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Rocket Scientist (Ode to those real-life really Hidden Figures all around us) #BlackenAsiaWithLove

Rocket scientist.

Let’s face it. When most of us read those words,

We ‘see’ a man in our mind’s eye.

The so-called smartest job on earth belongs solely to women men.

 

What if those dreams kids dreamed – of going anywhere in the world –

Also included smart women?

What if we grew up knowing that women were rocket scientists?

As much as we use the oft phrase “it’s not rocket science” to exclaim simplicity,

What if the smartest person nobody ever met was a woman?

Nobody anybody knows has ever met a rocket scientist or a nuclear physicist, but we’re all sure THESE guys represent humanity’s brightest.

What if the brightest people in the world were both women AND men?

 

The black women ‘behind’ America’s space race, yet, ‘one step for man…’ really did mean one giant step for man-kind.

Have we stolen little girls’ dreams?

By concealing the truth of the Black women rocket scientists behind America’s moon landing,

Haven’t we squashed those ambitions for black girls?

It’s not that Black girls are absent in Pop Culture, they’re just normally, regularly

Relegated to a few very banal stereotypes.

By praising Black Jezebels, Sapphires and Mammies above all,

Haven’t we assured everyone on the planet that the last thing a black girl could do was grow up to become a rocket scientist?

Or president of America?

One giant step for white man-kind, indeed!

Now we have an unkind thug running thangs.

Mr. Backlash! Mr. Backlash!

It’s telling that the biggest modern feminist march happened because of his inauguration.

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Michele Obama as Sapphire

What if the most powerful leaders in history were women?

What if, instead of deifying generals and soldiers, and

Rather than holding the torch for sword-bearers,

What if we regarded HIS-story through women’s contributions to society?

How have women determined the fates of nations,

Irregardless of men’s war of conquest and colonization?

What if we studied those who avoided war, not just those who indulged?

Would so many world leaders be calling the Coronavirus an “enemy” that we must “defeat”?

What if we celebrated the survivors of millennia of mostly male belligerence – where

Women couldn’t even own property, let alone vote.

Let alone control their own bodies.

 

Who were those men and women who fought for equality even then, and

Who were the detractors?

Who were those masochists who believed God had a son, not a daughter, and

Therefore, men have divine right to rule?

What if women had written the Bible, or any holy book or writings from any world religion?

Would patriarchy so regularly be the order of the day?

I’ll have an order of patriarchy with a side of misogyny and sexual objectification for dessert!

My drink order?

Ah, give me a cup of control over every business, government, religious and labor institution for over a thousand years!

Don’t forget the lemon, this is a sour business!

Oh great, free refills!

 

[sigh]

 

Wasn’t Shirley Chisholm brave for being the first black woman to run for president?

Let’s face it, a woman running for any office right now is likely to get trolled online,

Likely to have folks write that they’re gonna rape her, so

You can imagine the hate Ms. Chisholm faced.

And oh, did I mention she was queer?

What gymnastics did Ms. Chisholm have to practice in earnest in those days?

“A woman cannot do the job of a man.”

This is a direct quote from a policeman’s wife when the NYPD integrated patrol teams back in the 70’s.

Aren’t the brave first female officers heroes?

A woman said the same thing at a 2016 Trump rally.

Aren’t women brave for running for political office and raising their voices in chambers?

[sigh]

There is no equal pay.

There are plenty o’ glass ceilings to shatter all around the world.

Yet, we take issue with this word feminist.

 

Feminist.

When some hear feminist, they think bra-burning,

Even though they never burned bras at the infamous feminist protest at the ‘68 Miss America pageant.

Media coverage dismissed this early feminist protest for equality as “bra-burning,” and thus the moniker stuck!

Bra-burning!

You side with anti-feminist masochists when you use that phrase.

You outta keep “bras” outta your mouth until you know first-hand what you’re talking ‘bout!

When some hear feminist, they don’t think ‘feminism’ oh, that means

‘My sister shouldn’t grow up beside me, scared of getting raped by a man in our family.’

 

When some hear feminist, they think ‘lesbians’.

So, feminists are lesbians, or lesbians are feminists?

What-ever!

It’s way too easy to say straight women can’t support equality in power, opportunity and access for all genders!

Seriously?!?

 

When some hear feminist, they think about men being oppressed.

They don’t think about the rights husbands have over wives’ bodies – marital rape is a fairly recent feminist protection.

 

When some hear feminist, they think feminists are ugly, jealous women.

They don’t think about the pressure to be beautiful,

Even in the age of social media where millennials show-up selfie-ready at breakfast, and

Spend half of breakfast posting about the breakfast rather than actually enjoying said breakfast.

