Let’s Talk About Racism in the South Asian Community (Part 1)

Let’s be honest. Brutally honest for once.

 

My neighbour’s brother told me about his friend, who was Indian and a bus driver for Edmonton Transit. He told me stories of how his friend would openly discriminate against Indigenous folks on the bus, mock them if they didn’t have a ticket, call them drunks. He himself laughs as he says this story, as if it’s all a big joke.

 

Earlier this year, a mob outside of Delhi brutally beat five African students, sparking a new conversation about anti-black racism in Indian society. My family friends openly use anti-black slurs. I refuse to say those words here, but Hindi speakers will know what I’m referring to.

 

Why does this happen? How do we allow such language and such behaviour in our communities? One thing’s for sure, we can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist. So, let’s analyze it – and most importantly – do something about it.

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The Wire

First off, I just want to firmly acknowledge that the South Asian community isn’t a monolith. We’re a massive group of people – some folks are from Africa, some from the Caribbean. Some are upper-middle class, while others have had to struggle with poverty. The specific group of people I’m talking about are the middle to upper class South Asian diaspora, or desi folks, in Canada.

 

Within this middle to upper class, educated desi diaspora, we see entrenched racist attitudes. Many believe it’s merely amongst the older generation and the younger generation is becoming more open minded. But oppression doesn’t disappear with age. I’ve heard my peers express anti-black and anti-Indigenous sentiments. There exists a lack of self-criticism, self-reflection, and a genuine will to work towards anti-oppression. People are very comfortable with racism, just so long as it doesn’t affect them.

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Pinterest

But racism does affect the South Asian community. South Asians do experience racism, stereotyping (*cough* Apu from Simpsons *cough*), poverty, and other forms of oppression. First generation South Asian kids know too well of the stories of our parents initially working as truck drivers, gas station owners, positions that are considered “beneath” them. Then they “climbed the ladder” to higher success under a capitalist society, which deems people’s worth by how much money they make. Now, if the community hears about oppression towards black or Indigenous people, it’s simply because they didn’t “work hard” like us, they’re only involved in criminal activity, they deserve what they get, and that’s all they’ll ever be.

 

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Sites at Penn State

 

I strongly believe that this racism is tied to the notion of meritocracy – people deserve the good things only if they “work hard” enough and accept the rules that capitalism puts forth. It’s not that capitalism creates a huge wealth gap, it’s just that people don’t work enough and thus deserve to be poor. It also further means that we believe the world is a just place. Those who are marginalized actually deserve their oppression because the world isn’t harder on one group over another. This thinking individualizes oppression, instead of holding oppressive systems responsible. The reality is that colonialism has left Indigenous peoples disenfranchised, marginalized, and criminalized. Racism has caused police officers to criminalize black people more than their white counterparts.

                                  

Once we’ve identified the problem, then what? The first step is to stop our complicity in racism. It’s not enough to say that we don’t discriminate. The South Asian community should step up to call out racism by our peers. We should refuse to become the “model minority” – the minority that seemingly does well under a capitalist, racist society. Ultimately, the race to the top of this racist ladder only comes at the backs of oppressed peoples. Let’s refuse to engage in this race and fight in the name of justice.

 

Look out for Part 2 on tips for anti-racism education! And check out Wab Kinew talking about anti-Indigenous racism in Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlkuRCXdu5A

 

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7 Steps for When Your Child Comes Out

So, parents – your son/daughter/non-binary child has just told you they’re gay, bi, lesbian, queer, transgender, non-binary.

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GIPHY

Step 1: Breathe. Please don’t be disgusted. That’s the worst reaction, disgust. It reduces your child down to less than human. Parents say “chi!” to things like sexually explicit material, immoral activities, dirt on the floor, things they find revolting. Your child’s identity shouldn’t be something you find revolting. Even if you apologize, even if you accept them later, even if your relationship grows closer and everything works out – if you are disgusted and they see that, they will remember. They will forgive, but they will never forget. It will be impossible to forget. Please don’t be disgusted.

