On (mis)representation: Baltimore, El Paso, violence, death

I moved from Europe to Baltimore more than 25 years ago. I came to develop a kind of chauvinistic attachment to this peculiar city. After all its nickname is Charm City. Baltimore is slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, post slavery. 2/3 of the city is black. The white establishment of the city and the state incessantly try to sweep under the carpet these elements of its past and present. A segregated city with liberal feelings, Baltimore developed as an industrial city in the 19thcentury with one of the most active ports in the United States. Certainly, the tensions from the industrial revolution to deindustrialization are colored by the stigmata of slavery, racism. 

Baltimore got its international fame with the series The Wire described by its author David Simon as a “Greek tragedy for the new millennium,” in which institutions such as the police had increasing power with growing impunity, in part due to the lack of oversight from the state government which has controlled the Police Department since its inception. David Simon explained that the series showed “the triumph of capitalism over human value.” Nevertheless, Baltimore is a place of resistance and debate, a place where people are trying to imagine a sense of community despite class, gender, race/ethne systems that are part of the history of Baltimore and the United States.  

On July 30th, the 45thpresident of the United States missed a chance to celebrate the 290th anniversary of the creation of the city of Baltimore, but he never misses an occasion to express his basic racism and xenophobic political ideals. His attacks on Baltimore particularly the Baltimore of Elijah Cummings, in short Black Baltimore (Cummings represents the 7thMaryland’s district, which encompasses over half of the city of Baltimore), is his latest strike on humanity. For a president who has made a career in reality shows, it is difficult to understand the true reality of an abusive system of police, justice, poverty and violence generated by a capitalistic society that reduces human dignity to a racialized, gendered determination of human value. The murder by police of Freddie Gray in the streets of Baltimore is one example. Why did Freddie Gray decide to run away from police?  When people demanded justice for Freddie Gray, the entire city was punished. Remember, Baltimore is where Central Booking was invented, where the parallel economy of narcotics trafficking is a variable to undermine any emancipation of the Black community. But none of that was expressed by the president of the nation, because he is just president for the racist and xenophobic part of the population oblivious to its history.  

There is a special spirit of resistance in Baltimore, as the day that followed the last presidential election reminded me. A bar near Penn Station, the train station of Baltimore, put a sign on the sidewalk saying: “Happy Hours, it’s a terrible day”. The sign was inviting in the bleak context of the day and the years to come to enter a nondescript place. The crowd inside was mainly Black and some White, the discussion was about resisting and the sense of solidarity was present. 

Donald Trump was designated 45thpresident of the United States. He immediately demonstrated an unapologetic and nasty understanding of what wielding power means. His caricatural, white supremacist, misogynistic position is not new but as the president, he supposedly must have attempted to be the representative of the people of the United States, all of them. I am joking!  His base is white, some are supremacist, other have simply grown up cajoled by the idea of the natural superiority of their race or their social position. His base and his financial and business supporters are now the only nation. 

On this basis, he aimed at four women of color, duly elected members of Congress, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar.  The four congressmembers have been the target of outrageous utterances and threats coming from the occupant of the White House. He accused them of hating the United States, advising them to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they come. For clarity, three are American born and Omar came as a refugee when she was 11. These muckraking comments indicate that xenophobic, anti-feminist hatred is part of his campaign strategies for 2020, but beyond this is a sign of the desperate attempt to maintain white supremacy as well as the supremacy of the capitalist neoliberal system that has been under the control of the “non-representative” leaders of this world. 

Instead of being vilified, the four women should have been applauded for their achievements, their commitment against oppression and marginalization. Their constant engagement against the villainy of the current immigration policies pushed by the president, the violence of the treatment of refugees. They should be an inspiration for anyone who thinks about representing a population. 

Representation is at the heart of the current political tensions surrounding elections. These women were elected on a ticket that demanded health care not health insurance, respect for the dignity of asylum seekers, respect for women’s rights and for the principle of the law and justice. 

Representation is a gendered and racialized battle field. When the leader does not obey the community, he (rarely she) commands the community in response to their votes. The struggle is global, the rise of extreme right intolerant voices has many causes; the responses should encompass the ideals of an open participatory democracy. This utopian vision is far from the reality in Baltimore and elsewhere in the United States. Black lives still don’t matter, women are still persecuted for wanting to decide when to be pregnant and keep their body safe, all that in the reality of climate change. Vested interests still manage the system of representation in the United States and in the globalized world. It’s time to end misrepresentation. In the United States, after this deadly week-end, we see once more that racist, xenophobic representatives entail xenophobic violence that leads to killing. End misrepresentation now. 