But at least their lashes and brows are flawless!

Naw, when some people hear feminist,

They couldn’t even begin to think the amount of money an average woman spends on make-up over a lifetime, trying to make herself beautiful for the male gaze.

[Sing]   “The men all paused when I walked into the room…

The men all paused and the brides held their grooms!”

You can best bet her face was beat up before she stepped a foot outside for her “burgers and sodas”.

Yes, there’s “A Meeting in the Ladies Room,” so you’d better bring your best compact, girl.

Flawless!

 

When some hear feminist, they think privileged white women.

They don’t think, ‘oh, my sister should have the same opportunities as me’.

Or, ‘gee, my sister shouldn’t have to worry about some creep making moves on her at work while she’s trying to feed her kids.’

They couldn’t even begin to know about the Hidden Figures.

 

When some hear feminist, they think men-haters.

They don’t think about all the hateful things we’ve heard our whole lives

About the dangers of women’s bodies:

Females menstruate -problem 1.

Menstruation makes females moody – problem 2.

Females can get pregnant- problem 3.

Female bodies are problematic… dangerous.

We teach this to everyone.

We teach girls to be mindful of men; we don’t teach boys not to prey on women.

We teach girls to dress appropriately; we don’t teach boys to respect girls’ bodies.

We teach girls to take a pill, almost a rite of passage, but

We don’t teach boys to grow up and research, develop and market a pill for men.

We teach girls: her power is in her sex; we don’t teach boys ‘conquering her sexually is sexist’.

Smash her.

Bash her!

“Beat that p*ssy up!” goes the chant of an infamous deep House beat!

You can take these lessons to the Supreme Court and still win!

 

So, what if we grew up knowing women were rocket scientists?

What if boys and girls grew up knowing this… taking for granted that girls were smart, too?

If this AND may such stories hadn’t been so conveniently “forgotten”

Would women have to prove themselves so much at work?

Would we be asking women how they balance a career and motherhood?

Or would we be asking dads that question just as often and effortlessly?

So, what if we grew up knowing women were rocket scientists, that

Women were excellent and disciplined at the height of logic?

What if we grew up knowing women were rocket scientists?

Would we use words likehystericalto mete out a symbolic hysterectomy?

Would insults like “bitch” or “like a girl” carry any weight?

Notice by adding “like a girl” to any phrase, it becomes an insult!

If women were known to excel at rational thinking like rocket science, then

Wouldn’t we then assume males are emotional beings, too?

Would there be such a thing as toxic masculinity, the irrational, natural extension of teaching kids the ‘Boys Don’t Cry’?

Did you know that by age 7,

Girls know significantly more words to talk about their feelings than boys?

If women were rocket scientists, too,

Would we still refuse to teach boys Emotional Intelligence?

Bury your feelings, boys, take it out with your fists.

Would we still refuse to teach girls that they can excel at math?

What world would we craft, if little boys and girls grew up knowing that muscle and brawn didn’t matter in the world of equality and respect we were told we’d built?

 

 

 

Michele Obama as Sapphire

 

 

Angie Smallwood thought we were bank-robbers #BlackenAsiaWithLove

Thus far, this has been the only time someone has called the cops on me – excluding those late-night noise violations at university for my 21st birthday parties. Plus a few routine traffic stops back home, two of which involved routine racial profiling. I’m lucky. There are far too many stories when these police encounters didn’t go well.

What if Ms. Angie had notified the guard, and he’d then decided to take things into his own hands? What if the police had come in pointing guns as they are want to do? What if my mother weren’t clasping tightly to my hand – as far as they knew – a senior citizen in need of (their) protection, a long-time customer of the bank discussing the mortgage on my grandparent’s old house? I have to wonder about these possibilities, to be sensitive and aware :-(. To be Young, Gifted and Black  :-).

Dead giveaway

Like Charles Ramsey, “I knew something was wrong” when I saw two cops circle the bank and enter from two different directions. They weren’t there for banking and there weren’t any other customers. This was hubby’s (then boyfriend) first visit to my hometown, so I’d explicitly warned him to sit down while we waited in the lobby for my mother to handle her business. It was a small branch, yet still, like many banks at the time, the safe sat wide open, as if for inspection. Hubby was hovering. I even gave him change so he could get a lollipop from the charity pot sitting on several teller stations. You’d think someone would come over and offer a tour.