 

Step 2: This is not a white conspiracy. Don’t blame being in Canada for your child’s identity. Non-heterosexuality is not a product of the West. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite critical of issues that go on in the West – capitalism, imperialism, racism, police violence – but non-heterosexual and non-binary identities are not some Western ideal indoctrinated into your child. If anything, South Asia has a rich non-binary and non-heterosexual history as seen in the Khajuraho and Konark temples. Don’t react by claiming this is merely a “white thing.”

 

Step 3: Keep calm. Please don’t be angry. It’s tough for you to make sense of it all. You weren’t prepared for this possibility. And this shock can transform into anger. This is not what you wanted your child to be. But this is who your child is. They love and are attracted to people who don’t meet your expectations. They dress and behave outside of gender roles. This is an integral part of who they are. They are terrified of the consequences of telling you. Don’t turn those fears into an ugly reality.

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Emlii

Step 4: Try not to see this as a phase. This idea sets heterosexuality as the default, as the ‘normal’ standard. I know you may still see heterosexuality as normal, because non-heterosexuality as a reality may be new to you. But this idea of what’s normal and what’s not – it’s quite oppressive. Anyone who falls outside of what is “normal” is considered less than, wrong, deviant, strange. But feeling attracted to someone is neither wrong nor deviant.

 

Step 5: If you are confused and have questions, ask with respect and clarity. You don’t need to avoid the topic out of fear, but take it slowly just so you don’t end up hurting them. It’s not an issue you have to tiptoe around, but rather a conversation that merits the deepest respect and dignity. Do your own research as well! There are amazing websites and resources right here in Edmonton: Pride Centre of Edmonton, Camp fYrefly, Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, and so on.

 

Loug kya kahein gaye? What will people say?

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Step 6: I know people might talk, but don’t worry about what the community will think. No one has the right to turn your relationship with your child into their gossip. I know you don’t want people to say hurtful things about your child, so you might advise them not to speak about this publicly. But this makes things worse. We keep things hidden because of fear. Your child’s sexuality and gender identity is not something to be feared. Treat it with dignity, not shame.

 

Step 7: In an ideal world, this is the scenario that would roll out: Smile at them. Give them a big hug. Tell them you’ll love their partner, whoever they may be. Tell them that the values you brought them up with still apply – you just want them to be good human beings. Tell them that no one has the right to treat them any less or differently for their identity. If they must fight a homophobic world, let them know you’re by their side, fighting with them. Tell them that you are proud of their gender identity/sexual orientation.

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coolspotters

Ask a Desi Girl– 7 Frequently Asked Questions!

(The following are questions I’ve frequently been asked and the answers are based on my own knowledge and experience. They by no means, encompass every explanation about South Asian culture and Hinduism in general!)

South Asian culture is beautiful, but very complex. Over my lifetime I’ve gotten so many questions about my cultural practices, some that I didn’t even know the answer to! I love how curious people are, its awesome to see people exploring and appreciating other cultures! There are some questions I get asked quite frequently that I thought I could explain away quickly on one page for y’all. Let’s get started!

Q1: Why do Hindu’s worship cows?

A: Ah, this one. Okay my dear friend here is your answer. We don’t. The cow is considered a sacred animal by people of the Hindu faith. It doesn’t mean we worship them, it means they have religious significance in Hindu culture. Shiva, the Destroyer, who is a God of the Hindu Trinity has Nandi the bull, as his mode of transportation. Animals associated with Hindu Gods like Nandi have a special place in Indian culture, and therefore are not harmed or killed for their meat. Other sacred animals include monkeys, as they represent Hanuman, a hero in the Hindu epic, the Ramayan, and snakes, as Lord Vishnu’s primary companion is the snake deity, Adisesha.

Additionally, cows have a very loving docile nature. They just want to be fed well and protected, and in return they give their milk for humans to drink, and make dairy products like butter and cheese. Animals that have such a giving nature are admired and revered, and this is another reason why many Hindus do not eat beef, the belief is that the creature that gives so much deserves mercy and respect. Some Hindus are fully vegetarian and some are not. There is a spectrum based on individual beliefs!