(Photo Credit 1: Baltimore Sun / Julio Cortez / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Vox / Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Southern New Jersey races: Don’t co-opt white supremacist and sexist slogans for your campaign this election cycle

Andy Kim, one of us

New Jersey was one of several key races in the election this year. As a South Jersey native who lives in districts that tout all spectrums of Republicans – from Trumpsters who worship the ground he walks to moderates who don’t “always” agree with his positions, I had some advice:  Stop co-opting his white supremacist slogans and jargon.

In the 4thDistrict, Representative Tom MacArthur was in a hotly contested election battle with Democratic candidate Andy Kim; Kim, the son of South Korean immigrants and a former national security aide to President Barack Obama, had to actively prove he is part of the South Jersey club, in the face of not so covert racism that hint that he isn’t “part of the club” from the New Jersey Republican Party who described him as “Real Fishy’ – the text printed in a typeface called Chop Suey-next to a photo of dead fish on ice.” While MacArthur dismissed the ads as race-baiting, Republican super pac ads warned voters that Kim is “not one of us.”

From a state that boasts immigrant cultures, promotes Liberty State Park and Ellis Island as proudly located in New Jersey (yes, it is), Kim is as much “us” as Hoboken native, Frank Sinatra.

In NJ’s 11thdistrict, Republican Candidate Jay Webber fell behind his opponent, Navy Veteran and Federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill who hoped to win Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s seat after his retirement this year. In desperate form, Webber attacked Sherrill as “the dark, fire-breathing radical in this race.” Webber conveniently neglected his own open support for Trump and his legislation, even as the president’s tax bill is set to actively harm New Jersey residents because it curtailed their ability to deduct state and local taxes. Meanwhile, Rep. Leonard Lance fiercely defended his seat in the 11thdistrict, against Democratic candidateTom Malinowski, who raised Lance’s—and really, most NJ Republicans can be applied to this—relationship with the Very Unpopular President.

A commonality to the Southern New Jersey races that many Republican candidates need to be wary of is the massive unpopularity of the president to New Jersey voters. Co-opting Trump’s sexist, homophobic, and overtly racist dogma isn’t going to be your ticket to winning this year.

Here’s an example. As I was determined to vote early in my district — New Jersey’s 4thDistrict, where Republican incumbent Chris Smith defended his seat against Democratic Candidate Josh Welles — I had the misfortune of reading my unopposed Mayoral candidate Kenneth Palmer, and two city councilman’s, campaign slogan: Manchester First.

The campaign slogan harkens back to the “America First” political slogan, used by isolationists in pushing anti-Semitic programs in the 20thcentury, with Trump himself adopting the phrase. Aviator Charles Lindbergh most famously promoted “America First” policy, and David Duke, former Klan Leader, happily endorsed Trump’s use of the phrase.

I hope that the mayoral candidate did not take the meaning of his campaign slogan from the Trump administration; given the politics of the small township I wouldn’t be surprised. I have had to cross many a stop sign with Info Wars and Hillary for Prison 2016 bumper stickers forManchester First to be a coincidence. Given that New Jersey ranks third for most anti-Semitic incidents, a slogan promoting just the kind of anti-Semitism that has taken hold of the state would be exactly what a largely Trumptown mayor meant to convey.

Mr. Mayor, being unopposed does not give you the right to pander to the hate growing in the South Jersey region, even if it was not what you meant to convey. You may have won now, but the anti-Trump sentiment is growing, even in comfortably red districts of the Garden State, and you shouldn’t stay comfortable when in four years that campaign tag comes back to haunt you.

Meanwhile, as of Sunday, November 11, 2018, New Jerseyans elected Democratic candidates Andy Kim; Mikie Sherrill; and Tom Malinowski to the United States House of Representatives. Feeling blue? Oh yeah.

Manchester, New Jersey, sample ballot

 

(Photo Credit 1: Huffington Post / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Author’s photo)

 

 

In South Africa, at the Curro Waterfall preschool, Black Women teachers demand justice

A half hour out of Johannesburg and “a breezy 23 minutes” from O.R. International Airport lies a place called Waterfall, “one of the fastest transforming suburbs in South Africa” Waterfall boasts “soaring investor confidence …, burgeoning residential, commercial, mixed-use and retail precincts”, Waterfall City, The Mall of Africa, brand name restaurants, malls, schools … and, according to recent reports, racism with a large component of sexism. Specifically, the Curro Waterfall pre-school,  known as a Curro Castle School, has had a practice of slotting Black women as assistants and White women as teachers, often despite respective qualifications, and then segregating assistants from teachers. They are referred to differently, and they have segregated staff rooms. As today’s Mail & Guardian notes, “The signs on the staff rooms did not read `whites only’ or `blacks only’ but teaching assistants were segregated from teachers.” Within a month, three Black Women teachers resigned from Waterfall Curro. The teachers are going under the names of Sibongile Khumalo, Juliet Bongo, Lerato Makhubela. Concerned parents raised a ruckus as did teachers, and now an independent investigation is underway.

