alone, locked inside myself with no way out. I watched TV and felt ugly. I wanted to be the best at everything, because I am and have always been a ridiculously ambitious girl, but I was slow and stupid and “god, you don’t understand anything I say!” and “why do I have to be paired up as partner with someone who doesn’t even speak English?” and “tell the class about your life back home” and “go home”.

But all that salt water was not wasted, so it’s okay. It fell on my skin and hardened there, left a mark. Some of it I swallowed and it dripped all around my heart and made a shell of crystals. It taught me to give a damn about people who are miserable (way more miserable than I have ever been) and indifferently left out in the cold. It taught me to be angrier for better reasons. It taught me to be less selfish. It taught me how to say “fuck you and your condescending asshole”.

And now I love it, this salt on my skin and around my heart. I love it most, sometimes more than anything else in me. It is my comrade-in-arms. It is my best friend. I used to resent it, thought it was proof that I was weak, but I don’t anymore. Now I know better. I feel better.

 

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why i can’t be an actress

posted by ellephanta/Celine

I told my mother that I wanted to be an actress a long time ago, and she said, I support you no matter what you do, but here are two things about it you should consider before making that decision and pursuing it.

1. A woman’s beauty is prone to constant decay in the eyes of the society, and this is extremely the case when it comes to show business, which is aggressively superficial. It wants a specific kind of beauty and as a result, my professional career will depend entirely on the judgment of others. Intelligence and wisdom, however, knows no gender and it is certain and relatively within your control. It doesn’t decay with time, it only deepens and widens, and it is certainly a better horse to bet on.

2. Being a colored person, you will not get the title roles. You will get to be the title character’s best friend or brief love interest. If you do get a role, you will often be expected to discuss your identity as a racial minority, either insultingly vaguely or painfully in depth. It will be used against you everywhere. This is painfully wrong, but it will happen because show business is a place run by people who will do that to a colored person, for an audience that will eat it up exactly as is and demand more of the same. If it’s hard to make it as an actress, it is unimaginably harder to be a colored actress.

This was really painful to hear, not because I was that invested in wanting to be an actress (I had basically wanted to be everything in those days, from a teacher to a rock star) but because I realized in my young age that the North American promise of “endless opportunities and infinite possibilities” was a gross exaggeration.

There is a reason why there aren’t enough Azn/colored people in the media, why there are so few out there for the casting directors to hire (“well, bring me a sexy Azn girl who’s right for the role, we’ll hire her for sure!”). It’s because most casting directors don’t want them.

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why an atheist cares about islamophobia

posted by ellephanta

Inspired by and in response to and shamelessly following missmsian’s amazing post.

I care about Islamophobia:

Because I’m a humanist. Because not believing in a god certainly doesn’t excuse me from being a decent and loving human being. In fact, because I believe that we are solely responsible for our actions and consequences, our collective and individual lives, I am more pressed than ever to be a decent and loving human being that gives a lot of crap about people. Because I don’t believe in a god that cares about us, I can’t help but believe that we must care for each other. This means I must get off my couch and speak up when there is systemic hate against members of my global community. And yes, the human race includes the ones I passionately disagree with too.

Because if you know anything about the human race at all, it should be glaringly obvious that Islamophobia is not about disagreeing with someone else’s theological beliefs. It’s about race and hatred and scapegoating and ignorance. It’s about all that’s ugly in people – irrationality, stupidity, cowardice, smallness of heart – and not about this god or that god or god’s absence. That’s just a diversionary narrative to weave a story that sells. One’s relationship/non-relationship with god is an individual’s incredibly personal, intimate, and often traumatic experience – which is now being exploited everywhere to feed human ugliness that inevitably rears its head during difficult times. If you are a thinking person, this should be farcically obvious.

Because – as is any form of bigotry – Islamophobia is not only violent in its sentiment, but its actions. How can you say nothing against violence committed against human beings based on one’s religious beliefs, especially if you believe what is taught by religions to be unreal anyway? For a humanist, a real person’s well-being and freedom trumps ideas – every time, always.

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you are racist against yourself

posted by ellephanta/Celine

This very interesting stereotype about asian parents unwilling to let their offsprings date or associate with white people (or any other race besides their own), I think suggests in subtle ways that “well, asians are racists too”.