Q2: So, why do Indian women wear bindis? Is it because they are married?

A: I wish I had a dollar for every time I selfied with a bindi on! I am not married. I don’t know where this question came from in general! Bindis symbolize Lord Shivas third eye. They were traditionally worn by Hindu women and girls to ward off the evil eye, but now they are more of a fashion statement. Almost all women and girls wear them to cultural events and religious ceremonies, they are not only for married women. Married women often do wear a red power on their hairline called sindoor. Sindoor is a mark of a married woman. In some cultures, women wear sindoor everyday, in others, they wear it in their first few days as a newlywed, and for religious ceremonies. It is strictly meant for married women though.

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Q3: So, will you have an arranged marriage?

A: Like I mentioned in my previous post on arranged marriages, the concept of romantic love is actually very recent. Arranged marriages have been happening for centuries and they still happen all over the world today. And yes, they do happen all the time, right here in Edmonton Alberta. Remember there is a difference between arranged and forced marriages. Within an arranged marriage, both the bride and groom have the agency to accept or reject a match all on their own. Usually, the parents of a bride or groom introduce their child to someone they think might be a good match. These two have an opportunity to get to know each other, and if they like each other, onto the wedding preparations! Dating and falling in love happen gradually, once the couple is engaged and committed to each other.

People used ask me all the time if I will have an arranged marriage. Again, its my choice. I have friends who have made the decision to have their marriage arranged, and they are perfectly happy and in love. Currently I have a boyfriend, but I might have been open to the possibility of an arranged marriage at some point, (having my parents introduce me to people they think I might like). That’s just me though. It’s a personal decision and just because someone is South Asian does not mean they will automatically be subjected to an arranged marriage.

Q4: Why are South Asian weddings usually elaborate and expensive? Why do brides wear red instead of white?

A: Depending on where you are from, South Asian weddings involve many unique and special cultural elements. People who have seen Bollywood movies or have attended a South Asian wedding are often blown away by the opulence of a 10-day event, complete with everything from luxury cars to elephants. They are a time for family and friends to get together, wear their best clothes, celebrate love, and even show off a little bit 😉 They are a time to meet new people, potential spouses, to dance and sing, and let loose. They are also considered a “send off” gift to the new couple before they set out to start life on their own. For this reason, weddings are intricately planned and elaborately executed. There is enormous cultural pressure in the South Asian community to host a wedding bigger and better than ever before. Weddings are sometimes considered a time to make a statement about a families’ financial affluence etc. They say the average wedding cost is $100 000. In the West, although huge South Asian weddings still exist, there is a wide range. There are stunningly beautiful South Asian weddings that are on a budget and only 2 days long.

As for the second question, generally the color white in India is worn during funerals. As such, it is considered an inauspicious color for weddings and other joyous events (Except for in Kerela, where many brides wear beautiful and traditional white saris for their weddings). Red, symbolizes fertility, vibrancy and celebration, so it is a very popular color for many South Asian brides. Nowadays, particularly in the West, can wear any color they like and any style they like! However pink, magenta, red, orange, purple, and yellow are still very popular.

Q5: Why do Hindus have so many Gods?

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A: Okay, so let’s get a little philosophical. Hinduism 101. First of all, Hinduism is more of a lifestyle than anything else. It is not an organized religion, and there are many different ways it can be practised. Para Brahman, in Hinduism is considered the single binding unity behind the diversity in all that exists in the universe, the main concept of goodness and purity and truth (The”God Force” or Holy Spirit). Para Brahman is hard to understand. Hinduism and the Hindu Gods represent the various forms of Para Brahman. Shakti is a feminine representation of Para Brahman, while for example Shiva represents the destructive nature of Para Brahman. Ultimately, Hinduism and the Gods of Hindus are not like the Greek Parthenon of Zeus, Athena etc. They are representations of a higher force. And a Hindu can choose any form (God or Goddess) of Para Brahman they like to focus on.