While this is clearly an issue of racial discrimination on the part of the school’s management and some of its staff, the events also speak to the importance of an intersectional approach. Where are the women? Everywhere. Three Black Women resigned within a month. White Women teachers told their children to call anyone who was White a teacher, and to call anyone who was Black an assistant. The children age from three months to five years. What are they learning at the juncture of race and gender?

Black women are slotted into lower paying positions and then forced to accept them. Black women are demeaned and told by the administration to tough it out. When Sibongile Khumalo perceived that she was being treated differently than her White colleagues, she went to the executive head of Curro Waterfall, Graeme Waite, who told her she could stay or she could go. “It was a way of killing my confidence or something because, by that time, I was destroyed. Only resilience kept me going. I told myself that I’m not going to leave this school until I can prove a black person is competent,” explained Sibongile Khumalo.

The three Black Women teachers stayed, and stayed in the assistants’ staff room. Finally, a group of parents began investigating and found racist practices in employment and culture. They wrote to Curro Group CEO Andries Greyling and demanded that Waite be fired. As of now the staff rooms are allegedly no longer segregated by `rank’ and Waite continues as executive head of the preschool.

The issues raised here – salary, culture, dignity, happiness – affect all workers and all people, but not necessarily in identical ways or with identical impact. Women workers struggle with the killing of their confidence in ways that are particular to their being positioned as women workers. What happened at Curro Waterfall was racist sexist, with the two parts intensifying each other and the whole. When it came to the three Curro Waterfall teachers who demanded justice, remember this: All the women were Black, all the Blacks were women, and all of them were brave.

 

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Wikus de Wet)

Adila Chowan’s victory over racist sexism affects women “not just in South Africa but internationally as well”

Adila Chowan

Last week, the North Gauteng High Court of South Africa handed down a decision in Adila Chowan vs. Mark Lamberti & Co. Adila Chowan sued her former employers – Associated Motor Holdings and Imperial Holdings – and her boss, Mark Lamberti, for economic loss, suffered through wrongful and intentional acts, and for injuries to her reputation and her sense of self-worth, or dignity. Adila Chowan, an Indian Muslim woman, claimed that she was bypassed for promotions, for which she was eminently qualified, in favor of white male candidates. When pressed for reasons, Mark Lamberti told Adila Chowan that she was “a female, employment equity, technically competent, they would like to keep her but if she wants to go she must go, others have left this management and done better outside the company, and that she required three to four years to develop her leadership skills.” In court, Adila Chowan explained, “Because I pride myself on the fact that I am a qualified professional chartered accountant. I had built my career. I had been a CFO. And in Mark Lamberti’s eyes I was being narrowed down because of my colour and being female.” The court agreed with Adila Chowan and found in her favor.

The Court found that Adila Chowan had struggled in a toxic work environment in which white males could reduce her, repeatedly and with impunity, to the status of racialized sexualized object. At the same time, the Court found that, when Adila Chowan filed a grievance, the process was corrupted by the involvement of precisely the supervisor she was accusing. From the smallest detail to the largest structure, everything was wrong.

In his decision, Judge Pieter Meyer noted, “The present matter, in my view, is a classroom example of an appropriate case where delictual liability should be imposed. There are ample public-policy reasons in favour of imposing liability. The constitutional rights to equality and against unfair discrimination are compelling normative considerations. There is a great public interest in ensuring that the existence of systemic discrimination and inequalities in respect of race and gender be eradicated. As blatant and patent as discrimination was in the days of apartheid, so subtle and latent does it also manifests itself today. The protection afforded to an employee, such as Ms Chowan, by the PDA [Protected Disclosures Act] against occupational detriments by her employer on account of having made a protected disclosure that was ‘likely’ to show unfair racial and gender discrimination, is one of the measures taken by the legislature to eradicate the existence of systemic discrimination and inequalities. If employers are too easily insulated from claims for harms, such as the occupational detriments to which Ms Chowan was subjected to on account of having made a protected disclosure to her employer, they would have little incentive to conduct themselves in a way that complies with the provisions of s 3 of the PDA.”

