This post is a follow up to some tweets posted last night; by me as well as some done by, or shared by, Margaret Cho. I can not speak for Margaret (and she does very well speaking for herself) or ‘all women’ or people of colour. For that matter, I can’t speak for other white folk; only address my own experiences and observations. Check out About Me page to know about where I’m coming from.
As I just said, I can’t speak for women. However, this idea of ‘a woman, regardless of ethnicity’ mirrors recent discussions about #allLivesMatter v. #blackLivesMatter. Yes, all lives matter- even the poor, the refugee, the convicted, and every other other. But the point of BLM is not that black lives matter more than others. It is a statement that POC (People of Colour) have historically and recently been treated as if their lives do not, in fact, matter. Saying that all lives matter is most likely a signal that the person is coming from a place of white privilege. Even as an under-employed, openly queer, old (well, 57) man, my Caucasian heritage gives me a step up on people who don’t visibly share that heritage.
Although a different ‘demographic’ category, there are parallels to young queer folk (also generally middle-class and white) that don’t see why they need to ‘come out’. While it is possible for them to live as a possibly-but-who-cares queer young person in many urban areas in North America, that is still a privilege denied too many. The argument is also heard from some queer folk working in popular culture that they ‘don’t need to come out as they are not really in the closet’ and that their sexual self-identity is not relevant to their career. As I previously blogged, “in this ‘modern Western society’ it seems more actors feel they need to repress or hide sexuality than any other aspect of their true self,” and so coming out is an important step in being able to use the entirety of their Self in their work.
Again, I am speaking only for myself- I don’t think that seeing someone ‘regardless of their ethnicity’ (or gender, orientation, etc) is seeing them as complete. Knowing (or rather, understanding) those aspects of a person, and their impact (past and present), is an important part of seeing the entire person.
Margaret asked “why can we accept #YellowFace?” To those who don’t immediately understand that term, yellowface is a white person putting on make up and portraying a person of Asian heritage. It is, as Margaret notes, similar to blackface. It seems clear to me that yellowface is not, nor should be, less offensive.
The history of polite white folk’s discrimination of Asians is abysmal. It seems to me (George Takei’s recent work not withstanding) to be even less understood or accepted than the history of North American polite white folk’s abuse of First Nations* populations. And neither group’s oppression (and efforts to overcome it) has been as visible or as publicly acknowledged as the mistreatment of African-Americans. Not that systemic racism is excusable when it is less severe or at least less visible.
My tweet referred to the 19th century importation of workers from China who were then scape-goated “as ‘perpetual foreigners’ whose work caused wage dumping and thereby prevented American men from ‘gaining work’. Sound familiar? And of course, the treatment by the US and (shame to say) Canadian governments of Japanese immigrants and citizens of Japanese heritage that was totally unlike the treatment of people who shared a heritage with the European enemies in World War II.
The treatment by polite white folk of the aboriginal populations of North and South America following the invasion (it was multi-decade, multi-generational, but an invasion none-the-less) is another blight on our claims of greatness. Those who the Europeans did not eliminate via disease or outright slaughter were sent to live in camps. Reservations were not called internment camps, but segregation, humiliation and attempted cultural annihilation were the order of the day. The indigenous spiritual traditions were mostly replaced with Christianity. Then some number of Christian leaders sexually abused those in their care- the recent revelations of ongoing sexual abuse by priests and other church officials has a long and shameful history.
My respect for Margaret, and every one who fights for equality and diversity is immense. While I can’t speak for them (for women, people of colour, trans* folk, and others whose experiences I don’t share) I must continue to speak out. I can not and will not be silent in the face of suffering- theirs, mine, ours. I will do what I can to support them, do my best to harmonize. And continue to learn from the experiences of others.
Together we will change the world:
My friends, love is better than anger
Hope is better than fear
Optimism is better than despair
So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic
And we’ll change the world
Jack Layton: 1950-2011 From his final letter to Canadians
Note that I don’t see anger and love as mutually exclusive.
* First Nations: A term commonly used in Canada to identify the various groups of aboriginal inhabitants and their descendents; more commonly referred to as ‘American Indian’ in the US.
Coming Out Again, More Coming Out, Coming More Out;
Don’t Go There?