Everyone is different. Many Hindus have a patron God they relate to most. Some are only devotees of Shiva, and some are only Devotees of Vishnu. Sometimes certain Gods are recognized at certain times of the year. Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth is recognized on Diwali, while Holi, the festival of spring is the celebration of Krishna. There are many different variations of religious stories, some people are vegetarian, some are not. Some worship all the Gods, others worship one. Some do not celebrate certain festivals and others do. But what all Hindus hold close to their hearts are a few core principles

  1. Karma: What goes around comes around. In other words, the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would like to be treated
  2. Ahisma: The principle of non-violence
  3. Reincarnation: The belief that the soul never dies. According to how you lived your life and served humanity, you will be reborn as a higher being or a lower being. If you continue to be a good person, your soul will reach the purest form, and you will be able to attain Moksha, and escape the cycle of reincarnation

The bottom line is: Be a good person. It’s the same message as every other religion that is practised. Hindus have been discriminated against for being “idol worshipers” or “polytheists”. But the core principles of our religion align with the values of every other. Hindus believe there are many paths towards God, and all the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism represent different paths that may be taken towards salvation. Hindus respect and appreciate all religions, as they all represent different paths. Picture a bicycle wheel. If each religion/outlook is a spoke, they all lead to the same place, which is be a good person and serve humanity.

Q6: Why do people love Bollywood so much? Its so cheesy!

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India, despite its rapid growth and development, is still a Third World country. A large percentage of people who live there are still only earning $1 a day. Bollywood movies are popular with every Indian demographic, no matter how much they make. Although they can be cheesy and surreal, they represent an escape from reality, just as any cinema experience does. They weave action, romance and culture together to deliver a world that may be far out of reach for some. It gives many people hope and happiness for the future, seeing circumstances beyond what they currently experience. For the Indian diaspora who live outside the country like me, it’s a link back to our roots and our culture. Bollywood movies and music bond us with other South Asians despite language, culture or religion. When everyone breaks into the same Bollywood iconic dance steps during weddings and celebrations, when everyone knows the lyrics, the actors the cheesy plot lines, the dialogues… it’s a cultural bridge that’s more powerful than meets the eye!

Q7: Languages and religions: Do you speak Hindi/Punjabi? Are you Hindu or Muslim? Are you Gujarati or Tamil?!

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There are 22 scheduled languages within the Indian constitution, and hundreds of dialects and variations. And yes, two of those are Hindi and Punjabi. So just because someone is from India does not mean they will understand your Hindi/Punjabi curse words or random phrases. Every village you visit in India will have its own unique take on language, culture and religion. It is completely incorrect to assume that all South Asian people have the same language and religion and culture. It may make things confusing for some people but its actually kind of cool don’t you think; every South Asian person has a different identity for you to get to know! India also has many different religions. The 2 majority ones include Hinduism and Islam, but there are also many practitioners of Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Zoroastrians, Jainism, Tribal religions etc. Each religion, combined with language and geographic area produces a unique and special identity. That’s what makes India so special, it is a mosaic of many beautiful cultures and peoples. It is also a reason why India has had political and sectarian struggles since the 1947 partition. With so many different identities, sometimes its hard to get along!

I hope that clarified some common questions people have about some aspects of South Asian culture! Let me know if there’s anything I haven’t covered that you would like to know!

 

 

Words We Should Ban From Our Vocabulary Forever: FOB (Fresh Off The Boat or Boeing)

I hate the word FOB. Now don’t get me wrong, I have unfortunately used it before in the past, and I regret it and cringe every time I hear someone else say the word. Fob is an acronym for Fresh Off the Boat. It’s a term that is used to indicate a recent immigrant who hasn’t assimilated in to Western culture. It can also be used to refer to someone who has attributes of a recent immigrant. It’s a ridiculous and offensive term, because in reality unless you are of Aboriginal descent, statistics indicate that your ancestors also arrived here by boat, or plane, or any other sea-crossing transportation.