I had entered the small office once or twice. I greeted the agent speaking with my mother, then let momma know where we waited. Meanwhile, hubby insisted on wondering around – he’s generally restless. He was looking at all the posters promoting the bank’s services. Incredibly high-interest rates! Few savings options! He’s fascinated with the levels of credit exploitation permitted in America; the average German has net assets while most all us Americans have debt! He couldn’t even understand how a nation would let its population not have access to a basic bank account – as a right. He measured everything by good German standards.

How do people in America live with such instability! At that time, all this was totally foreign to him. At least in our neighborhood most folks were homeowners, so hubby and I understood one another on that. We’d both grown up taking care of our family’s homes and helping the neighbors. We’ve mowed many a lawn and trimmed many a hedge. We still do now.

“Me and my boyfriend,” the new Bonnie & Clyde

Angie Smallwood’s branch has now closed. After being heavily frisked, ID-ed and having the car license plates checked, the manager told us that Angie Smallwood had been involved in “5 or 6 armed robberies.” He explained – in that managerial tone where you know you’re being handled – that Angie had become suspicious because of hubby’s foreign accent. I found that part hilarious and yet most plausible then and there, in Louisville, KY. In spite of their constant romanticization of their European roots, they couldn’t communicate with one actual F.O.B. standing right in front of them. As a European, hubby needed this education about his own whiteness.. He even came up with his own phrase for the phenomenon “those are not my white people.”

I suppose the manager was suggesting that Angie Smallwood was trigger happy. Or, perhaps he was just trying to elicit our sympathies. It’s not as if we were going to cause a scene, the cops were still standing menacingly by. Of course, my husband blurted out why they’d placed someone so traumatized on front desk duty anyway? I am also not certain if they expected my mother to continue her business with them, or if they even cared, but the cops did ask hubby and I to leave – as if my mother was just going to go back inside. At least the manager could have apologized to my mother. He could not.

“Like I said, we just got a call about a potential crime.”

What if my mother didn’t have outstanding credit, or relationships with other banks, and therefore didn’t have other options? Angie’s antics would have just ruined that. This was the most disrespectful part – their staunch, comprehensive reminder that there’s systemic power behind their individual prejudices. Their silences. My silence.

My silence: I had already policed myself. I dressed for success, sat calmly in a visible area, not made any noise and not touched anything save for the flyer next to me on the table. I used my best diction and inside voice when I made sure to smile and greet every staffer I could see. I showed them my teen as if to announce “I’m not a threat.” If all that hadn’t disarmed them, it occurred to me – yet again- that they could not be appeased.

No level of respectability would protect me in public – we were all a part of a system, and as far as they were all concerned, everyone was just doing their job. Imagine, not only could the cops not offer any apology, they couldn’t even stand down from their hostile posture and tone. I actually felt sorry for them – as big, armed and trained as they were, they acted threatened by us!

At the time I thought they’d refused to de-escalate the situation, perhaps pride? The cops had no kind words for my mother whom they’d found out was there on legitimate business. Naw, they escorted us outside and menacingly watched us drive away. Sometimes I feel that even screwball ‘Police Academy’movies from the 80’s showed more emotional intelligence than that.

Though hubby usually drives, momma insisted that she take the wheel under the cops’ eyes, worrying they’d then challenge the foreigner’s right to drive. Yet, now I’m convinced they couldn’t have de-escalated the situation. Cops’ weeks of training doesn’t routinely include conflict resolution. They don’t know no better. They just got a call, and so they could no longer be human.

Educate cops. Arm them with de-escalation tools so that the public sees their power. Arm cops with non-violence so that they model this behavior for our society. Teach cops to be able to identify emotional distress as much as any professional would. Don’t let a weapon be their only peacemaker.

Classified/Wanted Ads #BlackenAsiaWithLove

JOBS

Factory seeks to promptly fill 3 vacancies for late-night, high-security, discrete deliveries. Must be available 24/7 and show evidence of advanced combat and weapons training. Veterans welcome. Preference given to diversity candidates. Valid driver’s license required. Security devices and vehicle provided by employer. Paid weekly in cash.

VOCATIONAL – FINE ARTS

Wanted: A 18-25-year-old male is needed for a forbidden love-themed pop video. This is a well-known, bleach-blond, blue-eyed country artist’s pop debut. Casting requires an exotic, biracial type with boyish looks and natural hazel/green/blue eyes. Must be skilled in street dance.

RETAIL

Designer swimwear shop seeks Guest Relations specialists for flagship shops in The Hamptons and Malibu. Must be at least 6’3”, very dark-skinned, athletic, and deliciously beach ready. Funky hair a plus! Think Tyson Beckford meets Dennis Rodman. Duties include: Serving champagne, occasional overnight travel and beach volleyball with our exclusive clientele. Seasonal packages include: On-site room and board, comprehensive healthcare, professional grooming services and uniforms from our latest collection. No speaking, reading or writing required.