“As blatant and patent as discrimination was in the days of apartheid, so subtle and latent does it also manifests itself today.”

That “subtle and latent” discrimination doesn’t end with Court. Read the articles following the Court decision, and, with rare exception, the focus is on Mark Lamberti and whatever will he do now. One article has a photo of Adila Chowan. All the others picture Mark Lamberti. Adila Chowan has noted that Lamberti apologized to the media, never to her. In reflecting on the case, Adila Chowan said, “For me, I was trying to come out there and tell women that you can make a difference, and you can be heard and can stand up for yourself … Remember, being an Indian Muslim woman, you are seen as marginalised and [you are] basically invisible behind the scarf … This is not just in South Africa but internationally as well, where you see a differentiation between [the attitudes towards] men and women.”

Adila Chowan has waged a mighty struggle at the crossroads of racism and sexism, and she has won, and yet, somehow, even now, she must struggle, again, to have her name and her story told. Adila Chowan is the story. This is Adila Chowan’s story. Remember that.

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian)

No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!

Last Friday, during a National Public Radio show’s Friday News Roundup of domestic news, four panelists briefly discussed the Day Without Immigrants actions that had taken place across the country the day before. One prominent conservative correspondent noted, “There seemed to be a little conceptual confusion over immigrants and illegal immigrants.” There was no conceptual confusion among those who protested and their supporters. They chanted, “No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!” Not “legal”, not “illegal”. Immigrants. Immigrants, children of immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants have seen how ICE agents act. They know the raids are indiscriminate, and they know the actions, and many of the actors, are compelled by a xenophobia that is informed by white supremacist racism, the intersectional form of terror of the current regime.

The Muslim Ban, the anti-immigrant raids and sweeps, the language of intimidation and threat were never about the niceties of documentation. Muslims, including non-Muslims perceived to be Muslims, saw that, at certain airports, the ban meant anyone with “a certain name or look” was subject to particularly invasive and insulting attention. In every sense, those actions were unwarranted.

Over the last week, raids have targeted people at residences, churches, homeless shelters, and courts. In El Paso, a woman filing for a protective order from an abusive partner was picked up. In Alexandria, Virginia, two men leaving a homeless shelter were taken. Across the country, people without criminal records were taken away. ICE’s response? The reports are “false, dangerous and irresponsible” and those “falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.” Those “false reporters” include U.S. Senators and Representatives, Governors, members of the clergy, attorneys, eyewitnesses, family members, neighbors, passersby, cameras, and the list goes on. In Virginia, where I live, Governor McAuliffe, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner have written letters to Homeland Security and still await a response.

This past weekend, new directives “dramatically expand the scope of enforcement operations”.  These “sweeping new guidelines … empower federal authorities to more aggressively detain and deport … inside the United States and at the border.” In the places where people of color live, dramatic expansion and more aggressive detention add up to a reign of terror. That terror threatens everyone. It threatens the undocumented, as it threatens tech workers, seasonal workers, students and others protected by a visa.

Immigrant of color communities know that, when it comes to people of color, those in charge don’t distinguish among the undocumented immigrant, documented immigrant, and citizen. Their response has been clear: “No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!” There is neither conceptual nor ethical nor existential confusion here: No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Revolución Real Ya)

Is the disappearance of solidarity our most imminent threat?

Notre-Dame Basilica

Notre-Dame Basilica

On the morning of November 9, 2016, many NWSA members packed their bags and went to Montreal to attend the National Women Studies Association conference. I was one of them. Our families and friends joked, “Please come back,” because for several weeks, Americans who feared a Trump presidency swore they would leave the country if the unthinkable happened. The unthinkable did happen. And I, along with my fellow members, had to somehow get our dispirited selves together and make the trip.

Arriving in Montreal felt like a breath of fresh air: we were greeted by narrow streets, ivy covered brick walls, flowers on the balconies, the sound of French, French cuisine, Chinatown, Notre Dame. The conference focused on the theme of decolonizing, the tensions facing indigenous communities, transnational views of political issues, and so on.

On Saturday, my friends from the South Asian caucus and an African-American professor went for lunch in the old town and walked up to Notre Dame. A woman who was at the entrance said the church was closed; it had closed just 5 minutes back. We asked if we could just step in for a few minutes since we were leaving back to the U.S. the next day. She said in a hostile tone that the church was closed and would open for Mass at 5 pm. So we spent some time taking pictures and went to the gift shop adjoining the church. The woman there said she would be closing in 10 minutes. She repeated this a few times. I said, “We heard,” and she said, “in case you are caught off guard.” I was surprised at her choice of words. One of my friends bought a tiny statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and we left feeling we were not welcome.