There is a quote by the co-founder of the Black Women in Sports Foundation: “Know yourself. Never forget where you came from, and reach back to help someone else come forward too.” There are many times in my life where I haven’t lived up to these words. When I used to see people post Facebook status’ in broken English, when I saw a group of guys blasting Bollywood songs from their cars as they drove by, when a girl comes to school with coconut oil in her hair, the word “FOB” subconsciously floated through my head, even though it wasn’t at all malicious. And if you’re guilty of this too, admit it! It would be hard to find a first generation Canadian who has not said the word FOB, even if its just in their minds.

I would never put up with someone mocking my grandparents’ English or their views, even if sometimes I don’t see eye to eye with them. I hold their differences and struggles close to my heart. Their immigrant experience is something to be admired, protected, and definitely not made fun of. So why are other people, who are going through the same immigrant challenges considered less worthy of this respect? I have been to India, where people have been lovely and generous, sharing their culture with me and wanting to learn more about my culture without judgement. When these same people move to Western nations, why does society not give them the same generosity and lack of judgement? For example, why do service industry employees often lose patience with new immigrants who have questions or require assistance!

First generation Canadians often adopt two damaging perspectives. The first is a sense of superiority, that being born here has afforded us with flawless English, mastery of mainstream Canadian culture, and other privileges we take for granted. The second is a sense of inferiority, coming from our identity as the children or grandchildren of immigrants who have fought against racism and discrimination. This struggle is common, and it should be something that unites society. However, we use this struggle to develop a hierarchy that places our generation “above” theirs. We classify ourselves as “better” than them, because after all, we aren’t FOBS.

Being raised in Canada, first generation immigrants do have differences compared to someone who has recently immigrated. We speak, dress and have a different view of the world, just like others that have frown up in different countries with different experiences. How does that make us better than recent immigrants, or even immigrants that have been living here for many years?

By chance, or due to a series of other events, our families happened to move to North America a little earlier than some families are doing now. We had nothing to do with this decision. Our parents struggled to give us the best life they could in a new land they didn’t quite understand. Again, we did nothing to help them. Why are we arrogant, judgmental and unkind to new immigrants, our own people?

My grandparents dealt with racially motivated graffiti on their home, egging, racist remarks at the supermarket. They also remember and cherish their friendships with people who lent them a helping hand in a strange country. Our generation needs to be more like these people. Instead of labeling people as FOBS, we need to offer support and kind words, which will give hope and build strong and resilient communities. As first generation Canadians, we have the unique advantage of understanding the challenges of new immigrants, as well and the opportunities that await new families when their initial difficulties are overcome. We’ve seen firsthand, the successes or our parents or grandparents, who tried never to let their children catch on to the loneliness they felt, being away from friends and family, making sacrifices to succeed in a new land. They are proud of us when we reach our goals, and continue to build on the legacy they began. Ultimately, the story of the “FOB” is all of our story.

A Deal Breaker? – On Identity, Culture, Religion and Relationships

This article is based on my own experience, its not meant to encompass all experiences and opinions on the matter! 

As Russell Peters once mentioned oh-so-wisely, the world is mixing, and we will all soon be beige. Well, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but its partially true! Most parents have a preference of the type of person they would like their child to marry. The same culture, religion, socio-economic status, family background, income etc. are said to be good indications of future compatibility, and therefore, are critical to parents who are looking to sign off on a future son or daughter-in-law. But, when living in a multicultural society like Canada, having friends of many different backgrounds and ethnicities, there’s a good chance you may end up with someone from a completely different religion or background!

For some people, culture and religion is a deal breaker, and that is completely understandable. The two make up a huge part individual identity, and are characteristics that someone might want to share and develop with their future partner. Sometimes, one person’s culture or religious identity is very strong, and the other person also feels an affinity for it and accepts it, agreeing that it will a guiding component in their marriage and future together. But what if you’re in a scenario where you and your partner butt heads over culture and religion? Is it a deal breaker, or is it something that can be compromised or resolved?