SPORTS

Streetballers wanted! Did you grow up dunking basketballs in a milk crate nailed to a tree? Have you battled the ghetto’s roughest players on the court? Then the New England Groten Academy wants you! NEGA is among America’s most elite, K-12 boarding schools for boys. NEGA’s Basketball program has won 3 Boarding School League championships and alumni just built a state-of-the-art athletic facility. NEGA’s athletes also train a futuristic virtual reality environment designed by GTA creators – real streetball simulations. The program is massively popular in the community, and welcomes NEGA staff as family. Nestled in pristine Vermont, 99% of NEGA graduates go on to study in the Ivy League. So, if you’re the champ of ghetto street ball, NEGA wants you!

Primary Source 26

“Help wanted—male” classified ad, Chicago Defender
General Research & Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundation.
December 1, 1917*

PERSONALS

Couple seeks big, black buck for ravishment and master/slave role play. We’re are adventurous, old, white, middle-aged, middle-class couple newly empty nested. You: Tall, dark, hung, handsome and comfortable acting out domestic violence scenes. Tattoos, gun wounds and knife-scars a bonus. Extra paid for prison-time served.

Turn to pages 3-7 for pretty little white girls. There are plenty of new ads from kitchens to bedrooms and boardrooms seeking supporting roles.

Next week, no more of this diversity crap.

Afterwards:

Stuck at home on lockdown, I have (unwittingly), more regularly engaged with much more TV. Searching for entertainment, I’m continually amazed by the permutations of harmful stereotypes. Since childhood I’ve often wondered about the labour that buttresses this trade in harmful stereotypes. In my daily role as an educator, I expose my students (and I) to myriads of ways of seeing. This piece is one response to the cognitive dissonance between the two spheres of social and intellectual instruction. Don’t worry, books still live!

 

*https://teachers.phillipscollection.org/artwork/help-wanted%E2%80%94male-classified-ad-chicago-defender

Featured image: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/478/emma-martin/

The Ho Stro’ (A quick peek at a little sex work) #BlackAsiaWithLove

Labelle-Lady-Marmalade-1562178271-compressed

The original, unofficial Ho Stro’ theme song. Play this while reading (see below).

 

Sitting on the curb of a busy road along the railroad track.

Wearing a mini skirt with your legs spread, bent over

Scratching your wig with one of your long fire-engine red fingernails, while

Reaching in your purse for the matching lipstick.

It’s half past midnight, the night is young.

4 women on the Ho Stro’ between the railroad track, a busy road, and a giant city park.

 

Hoes stroll day and night.

I’ve been on my way to work, or

Watching the sunrise on my way home from clubbing,

Rain or shine,

These hoes are inline

On time.

Scattered along the railroad track facing the park,

Sometimes 1 by 1, sometimes in twos;

And an elderly woman within eyeshot.

 

I’ve seen a crack head or two, too,

Trying to push herself up to any mens passing by.

Crack or smack,

I’m not sure what these hoes do,

But I know it’s whack.

Frail, emaciated, veins popping and tattered.

They rarely cross the road and venture along the train track.

Over here it’s wide open,

The hoes along the track roam in packs…

Whereas the park side of the stroll provides the crack heads some cover.

 

For a while, I resisted knowing that these women were hoes.

But one evening,

A couple of hoes showed up at my favorite Beef Noodle joint as I sat for dinner.

All cheery and bubbly,

Dressed for a night out.

Greeting everyone that comes in as you do in your neighborhood joint*

One of the ladies came over towards me, all bubbly and cheery,

Stretched out and unfolded her hands as if she were about to offer me something,

Then jabbed her index finger in-and-out of… you get it.

Yes, THAT universal gesture,

Though it didn’t seem lude coming from her, over a bowl of Pho.

I politely declined, they placed their orders and sat down.

Hoes gotta eat, too.

 

In my after-dinner walks around the lake,

I have to watch out when I reach the long, straight, tree-lined stretch along the track.

There, there’s nothing but cars parked,

And tea stalls at both ends.

Hoes tend to congregate right in the middle.

Pulling tricks.

No man gets by unsolicited.

 

It’s as if the bright fire-red were their signal.

Fire-engine red lipstick and false nails to match.

Sometimes a matching skirt, purse and shoes, too.

It’s loitering, but

Soliciting men, too.

The men know where to find them, these hoes are always there.

