Tag Archives: self reflection

“the invazn” on cfrc!

posted by jroselkim

A bit of self-promotion here – but the invazn was featured on Kingston’s independent radio station CFRC’s “The Massive,” a program dedicated to anti-racism/anti-oppression issues, news, and underground music. One of the DJs hosting the show is a good friend, and she approached me after reading my piece “does it get better?”, and asked me if she could read it on the show. Of course, I said yes.

To access the clip, type in “2010/12/20” and “1900” in the time slot, on the CFRC Archives page.

My piece “does it get better (for women of colour)?” gets read out loud at 24:05 minutes. The rest of the program is great too, with other great spoken word clips on living as a woman of colour, and of course, awesome political music. Thanks again, The Massive! It was such an honour to hear my piece read out loud.

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a christmas dinner unlike any other

posted by jroselkim

This is what Christmas dinner looked like at my parents’ house this year:

It’s called 감자탕 – a potato stew with…well, potatoes, cabbage, Korean chili sauce and beef, stewed together for almost an entire day. Yes, it’s delicious.

I remember feeling vaguely envious of my “white” friends, who got to eat turkeys and other “traditional” Christmas fare when I was in high school. I also know that my 16-year-old brother is going through a similar cycle of embarrassment, as he begins to escape family dinners in favour of A&W burgers. Part of me feels like giving him a stern lecture, but the wiser part of me knows that it will only drive him away further. What’s a sister to do, but just watch a younger sibling grow up and hope that he will one day realize that there is a world outside of this white suburbia?

What did your Christmas dinners look like?

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does it get better?

posted by jroselkim

I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up lately, especially growing up as a minority identity after watching Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project unfold. If I were influential enough to start a similar campaign for young girls of colour everywhere, would I be able to confidently tell them that it will in fact get better when they get to be 18, 22, or 35?

The truth is, life gets more complicated as one’s racial consciousness awakens, and the burden of being a visible minority never gets lighter.

In a way, perhaps it has the potential to get worse as we learn the ways of the world, about concepts like institutionalized racism. How can I express the feeling of betrayal and hopelessness I felt when it became crystal lear that racism is so embedded, so naturalized within society that we are trained to not see it, to self-hate and hate others for not being a blank slate?

How can I describe the fear I felt at reading about hate crimes targeted towards interracial couples that happened in Canada as recently as this summer?

How can I articulate the shame I felt about having an egg-and-ketchup sandwich at the age of 12, when these things mattered all the world, and couldn’t help but hate my own mother for trying, trying so hard, but failing to be “Canadian” like other mothers? How can I express my guilt and sadness for hating my parents for where they came from for so long?
I can’t.

So how should I go on, and how should we all go on? I have no answers, and I cannot, with good conscience, look at a camera and say confidently that life will get better.

But I can say this.

Dear young woman of colour,

I apologize that I have no real words of comfort for your future.

But please know that I understand:

every ounce of shame you’ve shed for feeling different
even though that person only was curious,
only had good intentions when he or she reminded you of your otherness.

I know

that you may question your motive for being attracted to someone who is
outside of your race
because if you may wonder
does he/she like me for me?
or my skin colour?

(and you’ll never know, or at least, never trust the answers)

And your friends and family may wonder out loud:
is she a traitor to her culture?
does she just want to move “up”?

And maybe you just want to give up because it’s easier
to follow everyone’s expectations;

you may not know what makes you happy anymore,

amongst mixed messages that say you should be both

obedient and integrated

but still


I don’t know if it gets better

as you grow older, as you grow into the othered consciousness

that you express mostly through self-deprecation,

uncomfortable smiles

and distractions.

And I’m sorry that we may fail you in battling racism
that difference is (still) more or less a dirty word.

But please know that there are allies. Others who feel the same way as you do.

Of course, nobody feels the exact pain that you had. Do not let anybody tell you that they know exactly how you feel, and prescribe a solution.

More importantly: do not let anybody tell you that your emotions are not real. Never ever succumb to those that want to rationalize your legitimate hurt. Because if they succeed in doing that, they succeed in taking your history away. They succeed in quashing the uniqueness that makes you powerful, just so they could sleep better at night.

