Sunday, December 21, 2014

#illridewithyou Redux

For being the creator of the #illridewithyou hashtag I am copping abuse for being:

  • white 
  • not white 
  • PoC 
  • not PoC 

Read that a couple of times.

Now read it again.

Once more.

It doesn't get any less fucked up the longer you think about it.

A lovely couple gave me some incredibly elegant flowers. I didn't have a vase to do them justice (don't really have the house to do them justice), and when they bloomed, it just seemed that the thing to do was lay them in Martin Place.

Then it occurred to me that there are at least two current memorials in Martin Place - for the siege and the Peshawar school children - and that if I were to ever mention I'd considered this, there would be demands to know which memorial these flowers were laid at, and that no matter which memorial, people were going to use that as ammo to keep up the abuse.

And people wonder why sometimes I get fed up.

I'm biracial, specifically, I'm English/White Australian and Chinese-Malaysian. What this means is that I am all four of the above accusations at the same time. All the time. Every day. Whether I'm accidentally spawning global grassroots activism, looking sadly at those last two sheets left on the toilet roll or sending professional sounding correspondence for work; I am all of these things. It's complicated.

Much of the criticism I've seen hinges on the assumption that I'm either white or non-white. This being Australia, I am specifically framing this in terms of whiteness. The fact that the conversation has already tripped over this misguided binary dichotomy before even the first step indicates that the problem of racism is so deep in Australia, in the western world, we'll need to raise a generation of fact-checkers before we can develop critical thinkers and even get past the derailing question of exactly whose voice is valid.

A mutable identity means that the privileges and oppressions granted me are fluid and constantly changing. They're influenced by how suntanned I am, what angle the light is coming from, the people I'm standing next to, whether someone is too caught up in what is proper to just deal with my most bodacious family name, and so on. I occupy the positions of both oppressor and oppressed, at the same time. When I say it's complicated, it's because I never stop having to wrangle this. It isn't only the white-dominated conversations that fail to take this into account. Much of what is discussed among non-whites leaves biracials standing in the kitchen doorway, looking at the party, and not quite seeing a space to step into. Biracials are not uncommon. I am not unique. Inconvenient perhaps, but not unique.

I've no interest in addressing the people who weren't listening and haven't been listening for longer than this. The racists who responded by simply continuing to be racist aren't a surprise, and I don't have much to say to them. They're not actually that many, just loud, and getting increasingly frantic because the audience they assumed they had, they don't. That the Far Right have worked themselves up into such a frothing tizzy about little ol' me and a hashtag is pretty amusing. It's almost as though they think I have power.

Nope. Still just me and a hashtag.

Apparently, here and now, that is power.


All this bigotry is pointed at me, but not about me. Evidence of this can be found in the lack of basic fact checking which would trump the crimes I'm accused of, because they're not actually interested in being accurate with their attacks, just as long as they land a blow. I was just the next target to pop up, and I'm not listening to them, although I do have to wonder how it would be to have a reading comprehension level which ensures you take everything you read literally. That must be a strange world to live in.

Anyway. The allies and progressives, the people who have put their hand up as wanting to see social and cultural change; it's the criticism stemming from these quarters which is relevant. My last blog post assured many with legitimate doubts, but not all. I'm writing this post now to give the conversation a kick in the pants.

This act, offer, invitation, this hashtag, this idea well has the potential to become a patronising pile of oppressors coming to the rescue of those they're oppressing and patting themselves on the back for saving the poor Othered masses. It most certainly does, and being as no one owns the action of another, in the hands of many this is exactly what it will be. If you see any individual falling into this behaviour, you are welcome to call them on it. White knighting is simply another - far more insidious - face of racism. I recognise this because, again, I occupy the positions of both oppressor and oppressed.

#illridewithyou began because a non-white woman learned of another non-white woman helping out a third woman garbed in hijab.

There will be the appeasement of white guilt in the hashtag's lifecycle, but there sure as fuck wasn't any in its creation. I created it because I understand what it's like to be scared. I am 5"3' with rosy cheeks and a cute button nose, and not bodyguard material. If someone shapes up, I'm not running, but I'm not going to come out on top either.

This is centered on the victims of abuse, not the perpetrators. Our culture leaves victims to fend for themselves, and our justice system quite frankly shits all over them, and doesn't apologise for it. Victim blaming is a disgusting behaviour Australia practices both overtly and unconsciously. Justice is blind in order to treat everyone equally, and in doing so treats no one fairly. I can't stop violent abusive bigots from being violent, abusive, or existing. That's not something in my power to address. Victims, though, people worried, scared, hurt and hurting; this is within my power.

When an idea for cultural change is proposed by a non-white person, it is mostly ignored. That's why things are they way they are, because the oppressed have been agitating for reform for centuries, yet here and now the country we live in is sick.

When an idea for cultural change is proposed by a white person, it is shouted down as being yet another act of white knighting, regardless of who else is involved, and usually it is.

I am both of these things. I am the person who should not be speaking according to both sides of the conversation, and simultaneously the person who should be.

This makes me wonder whom amongst us is permitted to enact change. From whom is change acceptable. Whatever this rare unicorn of a racial identity it is, I'm unaware of it. I'm inclined to think it doesn't exist. Which further makes me wonder how change can be expected to come about at all.

Stories have reached me of people who have been assaulted for volunteering in #illridewithyou. I'm not going to say more than that or point out any examples, because assault is traumatic enough without all you haters suddenly popping up and being gross. To those of you who have been hurt; I am sorry for my part in this, and hope you have good people around you. It's okay to not be okay when you've been assaulted.