Street crawlers know where to find them.

Rush hour or late-night,

Early morning, and absolutely at high noon…

Work is work.

 

Women can’t loiter.

Just look at how we treat women who are not even in the trade.

Meanwhile, men and boys in most parts of the world can hang out anywhere, anytime.

Men are much freer at this level of corporeal control and bodily integrity –

In public and private space.

Although I’d argue that we teach boys to disintegrate into the night.

This is exactly the breach that’s reached here.

These hoes stroll.

There is a Ho Stro’ in every city I know!

Pimps, hookers, hoes, tricks, johns and everybody in between can see.

Whose life’s at risk?

Who do the law-keepers claim are the criminals?

Hey mister, have you got a dime?

Mister: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?

*I’ve only lived here a half a year, so I’m sure this is their hood; I’m new to the party.

NB: Ho Stro’ or whore stroll is an American southern vernacular term – the first term I learned as a kid – for a red-light district. PLEASE, do not look up Ho Stroll on YouTube but if you must this one from LA is HILARIOUS  And please, seriously, don’t bother looking up words for the clients of female sex workers.

 

The ‘other’ BBC worldservice. #BlackenAsianWithLove

The ‘other’ BBC worldservice.

If you google “BBC+Mandingo,” please be aware that it is NSFW. Use your imagination. Now, imagine an auction block. Imagine a slave standing there. Breeding slaves underpinned the ‘white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal’ system that placed their bodies upon that auction block. Hyper-sexualisation of Black bodies began right there. It is bell hooks’ Intersectionality lens that’s necessary for a holistic gaze upon consumer commodification.

Now, imagine that one Black boy in class, vying for attention just as any other adolescent, yet he’s got an entire multitude of hyper-sexualised images filling the heads of virtually everyone in the room. By the time they hit the locker-room, everyone is expecting to see this kid’s BBC. I’ve had many (non-Black) adults say that to me explicitly, inexplicably in any given situation where one might not otherwise imagine penis size would surface so casually in conversation. Hence, we can all imagine that with the crudeness of adolescent male vernacular: Your kid is asking my kid why his penis isn’t what all the rappers rap about. we-real-cool-cover

Why are so many commercially successful rappers’ fantasies reduced to “patriarchal f*cking?” Reading Michael Kimmel’s essay “Fuel for Fantasy: The Ideological Construction of Male Lust,” in her seminal book We Real Cool: Black Masculinity, bell hooks clarifies: “In the iconography of black male sexuality, compulsive-obsessive fucking is represented as a form of power when in actuality it is an indication of extreme powerlessness” (hooks: 67-8).

It’s auto-asphyxiation, a kind of nihilistic sadomasochism that says, if the world thinks of me as a beast, then a beast I shall be. Plenty of kids work this out by the time they hit the playground. “Patriarchy, as manifest in hip-hop, is where we can have our version of power within this very oppressive society,”  explains writer/activist Kevin Powell (qtd. in hooks: 56). Ironically, Powell came to fame in the 90’s on MTV through the original reality show aptly entitled “The Real World.”

Plantation Politics 101

Since at least 2017, commercial rap has been the most widely sold musical genre; it’s pop. Beyond roughly 700,000 sales, Black people are not the primary purchasers of commercialised rap, as explained in the documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. It takes millions to earn ‘multi-platinum’ status. Yet, while created by and for Black and brown people in ghettoized communities, it has morphed into a transnational commodity having little to do with the realities of its originators, save for the S&M fantasies of wealth beyond imagination. And what do they boast of doing with that power, read as wealth? Liberating the masses from poverty? Intervening on the Prison Industrial Complex? Competing with the “nightmareracist landlords like Donald Trump’s dad Fred? No! They mimic the very gangsters they pretend to be. Once Italian-Americans held hard that stereotype, but now it’s us. It’s always about power. Truly, ‘it’s bigger than Hip-Hop’.

We-real-coolThe more painful question few bother asking is why commercial rap music focuses so keenly on pimps, thugs, b*tches and whores? Like other commodities, commercial rap is tailored to the primary consumer base, which isn’t (fellow) Black people, but white youth. What is it about contemporary white youth that craves images of salacious, monstrous, licentious and violent Black people boasting about killing and maiming one another? Describing this mass commercial “Misogynistic rap music,” hooks states: “It is the plantation economy, where black males labor in the field of gender and come out ready to defend their patriarchal manhood by all manner of violence against women and men whom they perceive to be weak and like women” (hooks: 57-8). Plainly, the root of commercial rap’s global prominence is the reenactment of “sadomasochistic rituals of domination, of power and play” (hooks: 65).