And please know that while life may not get so much better, it does get better when you can find your voice, and others like yours.

I still make do because other stories from women of colour opened my eyes to tell my own.

And your stories will inspire others that come later to continue fighting, and hopefully exist in a society where our skin colours, our cultures, and our languages are no longer a burdern

but just a part of you.


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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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let’s talk about racism

posted by jroselkim

A while ago I had a great discussion in the comment section of one of the posts by Celine about whether people of colour can be racist – or more precisely, what we mean when we utter the word “racism.” I put the question in the back burner as life got busy, but recently I had a chance to discuss this again with another person. So I ask you, readers: to whom does the word “racism” apply?

I leave you with an excerpt from Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Defining Racism: “Can We Talk?”

Of Course, people of any racial group can hold hateful attitudes and behave in racially discriminatory and bigoted ways. We can all cite examples of horrible hate crimes which have been perpetuated by people of color as well as Whites. Hateful behavior is hateful behavior no matter who does it. But when I am asked, “Can people of color be racist?” I reply, “The answer depends on your definition of racism.” If one defines racism as racial prejudice, the answer is yes. However, if one defines racism as a system of advantage based on race, the answer is no. People of color are not racist because they do not systemically benefit from racism. And equally important, there is no systematic cultural and institutional support or sanction for racial bigotry of people of color. In my view, reserving the term racist only for behaviors committed by Whites in the context of a White-dominated society is a way of acknowledging an ever-present power differential afforded Whites by the culture and institutions that make up the system of advantage and continue to reinforce notions of White superiority.

(thanks to the awesome tumblr “Smash the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy” for bringing the excerpt to my attention)


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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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dinner table conversation

posted by missmsian

I had dinner with my little (14-year-old) brother and two of his (Malaysian and Chinese) friends tonight. Here’s the scene …

Me, Bro, Friend 1 and Friend 2 are eating pizza. Friend 2 is channel surfing and lands on program called “The Elephant Princess.” The four watch the opening credits.

Me: Is she supposed to be … South … Asian … ?

Friend 1: Naw, she’s a white girl who discovers she’s the leader of this magical kingdom in India or something.

Bro: I watched one episode. It’s so stupid.

Friend 1: I don’t even need to watch one episode to know it’s stupid.

Friend 2: Yeah, it’s just really cliche.

Me: Oh, you mean it reminds you of other shows with a “white saviour” complex where white people are put in leadership positions over people of colour because it’s assumed people of colour are incapable of leading themselves?

Three blank stares. Mum enters the room.

Mum: You mean Avatar?

Bro: This show is stupid. Let’s just watch “The Amazing Race.” Team Jumba all the way!

Friend 2: What’s “The Amazing Race”? Wait, you mean kevjumba is on this show?

Friend 1: Yeah, man. Dude, you need to watch more TV.

Friend 2: They actually put Azns in this show?!

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why a christian cares about islamophobia

posted by missmsian

Because I could be the victim tomorrow. It seems that all it takes is for a news network or political party to create an invisible, overpowering fear and we, as media consumers, either become really stupid or remain purposely ignorant to the truth (which is worse?)

I know it’s almost ludicrous to put myself in a Muslim person’s shoes in the West where Judeo-Christian values are so celebrated–and I have relatively light skin, to boot! But there are places where Christians are discriminated against as badly as Muslims are here. It just shows how precarious our “rights” are and how much they depend on respect and the recognition of one another’s humanity.

Because disagreeing theologically isn’t the same as being racist. Do I believe that my religion has the answers to questions about faith? Yes.

However, this belief doesn’t give me any right or reason to be Islamophobic. Islamophobia deals with feelings of hatred and/or suspicion of Muslims that is often coupled with actions meant to curb their civil and/or human rights. The Park 51 Islamic centre (misnomer: “Ground Zero mosque”) debate is one example. In Canada, we have the proposed niqab ban in Quebec and the unfair detention and trial of Omar Khadr, to name a few high-profile cases … not to mention the numerous “everyday” situations where we attempt to expel Muslims from the community via verbal threats, economic exclusions, etc. 