But of course. Asians are capable of doing and saying racist things and holding racist beliefs. Or did you think that they were objects that are incapable of thinking, screwing up, changing, learning?

My race certainly doesn’t immune me from being racist towards my own race or any other race. It’s our actions, not our identities themselves that are either racist or not. I certainly run into a lot of racism (against white people, black people, etc.) in, for example, the Korean first generation immigrants community in Toronto (the one I’m most familiar with), especially in our parents’ generation (people of our generation are often just as bad, but in a subtler and different ways than our parents’, something I hope to write about at one point in the future) that remain thoroughly uninformed on race theory and the marginalized status of racialized people in our community.

But consider this: Most of those in Toronto’s Korean community with language barriers separating them from anybody who is not a Korean-speaking Korean are effectively segregated from the rest of Toronto, like a bubble in the middle of a bustling metropolis. I think this has real negative consequences. This certainly does not aid them in dispelling their messed up preconceptions about whole races of people — which, by the way, was first conceived by them through messed up representations in media, their one of very few source of contact with non-Koreans — and instead, as a small town might, intensifies xenophobia and other in-group out-group attitudes.

My parents have lived here for ten years and they do not have a single friend who is an English-speaking white person. This is not closed-mindedness on their part, but simply a refusal to take shit from people. They rightfully don’t want to be patronized because they’re grown-ass adults of remarkable intelligence and insight, but every encounter they have had with white people, they were patronized. They don’t want to be treated like “an identity” and they don’t want their failure to speak fluent English to mean that people can treat them like children – but every encounter they have had with white people in Toronto, they felt like they were in kindergarten – so they got fed up and quit. I’m not sure if I condone them quitting, but at the very least I understand it.

My parents have always been committed to feminism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-ablism, anti-nationalism, pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, anti-classism, anti-war, free speech, and freedom of religion (yes, even before they moved here and were “enlightened” by the flourishing “multiculturalism” in Toronto) as all of their friends back in Korea have been. They’re brilliant and kind and wise and in love with humanity and I love them very much, even though they’re super flawed as we all are and we fight often (my dad sometimes gets weirdly nationalistic when his masculinity is threatened but then my mom calls him on it), they are way more open and caring than a lot of young people I met at Queen’s University.

They’ve always been critical of bigotry in South Korea, and now of what they find in Canada and the U.S., as they obviously should and would be, given that they’re sane — just as a sane white person would be of their community if it is racist, anti-feminist, etc. My parents and their friends don’t give a crap about the race of the people their offsprings date as long as they’re cool and awesome, as they should. As white people should too. As any sane people should. They’re not exceptions to the rule (“asians have racist beliefs, and Celine’s parents are exceptions”) because there is no rule. One just think there is because they just love putting a whole race of people in an imaginary group and generalizing about them.

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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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k-town reality show: jersey shore with azns

posted by ellephanta

I am devastated. How about you?

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i’m not past it

posted by Celine

Don’t you get it? Race is the most important part of who I am. I am what I am because of my race — and my history and my culture and my two languages and my family and my interactions with the world as a racialized girl — just as a white person is what they are because of their race.

(Oh, by the way, white is a colour too. White too is a race.)

Race is the most important part of who I am because I wear a big star on my forehead. Hello stranger, did you know that I am an azn? Of course you did, my eyes are remarkably smaller than Heidi Klum’s and I look like Jackie Chan (IN RUSH HOUR WITH CHRIS TUCKER) and Ken Jeong (BEST KNOWN AS AN ACTOR IN THE NEW HIT TV SERIES COMMUNITY, DEVELOPED BY DAN HARMON, STARRING JOEL MCHALE AS AN INTELLIGENT AND ATTRACTIVE WHITE LAWYER COURTED BY THREE DIFFERENT WHITE WOMEN) and that girl Ross brought home from China and dated instead of Rachel.

If I was honest with myself, I sometimes wish I was indeed living in a “post-racial” princedom of unicorns, because truly, as we all know, that’d rid us of the awful weight of history — but too bad for us, it doesn’t exist and it may never will.

(By the way, oh, just so you know, you can’t force a “post-racial” princedom of unicorns to exist by making those brown women take off their head scarves.)

My race is not a phase. It is not an inconvenient and inconsequential and meaningless part of me which I must seek to rid of as soon as possible — or make explanations for on demand. I’m not past it.

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