Hyper-sexualisation is a form of projection onto Black people a mass white anxiety about our shared “history of their brutal torture, rape, and enslavement of black bodies” (hooks: 63). She goes on to explain: “If white men had an unusual obsession with black male genitalia it was because they had to understand the sexual primitive, the demonic beast in their midst. And if during lynchings they touched burnt flesh, exposed private parts, and cut off bits and pieces of black male bodies, white folks saw this ritualistic sacrifice as in no way a commentary on their obsession with black bodies, naked flesh, sexuality” (ibid). Hence the BBC obsession finds a consumer home safely in pop music!

“I am ashamed of my small penis,” a stranger recently mentioned to me in a grilled wing joint I happened upon here in Hanoi. The confession came from nowhere, having nothing to do with anything happening between us at the time. Is this the locker-room banter I always hear about? Are straight men really so obsessed with their penises? Given his broken English and my non-existent Vietnamese, I tried comforting him by explaining in the simplest terms the saying: “It’s not the size of the wave but the motion of the ocean.” Colloquialisms never translate easily, but I did at least deflect the subject away from ethno-sexual myths spread worldwide through contemporary consumer culture.

We’ve got to talk about ethno-sexual myths with openness, honesty and integrity. Silence is the master’s tool; silence = death! Further, echoing ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’ Audre Lorde, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. I am Black in Asia, and there are perhaps no two groups of men at polar opposites of ethno-sexual myths. Like the hyper-sexualisation of women of colour, these myths reveal that neither Blackness nor Asianess is at the centre of these globally circulated myths. Hyper-sexual in comparison to who or what? Hegemonic heteronormative whiteness. Say it with me: Duh!

 

To get In-formation:

hooks, b. (2004) We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. New York: Routledge.

Lorde, A. (1984) Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

‘Guilty’ of Coming Out Daily – Abroad. #BlackenAsiaWithLove

I am annoyed that our apartment-building manager told my husband that a two-bedroom had recently become available, and that we should move in because we would be “more comfortable.” My husband always takes such statements at face value, then performs his own cost/benefits analysis. Did the manager offer a discount, I asked? I mean, if he’s genuinely concerned about our comfort, shouldn’t he put his money where his mouth is? That’s probably just the American in me talking: He was either upselling the property or probing us to see what the deal was – not at all concerned about our comfort. I speak code, too.

 

The most homophobic thing that anyone has ever said to me is not any slur, but that gay people should not “flaunt it.” As if concealing our identities would magically erase homophobia. This reveals that the speaker either doesn’t know – or doesn’t care to know – how readily people everywhere speak about our personal lives. There are random people I have met in every single part of the world, that ask my marital status. It comes shortly after asking my name and where I’m from. The words used are revealing – just ask any divorced person who has engaged with any society’s traditions. Is it deceptive to say that they are “single,” instead? What’s more, regardless of language, preferred terms like “unmarried” reveal the value conferred upon this status. You’re not a whole person until you’re married, and a parent. It is only then that one is genuinely conferred what we sociologists call ‘personhood’. Also, are married lesbians called two Mrs.?

Come out, come out wherever you are.

In many parts of the world, being ‘out’ carries the death penalty, including parts of my father’s homeland, Nigeria. I’ve literally avoided visiting Nigeria because of the media-fueled fear of coming out. I hate the distance it’s wedged between my people, our culture and I. There was a time when coming out was literally the hardest thing I ever had to do. Now, l must come out daily.

Back in the UK, many educators would like to believe that they don’t discuss their personal lives with students. But who hasn’t been casually asked how one spent the weekend? Do I not say “My husband and I…” just as anyone else might? Abroad, do I correct co-workers when they refer to us as ‘friends’? Yesterday, I attended an academic conference. All the usual small talk. I came out a dozen times by lunch.

In teaching English here in Asia, isn’t it unfair for me to conceal from my students the gender of my “life-partner,” which is actually our formal legal status?  Am I politicising my classroom by simply teaching gender-neutral terms like ‘spouse’ or ‘partner’? Or, do I simply use the term ‘husband’ and skim over their baffled faces as they try to figure out if they have understood me properly? Am I denying them the opportunity to prepare for the sought-after life in the west? Further, what about the inevitability of that one ‘questioning’ student in my classroom searching for signs of their existence!