The hashtag didn't create bigotry. It simply turned turned up the volume on those who care. As a consequence, the bigots will and have upped their game, as though western society is in some sort of arms race between bigotry and compassion. You riders, to stand beside someone under fire is to also come under that fire. It's okay to be afraid and hesitant to step up. This world is scary. Non-white people know this, and cannot opt out. Riders will always have a choice whether to make the offer or not. That choice is the difference between the privileged and oppressed. It's not something to be ashamed of, it simply is what it is. Non-white people do not deserve the abuse and hate aimed at them, and if you step up, no matter who you are, neither will you. It will happen none the less. You know where your limits lie. Please remember to respect them as well.

Stories have reached me of bigots being shut the fuck down as a result of #illridewithyou. A taxi driver told my partner that a school friend of his daughter, who wears a headscarf, had a bus load of people move and sit with and around her when a bigot started having a go. The incident on the Upfield/Craigieburn line has been well reported. A friend coming through Sydney airport told me that an entire line of people waiting at the taxi rank shut down an angry, belligerent, self-entitled man harassing the curb management, who are usually non-white persons. Thousands of badges and stickers handed out. A community bike ride from Lakemba to Martin Place. Muslims from around the world reaching out to say thank you, thank you, thank you, because these things have gone without saying so long, no one believes them to be true, and now #illridewithyou needs to be said.

These are just the precious scraps that make it through the cacophony of bigots shrieking like spoilt children who don't want to share their toys. There is so much more happening out there, because no one needs to make a big show of taking on this idea. They're just going ahead and doing it. There are people who, upon realising that this is an act open to them, don't wait for permission to start; they just get down to business.

Word has reached me of a woman allegedly assaulted by a Muslim taxi driver. Her husband being some prominent chap is trying to do that reverse-racism thing, indicating this happened because no one would ride with her. I'm presuming he means because she is a white person. This is a derailment of another important conversation about which I also have plenty of loud things to say, as it's trying to imply she was assaulted for her skin tone, and not the fact she is a woman. I'm angry that she has been assaulted, and hope she is okay, and with good people around her.

Women know about street harassment and the threat of attack from the random male public. All women, regardless of race. Street harassment is only just beginning to get the attention it should. You don't have to believe it. Women know the way this horseshit works, and learn from a very early age. As I write this, news of the shooting in NYC is breaking. All the focus is on the two officers who were shot. The shooter's girlfriend, who was also shot, is given in all the articles I've seen at most a sentence, but usually just a clause. This society does not value women, and so their deaths are deemed unworthy of attention. Violence by men, misogyny and sexism form another, simultaneous, sickness in our culture. Both these conversations need to occur, and their points of intersection recognised.

What is lacking from the Basic 101 is nuance. None of us live in a vacuum and nothing occurs in isolation. I've said multiple times that I don't see this idea as being applicable to Muslims only. Anyone with a visible cultural identity stands to be a target when in public. Anyone with skin that isn't white; anyone who isn't a cis heterosexual man, which includes all women, regardless of their sexuality or chosen gender, and any man who is not cis heterosexual, and all the queer and trans and varied orientations and genders one can be; anyone wearing religious garb, even those considered 'safe' - cooing over how adorable Buddhist monks are in their robes and creepshotting them is another form of othering; anyone who is visibly differently-abled, disabled, with invisible syndromes, complexes and illnesses; any one who visibly does not conform to the narrow-ass view of what is considered 'okay' by this society. Women, regardless of their background and identity, are able to use #illridewithyou to buddy up just as much as the religious are.

Perhaps that's another reason for the naysayers. I'm not a man, and no men were involved or consulted in the creating of this. Subconscious dismissal of women's voices is real. If you doubt me feel free to do some research and educate yourself. It'll actually reveal a lot about social communication which is just plain interesting.

That said, if this idea had come from a man it would have been problematic from the outset; expecting Muslim women to want anything to do with unknown men in a hostile culture. Schrodinger's Racist, and all that.

Once again, who is allowed to instigate change?

That's the wrong question. How about;

Why should anyone wait for your approval to act?

As far as I'm concerned, you naysayers can go sit on a pineapple and spin.

To quote a wise friend and fellow biracial, you're better than this. Substandard criticism is vexing.

Racism has a simple definition, but the conversation around it is immense, convoluted, complex, intricate, nuanced, and extremely raw. Racism as a cultural structure is vast and often looks infinite. There is no quick and easy fix for bigotry, especially when so much of it is locked in legislation. I won't wait for a single big easy fix. Fuck that noise. If change is ever to come, then it must be enabled. Even if in frustratingly, insultingly slow, small increments, it must be enabled.

I want sound a massive shout out to you riders just getting on with it and being awesome. I want to holler and cheer for you minorities just getting on with it and being awesome. Been chewing over the titles that seem applicable - hero, legend, champion - (which you all are) which have been showered upon me as well, and they don't smell right. The current love of superheroes is great fun for the comic lovers, but the persistent purveyance of the superhero narrative can't be doing amazing things to the zeitgeist. Settle down; I'm all for comics too, but as someone invested in writing, I do pay attention to the narratives swimming in the media we consume. Superheroes are pretty ace, but they're also pretty damn special. They come swooping in and provide big, easy fixes to scary problems, and we normals shout hurrah! And there is much rejoicing.

Can't help think this breeds the expectation that we don't need to make any effort to fix things because some unicorn superhero will be along shortly to sort out this inconvenient mess for us.

Think of all those normal people who are just passing by but still charge into burning houses and save lives. Typically they're shaken and downplaying their role, because it wasn't a grand gesture on their part. They were just being who they are. The same as you.

No unicorns are coming.

You're much, much cooler than all the superheroes combined, and more excellent than all of the unicorns. Big call. I'm making it. There's a potential future in which being an awesome, compassionate, respectful and considerate individual will be the norm, and it's growing in your footsteps.

Hmm. Guess I'm not as devoid of hope as I was.