Disagreeing about faith, on the other hand, means that I still treat those who disagree with me over who Jesus is as precious people, loved by Him.

Because the church doesn’t have a clean slate, so how dare we speculate on what Muslims are or aren’t.

We don’t even need to go as far back as the Crusades to see this. When people say Canada and the U.S. were founded on Christian values, I always feel uncomfortable, because these nations were founded on the rape, plunder and killing of Indigenous peoples and their land. How can we call Muslims “terrorists” when churches have allowed and encouraged the Atlantic slave trade and Canadian residential schools, to name only a few injustices done in the name of God?

Because I believe in a gospel of love and that’s a gospel nobody’s going to pay attention to if I’m speaking about it while holding matches and a Quran in my hands.

*When I use “we,” I’m loosely referring to Western society, which I believe is overwhelmed by white, Christian discourse even though not everyone in the West adheres to those beliefs or even fits into those categories.

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azn women as eye candy?

posted by missmsian

How do you feel about Azn male artists who use Azn females as eye candy (or muses or love interests or whatever you call them) in music videos?

On one hand, I love seeing Azn female faces in media. In fact, I’m almost willing to overlook the fact that they’re squeezed into the same stereotypical ‘sex kitten’ roles women of other colours portray in these videos. I mean, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

On the other hand, ~aZn pRyDe~ can only go so far before I start to feel some righteous feminist indignation. How sad that we have to enter the market, so to speak, on terms defined by men’s eyes. And, I would add, generally white eyes.

But even misogyny has sharp distinctions for me. Whereas Western (and white) men’s Azn fetishes are automatically written off as belittling and creepy, I find it a lot harder to get worked up when Jay Sean or the boys of Far East Movement ogle Azn chicks.

In some way, watching Azn guys and gals in music videos flirting and grinding reaffirms Azn men’s sexuality.

… But does it have to be at the expense of Azn women? (Errr … no pun intended.)

In their defence, some of the videos make it look like the Azn woman is making her own choice to hook up with Jay on the dance floor. At least she’s not in cheongsam with her eyes downcast, I guess.

I don’t want to pull a

and say you can only look at it one way or the other.

So how do you deal?

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the “where are you from?” dilemma

posted by notmyname

The other day, someone I had never seen before in my life came into my office and the first thing she said to me was, “Where are you from?”

“Where are you from?” is unfortunately a frequent question that racialized persons recieve from a curious many. Often, the implication of the question is that the person in question cannot possibly be from the Western world because they obviously look different as they are from a different race and, thus, different place of origin. The implicit understanding often is that only White people are from Canada/USA/UK/etc. The problematic nature of these probes (though perhaps innocent) is something that has been widely covered.

However, what made the instance with the woman in my office different was the fact that the woman asking the question was racialized herself. She was on a student visa and did not have a very strong grasp of English. After first cheekily responding, “Toronto” to her question, she inquired further with a “Where in Asia are you from?” While this question is also abounds with problematic assumptions, it turned out that her and I were “from” the same country. She came into my office to seek help, and the rest of the time, she spoke her first language (which I happen to understand due to my ethnic background), which made me more accessible to her.

This happens a lot with fellow racialized people. They ask me where I am from regularly, and I always respond as I would with White people: I am from Toronto. But the motiviations behind their query are perhaps different, as many seek to find commonalities with me, a stranger/potential friend, and similar backgrounds and experiences lend to this pursuit.

All of this made me think about the fine line between asserting oneself as a Canadian to combat the inherent “Whiteness” of “being Canadian” and having internalized racism and needing to be legitimized by the state/citizenry to affirm my status as a Canadian citizen by birth and NOT as an immigrant. I am from Canada, I was born and raised here, which perhaps affords me some greater right or ownership to the country, hence the need to distinguish myself as a Canadian citizen before any Azn country. Perhaps we also insist on being from Canada also because there is a sense of inferiority affixed with being an immigrant, which is an extremely perilous nationalist narrative.

So whereas the “Where are you from?” question may affirm citizenship/origins as exclusive to White people, it can also be an exercise in nationalism. How mind-boggling.


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