I was recently cornered in the hallway by the choreographer hired by our department to support our contribution to the university’s staff talent competition (see picture below*). She spoke with me in German, explaining that she’d lived several years in the former GDR. There are many Vietnamese who’d been ‘repatriated’ from the GDR upon reunification. So, given the historical ties to Communism, it’s commonplace to meet German (and Russian) speakers here. Naturally, folks ask how/why I speak (basic) German. My spouse of seventeen years is German, so it’d be weird if I hadn’t picked up any of the language. It’s really deceptive to conceal gender in German, which has three. I speak German almost every day here in Hanoi.

Kuku-HUST-performace.jpg

The word is ‘out’.

In Delhi, we lived in the same 2-bedroom flat for over 7 years. It became clear to our landlady very early on that we slept in one bedroom. Neighbours, we’re told, also noticed that we only ever had one vehicle between us and went most places together. Neither the landlady nor any neighbour ever confronted us, so we never had to formally come out. Yet, the chatter always got back to us.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Mali in the late 90’s, I learned to speak Bambara. Bambara greetings are quite intimate: One normally asks about spouses, parents and/or children, just as Black-Americans traditionally would say “How yo’ momma doin?’” In Mali, village people make it their business to get single folks hitched. Between the Americans, then, it became commonplace to fake a spouse, just so one would be left in peace. Some women wore wedding bands for added protection, as a single woman living alone was unconscionable. The official advice for gays was to stay closeted L. While I pretended to be the husband of several volunteers, I could never really get the gist of it in my village. Besides, at 23 years old, being a single man wasn’t as damning as it is for women. I only needed excuses to reject the young women villagers presented to me. Anyhow, as soon as city migrants poured back to the village for Ramadan, I quickly discovered that there are plenty of LGBTQ+ folks in Mali! This was decades before Grindr.

Here in Hanoi, guys regularly, casually make gestures serving up females, as if to say: ‘Look, she’s available, have her’. I’ve never bothered to learn the expected response, nor paid enough attention to how straight men handle such scenarios. Recently, as we left a local beer hall with another (gay) couple, one waiter rather cheekily made such gestures at a hostess. In response, I made the same gestures towards him; he then served himself up as if to say ‘OK’. That’s what’s different about NOW as opposed to any earlier period: Millennials everywhere are aware of gay people.

A group of lads I sat with recently at a local tea stall made the same gestures to the one girl in their group. After coming out, the main instigator seamlessly gestured towards the most handsome in his clique. When I press Nigerian youth about the issue, the response is often the same: We don’t have a problem with gay people, we know gay people, it’s the old folk’s problem. Our building manager may be such a relic.

 

*Picture from The 2019 Traditional Arts Festival at Hanoi University of Science and Technology (HUST)

100% of the emotional labour, 0% of the emotional reward: #BlackenAsiawithLove

Last night over dinner and drinks, I spoke about race in the classroom with two white, upper-middle-class gay educators. Neither seemed (able) to make any discernable effort to understand any perspective outside their own. I had to do 100% of the emotional labour, and got 0% of the emotional reward. It was very sad how they went on the attack, using both passive and active aggression, yet had the nerve to dismiss my words as ‘victimhood discourse’. This is exactly why folks write books, articles, and blogs like ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’.

Worse, they both had experienced homophobia in the classroom, at the hands of both students and parents. Nonetheless, they had no ability to contribute to the emotional labour taking place as we spoke about race. Even worse, the one in charge of other educators had only 24 hours earlier performed the classic micro-aggression against me: The brown blur. He walked right past me at our initial meeting as I extended my hand introducing myself while mentioning the mutual friend who’d connected us because, as he said, he was “expecting” to see a white face. He was the one to raise that incident, yet literally threw his hands in the air, nodding his head dismissively as he refused any responsibility for the potential harm caused.

“I’m an adult,” I pled, explaining the difference between me facing those sorts of aggressions, versus the young people we all educate. This all fell on deaf ears. Even worse still, he’d only moments earlier asked me to help him understand why the only Black kid in one of his classes called himself a “real nigger.” Before that, he had asked me to comment on removing the N-word from historical texts used in the classroom, similar to the 2011 debate about erasing the N-word and “injun” from Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884. According to the Guardian, nigger is “surely the most inflammatory word in the English language,” and “appears 219 times in Twain’s book.”

Again, he rejected my explanations as “victimhood.” He even kept boasting about his own colorblindness – a true red flag! Why ask if you cannot be bothered to listen to the answer, I thought bafflingly? Even worse, rather than simply stay silent – which would have been bad enough – the other educator literally said to him “This is why I don’t get involved in such discussions with him.” They accused me of making race an issue with my students, insisting that their own learning environments were free of racism, sexism and homophobia.