I was born and raised right here in Edmonton Alberta, and growing up, I had trouble reconciling my Canadian and Indian culture, but eventually I was able to find a balance. I read the religious texts of Bhagavata Gita and the Mahabharata. I took Bollywood dance lessons, loved spicy South Indian pickles and always knew what the latest South Asian fashions were. But I also knew all the lyrics to R. Kelly’s Ignition, I am obsessed with Game of Thrones, and pop culture. I am Indo-Canadian and I’m not confused. I’m proud and happy to have two strong cultural identities. When I started dating someone who seemingly came from the same cultural and religious background as me, I thought I had avoided any potential disagreements about the two. This was a guy who would definitely dance in the rain, Bollywood style, with me! We went for ice cream, movies, dinner, bike rides, trips and connected so deeply. We didn’t really know how serious our relationship would become at first, so we never really talked about religion or culture, it just never came up!

He was born in India and had moved here in his early teens. As a result, rather than trying to find a balance between Indian and Canadian culture, the priority was understanding and adapting to Canadian culture. Although he was always down to watch the occasional Bollywood movie with me, he wasn’t as into the dancing, the clothes, the weddings and particularly the religious aspects of our culture. He is an atheist. He had lived in India for awhile, and had experienced and seen the troubles caused by religion and culture in the country, practices like forced marriages, bride burning, the caste system and religious riots. Harmful cultural practices like these have the ability to alienate people from the concept of culture and religion. While culture and religion provide enrichment and diversity to a society, sometimes they also prevent it from progressing and developing. Many political and economic scholars have observed that this has been a common explanation for India’s uneven socio-economic growth.

When we finally got around to our initial discussions on culture and religion, he explained his views. I was conflicted. Suddenly, my obsession with the latest sari blouse styles and Bollywood songs seemed shallow and irrelevant. However, culture is so much more than its negative aspects. Language and dress, food, and customs are what bring people together and make our world beautiful, colorful and diverse. I’m not an overly religious person, but I still believe that many of the lessons within religious texts can provide insight and guidance. Suddenly, I had a lot of questions about what our future would look like. How would I enjoy the traditional Indian wedding I always wanted if he maybe didn’t care? What would our kids learn? If he taught them to be atheists, would they make fun of my beliefs and think they are crazy? Often these questions weren’t brought up, in fear of an argument.

Throughout our relationship, we have focused on our progress as a couple. We’ve shared our time, our likes and dislikes. We’re both flexible and outgoing people. We discussed our finances, our future careers, and we’ve supported each other through many phases. We have a very healthy successful relationship. Would it be alright if we didn’t have the things we would have had if we were with someone who had the exact same religious and cultural outlook?

I’ve realized the answer is simple. I’ve seen many people with polar opposite views on culture and religion, who have built their successful relationships on mutual respect and understanding. I’ve also seen people who are an Auntie and Uncles’ dream on paper, who just didn’t work in real life. We realized that having the “whole package” is not realistic. Its about connecting on a level that’s beyond religion and culture. Maybe we didn’t share the same upbringing, (me with my Indian dance lessons on a Edmonton stage, and him riding a foreign-made bike on the streets of Hyderabad), but we share the same fundamental beliefs about what life is about, and what it could be.

My parents, like many other South Asian parents were matched based on geographical proximity, their religion and caste. One generation later, their daughter would be with someone she’s known for years, hesitantly putting off watching Netflix shows until they could find the time to watch them together, and who repeatedly realized her boyfriend always put her first, even when he didn’t have to. I like to think life is a blend of fate and opportunity, and whether religion contributes to this, I’m not sure. However, I know I’m blessed to have found someone who thinks and feels the way I do. This for me, crosses any cultural or religious boundaries we may face.

Freedom + Control

Art work title: Seasons
Materials: Household Paint

Hi everyone!! This is Deepa and this is my first blog. Before I start talking about this week’s topic, let me introduce you myself first. My real name is Deepechhya Ojha but people call me Deepa. I received my Bachelors of Fine Arts from Alberta College of Art + Design and currently I’m attending Northern Institute of Technology majoring in Web Design. Right now I’m the Office Administrative Assistant at Indo-Canadian Women’s Association and I’m also helping out with our website update and designing the newsletter.