My friend Fawzia, a fan of Leonard Cohen, wanted to stay for Mass where a tribute was being paid to him. The rest of us left back to the hotel. Later that evening, a traumatized Fawzia called us and we ran to meet her in the conference center. She was visibly shaken. She said that after we had left, she had hung around the steps of the cathedral for a while and went up to the guard who asked her to come back in 15 minutes, and that the Mass will be in French. So Fawzia stopped at a store across the church and bought something and went back after a few minutes. The guard again intoned that the Mass will be in French. At this point, a stream of people were entering the church. When Fawzia joined the line, the guard stopped her and said “Not you. The Mass is in French.” At this point Fawzia spoke to her in French that she was planning to stay for the Mass and why was she letting the white people enter but not her. Another guard then joined her and came close to her with his hand up and told her to go away. Fawzia immediately said she would not and why were they being racist. A third woman joined the guards and blocked Fawzia’s way. The first guard said she found her aggressive and the second guard threatened to call the police. At this point Fawzia said they could call the police if they wanted. She took out her camera and began taking their pictures. The first guard quickly shielded her face. The other two continued to block the entrance. People who witnessed the scene passed by even though Fawzia said loudly to them that she was not being allowed into the church and only white people were being let in.

She took a cab and burst into tears and told the cab driver what happened and wondered if this was what Montreal was like. The cab driver said he was sorry she had this experience.

Our collective illusion that Canada was somehow going to be a reprieve from our fear of the beginning of the nightmare that had unfolded in the U.S. was just that—an illusion. The reality, as our Canadian feminist friends reminded us, was the history of white supremacy in Canada and the U.S. alike. Canada was also fighting the fracking war; immigrants who were people of color have had a rough history there; indigenous populations continue to face a wall that Fawzia and her friends were up against. The wall is that of white hegemony; the Anglo-French war of old resurfaces from time to time in Montreal and immigrants get caught in its midst.

The hands that pushed her away are the hands that push away migrants heading into European countries, the hands that push away the disenfranchised, the impoverished, the asylum seekers, the refugees. It is important to recognize the wave of fascism that we are currently seeing in the U.S. –with the Trump Presidency being heavily endorsed by the KKK and neo Nazi and white supremacist groups—is now giving the nod to right wing forces in France, Belgium, Germany, and Hungary. Turkey has already noted the progress of demagoguery in the U.S. and is engaged in a wave of arrests of journalists and intellectuals. Putin is happy that he has an ally. The makers of Brexit also have in Trump an ally so the unwanted minorities can be deported or eliminated. Transnationally, racism and xenophobia are ruling out inclusion and democratic processes.

The following morning, at 7:30, a few members of NWSA and the local South Asian women’s group held a protest outside Notre Dame. The held a pink sari as a banner on which they had pinned the sign of the South Asian Women’s Community Center and signs that read “Love Not Hate,” while one of the members took pictures and a video to be sent to media outlets. Fortunately, the protest ended peacefully. There was no police presence or arrests.

Those of us from abroad may want to ponder what it means to protest in a foreign country; what it means for a conference whose headquarters is in a foreign country to show its support to its members who have encountered racism at the hands of locals; what would be the result if police did indeed arrest protesters on the basis that they are foreign and are disturbing the peace, just as it is currently happening in Turkey and is now looming as a threat in Arizona toward undocumented immigrants who are protesting; why none of the bystanders and the people entering the church intervened, and if the disappearance of solidarity is our most imminent threat; the hegemony of the U.S. over Canada that distorts the picture of racism against a U.S. citizen of color, which has played out all over the world against men and women of color in contested sites in the Middle East.

 

(Photo Credit: Montreal Gazette / Marie France Coallier)

The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter

Pretoria Girls High. A disgraceful bastion of White privilege and ongoing violence against the Black psyche. It joins University of Free State, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch, Wits and so many other historically White institutions that remind us and now our children that we are visitors to our own country and extras in the imperial imagination. As a mother of two dreadlocked/braided teen girls, I salute these girls aged 12 to 18 who are rejecting the body shaming that insists that afros, dreadlocks and braids are ”dirty and messy” and the cultural genocide that does not want African pupils to speak African languages to each other at school, the criminalising of their movements that surveys Black girls when they are in groups of more than 2.