They effectively closed ranks. They asserted the privilege of NOT doing any of the emotional labour of deep listening. Neither seemed capable of demonstrating understanding for the (potential) harm done when they dismiss the experiences of others, particularly given our differing corporealities. I thought of the “Get Out” scene in the eponymously named film.

“Do you have any Black teachers on your staff,” I asked knowing the answer. OK, I might have said that sarcastically. Yet, it was clear that there were no Black adults in his life with whom he could pose such questions; he was essentially calling upon me to answer his litany of ‘race’ questions.

Armed with mindfulness, I was able to get them both to express how their own corporeality impacts their classroom work. For example, one of the educators had come out to his middle-school students when confronted by their snickers when discussing a gay character in a textbook. “You have to come out,” I said, whereas I walk in the classroom Black.” Further still, they both fell silent when I pointed out that unlike either of them, my hips swing like a pendulum when I walk into the classroom. Many LGBTQ+ people are not ‘straight-acting’ i.e. appear heteronormative, as did these two. They lacked self-awareness of their own privilege and didn’t have any tools to comprehend intersectionality; this discussion clearly placed them on the defense.

I say, 100% of the emotional labour and none of the emotional reward, yet this is actually untrue. I bear the fruits of my own mindfulness readings. I see that I suffer less in those instances than previously. I rest in the comfort that though understanding didn’t come in that moment, future dialogue is still possible. As bell hooks says on the first page in the first chapter of her groundbreaking book Killing Rage: Ending Racism: “…the vast majority of black folks who are subjected daily to forms of racial harassment have accepted this as one of the social conditions of our life in white supremacist patriarchy that we cannot change. This acceptance is a form of complicity.” I accept that it was my decision to talk to these white people about race.

I reminded myself that I had foreseen the micro-aggression that he had committed the previous day when we first met. A mutual friend had hooked us up online upon his visit to this city in which we now live. I doubted that she’d mentioned my blackness. Nonetheless, I had taken the chance of being the first to greet our guest, realizing that I am in a much safer space both in terms of my own mindfulness, as well as the privilege I had asserted in coming to live here in Hanoi; I came here precisely because I face such aggression so irregularly in Vietnam that these incidents genuinely stand out.

Works mentioned:

Eddo-Lodge, R. (2018). Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Hanh, T. (2013). The Art of Communicating. New York: HarperOne.

hooks, b. (1995). Killing rage: Ending racism. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

 

Your Name Is Not BAME

My name is Tré Ventour and I am the Students’ Union’s Vice President BME Sabbatical Officer. When I’ve asked students what BME stands for, most have been clueless – Black Minority Ethnic. The same could be said for BAME – Black Asian Minority Ethnic. I was elected to represent ethnic minority students. But I’ve been asking myself how much longer will this 47% be an ethnic minority? At Northampton, they will soon be the majority. This 14,000-student university in which nearly 7000 fit into this BME box.

Pigeon-holed. To be put into a box. I don’t like to think in boxes. I try not to think in labels but in this world, it’s naive to be colourblind. In the education sector, in this day and age, especially at Northampton, to not see race is to ignore the experiences of nearly 7,000 students – nearly 7,000 stories about potential hate crimes, and what about BAME members of staff? We must see race. We must see sex, class, and gender (all genders).

To be colourblind is to live life high on privilege – to exist without the consequences of hate crime. Some people live with racism, sexism and / or homophobia all their lives.

Many say “there’s one race, the human race.” That may be true but how comfortable must you be in your existence to come to that notion? And then push that notion on those who experience racism on a daily basis.

When I’ve spoken to students about BAME or ethnic minority, they say “Just call me by my name.” Students are flesh and bone, more than acronyms. And I do what they tell me to do (in a manner of speaking / within reason). I’m not Vice President, I’m not Mr Ventour; I am Tré and I am here to help students, to represent students (of colour) – more so Black students that look at White authority and see invader. Who I have heard compare university to apartheid South Africa – one in, one out – to a Zimbabwe under British rule – De Beers, Rhodes and racism. Fear and exclusion.

Call them minorities, call them BME, call them BAME. Yet, this acronym just seems like coded language for Black. And at Northampton, when people say BME or BAME, they mean Black students, so just say what you mean, “Black.”

And if these labels, if these pigeon-hole terms help Higher Education solve issues like attainment perhaps it’s worth it. But what I can say is that not all Black experiences are the same. To be a Black British student is not the same as to be a Black international from Africa, the EU or elsewhere.

But to be a person of colour in this country is to be immigrant, British or otherwise. To be overly polite. To be overly grateful or gracious. To be a good immigrant.

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