This week’s topic is Sexism. Sexism is dividing the world into different group such as male, female and transgender. It is when someone’s attitude or behaviour is based on stereotypes on gender roles (dictionary.com). It is judging people by their sex when sex shouldn’t matter. Sexism can be also known as gender discrimination but it especially affects females.

Throughout my whole life I have been struggling with this topic of freedom + control. I have experienced both ever since I was very young and as I grew older it started getting frustrating since I wanted control of my own life.  It’s not just about me though! I believe lot of girls can understand what I’m going to talk about.  No matter how understanding our parents are I think naturally everyone is more protective over girls but why? Honor and Patriarchy in our society.  Girls are the representative of the family so they have to maintain their behaviour and showcase themselves in a certain way. Patriarchy is when our society gives men power over women so they dominate or oppress women. All boys and girls should be educated to treat each other equally and not to harm each other. For examples, my brother can walk out of our house anytime he wants to but that is not possible for me. I’m career oriented and I love trying out new things all time.  I always give more time to my assignments, work  and my paintings. Doing my assignment at home is not an ideal place for me so I like to stay at school late and finish up everything and sometimes it’s hard to concentrate because I will keep getting constant call asking me when I’m coming home but it’s not the same story for my brother.  One of my goal is to travel as many places possible. One time my friend told me that is not okay for girls to travel alone because it’s a man’s world but should that stop us from achieving our goals and dreams?

Another example I have seen that my friends are experiencing is choice of clothes. They are constantly being told what they should wear or they always have to hear words like “Change what you’re wearing because it’s not proper” but those words are rarely said to the boys.  Clothes should be our choice to represent who we are. I have seen girls who come out of their house and change into something else. They are scared to be comfortable at home and no one should have to go through that. Everyone should be accepted for who they are.

Of course there are other huge examples that exists at many places such as low salary for women, freedom of marriage, getting education, violence and rape, frontline combat…and the list can keep going on!

I added a picture of my painting that represents this topic. Title of this painting is called the Seasons. My painting is a 3-D work and each section symbolizes different seasons by the use of different colors. First from left is winter, second is spring, third is summer and the last one is fall. Fall is my favourite because it’s filled with bright colored leaves and you see it everywhere. Each section also contains around 90- 93 layers of paint to represent different days. In real life this painting is very tiny! Can you guess how I chose all the colors? I put together different colored leaves that is commonly found each season. Leaves are so strong yet so delicate. They are attached to the stem and once they are pulled out they slowly die. Only freedom they have is when the wind blows and when they start falling once seasons start changing.  My work also represents change and I have always tried to change one’s mind relating to women’s equality.

So what about you? Is there something you are struggling with? Are you interested in sharing your experience or your story? Please leave a comment below and let us know that we are all not alone!

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself! – Privilege in a Nutshell. Part 1/2

This is a two part post, but its fairly important. I think there has been a lack of communication and knowledge about privilege, a concept that is misunderstood. Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 piece, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack explains it nicely, but I thought I might break it down a little more simply.

People get defensive when they are told they have privilege. This shouldn’t be the case because most people have some kind of privilege. Privilege means you will experience a number of unearned privileges without asking, based on an aspect of your identity. There are many different types of privilege someone could have:

  • White – As a white person, you can turn on the TV and see your race widely represented. If you are pulled over by the police, you have not been pulled over because of your race.
  • Citizenship – Being a Canadian citizen gives you privileges others cannot access, for example voting rights, etc.
  • Class – Being born into an upper middle class family with stable finances will guarantee good health, a great education which will open up opportunities in the future, and a nice house in a safe neighborhood, which will give you safety and happiness
  • Sexual Orientation – If you are heterosexual, then you are afforded many privileges the LGBTQ community has had to fight for. You will be able to walk down the street holding hands and being affectionate, without having people stare at you
  • Sex – If you are male, you will be able to walk through alleys at night without worrying about being sexually assaulted. And if you are, then your defense lawyer will not blame it on what you were wearing
  • Ability (Physical and Mental) – If you are able bodied, you won’t have to spend a significant about of your time and money ensuring you have access to handicap services, braille, ramps for wheelchairs etc.
  • Gender – If you are born cisgender, you won’t have to worry about which bathroom to use, and whether it will provoke anger from the public
  • Christian – If you are a Christian, you will receive holiday time for religious celebrations. You will also see your religion widely represented when national prayers are recited, and all over the media. Your religion will not be misinterpreted by mass media sources.