I recall being body shamed all through High School because of my baby fat and beautiful African bum. It was brutal. The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter. It is violent. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Racist South Africa where White minority imagination is resisting the liberation project and where the revolution IS being televised. Just like 1976, language and Black being are sites of contestation. This Women’s Month is far more meaningful and has done far more to honour the spirit of the 1956 Women’s March than the pointless, vacuous , de-radicalised , ”soft and fluffy” celebrations of the past 15 years. Thank you Khwezi 4, thank you Marikana widows, thank you Caster Semenya and thank you Pretoria Girls High.

Black Girl – you MATTER. Your HAIR matters, your LANGUAGE matters, your CHOICES matter and your VOICE matters. In case I haven’t told you today – you are valuable, loved, precious and powerful. Speak even if your voice shakes and fight even while you are scared. I LOVE you Black Child, Black Girl, and I stand with you. You give me such hope and courage. #Racism and imperialism ARE falling #Afros and Dreadlocks are Rising.

Living in Fear: The Plight of African Nationals in India

Late at night on 30 January 2016, a Tanzanian woman was dragged out of her car, stripped, and beaten in the south Indian city of Bengaluru. A local vigilante mob decided to punish her in this way because half an hour earlier a 35-year old Sudanese male driver, Micah S. Pundugu, had run over a local female resident and sped away. The Tanzanian student had no clue about the accident. Nor did she have any connection with Pundugu. Yet the crowd allegedly paraded her naked, and torched her car presuming that since both were African nationals there had to be a connection. When a local bystander tried to help her by handing her a t-shirt, he was thrashed too. The 21-year old woman – a second-year BBA student at Acharya College, Bengaluru – then tried to escape by climbing onto a passing bus that had slowed down to watch the ‘spectacle’. But the passengers immediately hurled her back into the arms of the mob. According to media reports, all of this happened as the local police stood by watching the events. When the woman finally managed to escape, she remained in hiding at a friend’s place for two days – with good reason given that there were reports of angry mobs scouting the area for African residents. In her conversations with the media, the Home Minister and the police chief, the Tanzanian student later noted that when she sought to file a police report soon after Saturday’s incident, the policemen told her she could file the report only after she brought to them the Sudanese national responsible for the accident.

As public figures like External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, social activist and actress Nandita Das, and journalist Vir Sanghvi publicly condemned the incident, others like Karnataka Home Minister G Parmeshwara denied both its racial and sexual overtones. Union Law and Justice Minister DV Sadananda attempted to explain away the mob violence by emphasizing that Africans in India were involved in “illegal activities”, and outstayed their welcome in India on “expired visas”. Soon enough the issue devolved into political mudslinging between the BJP and the Congress parties over the issue of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s silence on this occasion vs. his prompt response in the Rohith Vemula suicide.

The latter kinds of response swiftly obfuscated the very real issues of everyday racist and sexual violence faced by African nationals in India. However, outraged by Sunday’s incident, several African students spoke out about their everyday encounters with racism. “People call us names. The ‘N’ word, blacky, blackberry, even ‘monkey’. It happens on the road while driving, at public places and even at the locality we live in”, said BSc student Axell Mouassoumy from the Republic of Congo. Abigail noted how her beloved Bollywood films are definitive in shaping prospective students’ expectations of India, i.e. they expect the same kind of warmth and color as portrayed in those films. But they are often sadly disappointed by the reality of racist attitudes in the country. Ironically, Bollywood films also perpetrate denigrating stereotypes about blacks and Africans. As Sai Hussain has noted, black characters in Indian cinema continue to be “written one-dimensionally, and often negatively”.

The Bengaluru incident is only one of the many recent cases of extreme violence against Africans in India. Other cases reported in the media include:

  • The stoning of Burundi national Yannick Nihangaza in April 2012. Yannick was heading to a party when nine young men repeatedly assaulted him with stones. Yannick’s injuries put him in a coma for 2 years ultimately leading to his death in July 2014.
  • The New Delhi Rajiv Chowk metro station case where three African male students were mercilessly beaten with fists, and sticks in September 2014. They “were allegedly “misbehaving with women.” The crowd looked like “a lynch mob beating the black men with sticks while yelling, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’” i.e. “Victory to Mother India”.
  • The robbing and gang rape of a 24 year old Rwandese woman returning to her home near Delhi University, in December 2012.

In a critique of violence against Black people in India, journalist Palash Krishna Mehrotra wrote, “Indians may scream ‘racism’ abroad (U.S.A. and Australia) but they see no problem in mistreating the black community or anyone who looks different, at home”.

It is high time we realized the gravity of the situation, and took action to stop such minority discrimination and targeted violence in India. How can we continue to proudly claim the legacies of Gandhi and Gautam Buddha when we cannot follow their basic lessons in non-violence and respect for individuals of all classes, castes, and colors? No matter how developed a nation we become in terms of smart cities and world-class physical infrastructures, if we cannot show basic human respect and consideration towards gendered and ethnic minorities and immigrants; if we cannot respect trust in the law and order mechanisms of our country, the “Incredible India” we know and love will soon implode from within.

 

(Photo Credit: NDTV.com)

Misogyny and Racism among Republican Contenders for the 2016 Presidency

The current competition among several Republican candidates to win the Republican ticket for the 2016 Presidency is overwhelmingly centered on statements and promises to support policies that are misogynistic.

Candidate Donald Trump is gaining popularity among the Republican voters for his stance on immigration. He vows to deport the children, even if they are American citizens, born to “illegal immigrants.” Apart from this notion being unconstitutional, it exposes an immigration restriction that used to be applied more than a century ago–the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, “which severely restricted the entry of unmarried Asian women [my emphasis] into the United States as part of an effort to limit the growing Asian and Asian American population” (Gurr 30). Other Republican candidates, like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, are in agreement with Trump, although Jeb Bush has picked Asians over Mexicans as his voodoo doll.

In giving credence to the belief in ousting children of illegal immigrants, Republican candidates are enhancing the population control practices that have been historically enacted on poor and non white populations.

The most recent battle is being waged to defund Planned Parenthood, an old battle that has now become frenzied and vicious. The gradual erasure of Planned Parenthood from many states attests to the gradual diminishment of health care for women who are particularly disadvantaged—rural women, poor women, teenagers, women of color. While the Republicans have built up arguments about Planned Parenthood’s evil, like their trade in “baby organs” (fetal tissue), based on evidence collected by decoy clients, the facts remain glossed over and unheeded: Abortion is a vital service PP offers, but is not federally funded and is a tiny percentage of the care that Planned Parenthood offers women, from prenatal care to breast cancer screening and HIV tests.

Also, much talked about in the news is Trump’s crass treatment of Fox’s news anchor, Megyn Kelly. In critiquing Trump, one finds oneself supporting an equally misogynistic and neoliberal institution, Fox News. Interestingly enough, during the first Republican debate, Megyn calling out Trump’s misogynistic name calling of women made her a target of Trump’s humiliating riposte—he questioned her intelligence and her work as a journalist. And she was not spared the name calling either; on social media, Trump continued his war days after his first fracas, and called her a “bimbo.”

While many have rallied to Megyn’s support (due to her privilege of being an anchor on Fox, her youth, her whiteness, and her class), there was no protest or walk out when Jorge Ramos, a top Latino journalist, was summarily kicked out by security when he tried asking Trump a question about his proposed immigration policy! Here we see, along with misogyny, a deep and fertile racism, (the two often go together), but a section of the populace is eager to overlook these events as harmless, pure theater.

These recent events bear a dangerous echo to the beginning of the Nazi era and Hitler, with Mein Kampf as the bible that would build a country based on exclusions through genocide of the unwanted. If Americans select a President who will enact policies that are racist and misogynist and do away with press freedoms, we can begin to believe that we have lost our basic human and civil rights. We need to be angry, stay alert, and organize more than ever.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Getty Images / Fusion)

Too Black to be French ?

Friday evening on the French/German television channel ARTE, random Black French citizens responded to Isabelle Boni-Claverie a French-Ivoirian screenwriter and film maker, “You know you are Black in France when…” Her latest documentary entitled “Trop noire pour être française ?” (Too Black to be French ?) mixed her personal story with these testimonies and interviews with philosopher Achille Mbembe, historian Pap Ndiaye, sociologist Eric Fassin, socio-demographer Patrick Simon and anthropologist Sylvie Chalaye to explore the experience of being a French Black citizen in the 21st century.

The urge to make this film came after the so-called “affaire Guerlain” in 2010, when renowned perfumer Jean Paul Guerlain explained on French public television how he created a perfume: “I worked like a nigger. I don’t know if niggers have always worked like that, but anyway.” Boni-Claverie was shocked by this comment. Apart from the strong reaction of Audrey Pulvar a “Black” French journalist, the overall press response showed that the remark was accepted as a verbal gaffe and nothing else.

She started an internet-based citizen movement and, along with other movements, organized demonstrations in front of Guerlain headquarter. The movement persisted and grew forcing Jean Paul Guerlain to face justice. He apologized in court saying that he was anything but racist; nevertheless he was convicted.

Boni-Claverie’s documentary explores the idea that his words are jokingly accepted because the stereotype has prevailed in the privacy of what is left of the imaginary of the colonial social construction of France and western countries. She uses her personal family story to untangle the colonial past and mythology that leads to what it means to be Black and French in the 21st century.

The underlying question of her documentary is the absence in France of ethnicity statistics, a necessary tool to see more clearly ethnic discriminations. The question still raises resistance for several reasons: one inherited from the resistance to ethnic murders of the Vichy government during World War II, and the other the belief that blindness to differences will guarantee equality, which is blatantly false.

Boni-Claverie’s personal story and inquiry is nourished with the love story of her grand parents, her grandmother a White law student from rural Tarn, in southwestern France, and her grandfather an Ivorian law student. They defied all stereotypes and laws and got married in 1931 both as French citizens.

France has its own stories to justify colonization, all of them based on the view of the colonized as children and thus not able to run their own lives (just as women). The story of a military defeat against Germany in 1870 also played a major role. As a result, France, a defeated empire, needed compensation in the “unknown lands”. The country sought to annex natural resources and labor force, including canon fodder in Africa as explains Achille Mbembe.

Thus, her grandfather born in 1909 in Ivory Coast, annexed by France, was an “indigene” and although the educative function of the colonies was part of the mythology, education was to be sought in France at the charge of the colonized.

Isabelle Boni-Claverie looks into the fantasizing civilizing mission of the colonizers that has fueled Nicolas Sarkozy’s declarations as a President of France. She replays parts of the infamous speech of Dakar, a slap to the Africans received on their soil. Sarkozy played on the mythologies of colonization to assert that “the African has not fully entered into history”, emphasizing the impossibility of the traditional African man to ever launch himself toward the future.

The “Guerlain affair” occurred during the Sarkozy years in power, with the creation of the national ministry of immigration and national identity, since removed by the Hollande administration. Boni-Claverie inserts a sequence on the role of stereotypes in the colonial construction and how they have persisted and evolved to justify inequalities that are suitable to the French elite and keep French Blacks in questionable citizenship.

In between sequences come the testimonies of anonymous citizens such as this particular one: “You know you are Black when as a member of the staff of a restaurant you must serve the meeting of Le Pen, and you see yourself afflicted with slurs, that you are called cheetah, nigger (negresse), that some throw sugar at you or other cookies and they ask you to pick them up.” This testimony is a reminder of the racist slurs toward Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, and toward Najat Vallaud Belkacem, the Minister of Education.

Sociologist Eric Fassin then reminds viewers that to be French is a question of rights and should not be questioned, as it is written in Article 1 of the Constitution. Isabelle Boni-Claverie asks her relative from the Tarn region about her grandparents and her cousin concludes strongly: You are a Tarnaise! Yes she is in the majority and still…

Playing on the “alchemy of race and rights” the White socio-demographer and the sociologist ask: “Are the Whites ready to become White?” Patrick Simon reminds us that the surface identity is White, and the Whites define the other in comparison with them. He admitted that he questions his own identity, as a White heterosexual male.

At this moment in the documentary the interrogation flips: “You know you are White when a friend of yours goes through ID and is checked and nobody ever asks for your ID.”

Isabelle Boni-Claverie’s grandfather was the first French magistrate of African origin. She comes from a privileged background and yet class does not protect from discrimination, although, as she recognizes, class provides some entitlement if, and only if, one assimilates. Then the group remains “entre-soi”, “among friends”, a sort of homogeneity defined by class, race and gender. Otherwise the response is merciless. Paradoxically, privileged class is often the source of the most disguised but nasty racism, according to Boni-Claverie.

She demonstrates that the personal is political. Her grand parents lived together for 50 years, her grandmother passed first and her grandfather soon after. Boni-Claverie concludes that together they made themselves believe that the advent of a post racial society had happened. She ends by asking: How much time for that to be a reality for all?

Liberation opened a page for testimonies: “You know you are Black when…” The page filled quickly with important, must-read testimonies. The documentary will be distributed to associations to raise awareness; it came with a petition to promote the establishment of quantitative data on discrimination. It is the responsibility of the French State to have its principles written in its Constitution respected.

 

(Photo Credit, Video Credit: YouTube.com/ Voyage Voyage)