Judging from the above list, you can see how if you were born a Straight, Able, White, Middle Class Male, Christian Canadian Citizen, you won all the privileges in the world without trying. I’m a South Asian, Cis-Gendered Able Bodied Female, who is a Canadian Citizen but not a Christian. Although there are some privileges I don’t have, (White, Christian, Sex), that does not restrict me to not check and recognize my own privileges in society.

Let me give you an example. In Canada, there is a paradox that exists. We are a country of immigrants, and we are multicultural in that all faiths and traditions are celebrated and valued, because they add diversity to Canadian identity. In this same country, Aboriginal people are over represented in the criminal justice system, in those who experience homelessness, or in those who are harassed by authority figures in public places. Systematic and historically rooted discrimination has placed Aboriginal people in a marginalized position within Canadian society. I am a South Asian woman of the middle class. When I walk through a public place or use public transit, I am never bothered by security guards. I am not scared of the police or authority figures. Many people of Aboriginal descent do not have this privilege of assumed innocence. Its assumed they have done something wrong when in many cases they have not. If I went missing, the police would start a search for me right away. There would be no question of whether I ran away from home, whether I was involved in illegal substances, or automatically blaming me in any way for my disappearance. This is in complete contrast to the hundreds of young Aboriginal women who have gone missing throughout Canada, and have had their cases, handled incorrectly, or pushed to the backburner.  This isn’t a privilege I earned, its just something I have based on being in the “majority group” in a country that isn’t suppose to have a majority group. Checking privilege means checking two sides of a coin. If there is privilege, there is also marginalization.

The above was just an example of how I was able to check my privilege. I didn’t try to justify how I am a minority as well, and how I experience marginalization at airports when my hands are always swabbed for testing despite the checks being “random”. Acknowledging that you don’t share the same struggles at someone else doesn’t invalidate your own. But when discussing oppression, its not right to speak over the challenges of another by inserting your own. Its painful when someone invalidates or tries to “top” our struggles. It hurts when they can’t recognize that something we’ve struggled through was a benefit to them. If someone has difficulty with the police because they are in the minority of people that are racially profiled, on the other side I don’t have this difficulty because I am in the majority.

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The concept of privilege isn’t meant to make people who have it feel guilty! The argument isn’t that people with privilege haven’t worked for what they have. Its not their fault they were born with privilege. Checking your privilege involves being compassionate towards the struggle another person has had. They want you to acknowledge the ways your background and struggles are different, and how some benefits that you may have taken for granted (being able to live in a safe and clean neighborhood growing up), others may not have experienced, or may never experience. Asking you to be compassionate isn’t an insult, it means someone believes that you have the capacity to empathize. So how do you effectively check your privilege and ensure that you’re an ally and not part of the problem? That’s in the next post! But in the meantime, what do you think? What types of privileges make and do not make up your identity? How do they affect the way you live your life and interact with the world?

Not That Fair, But Still Pretty Lovely! – Debunking South Asia’s Obsession with Colorism, and Bollywoods Role in the Phenomenon

When people think of the summer time, they think about beaches, popsicles and lazying around in the sun. This has not been the case for many women of color. Many people I know want to stay out of the sun to avoid getting dark. They hated switching to a darker foundation shade during the summer months. They also had whitening cream lathered on them as a child. Even after growing up in Canada we have still been affected by colorism, which can be defined as discrimination against people who have dark skin colors. It’s a bit different than racism. Colorism often exists within a race. Colorism is a global problem and is present within every society.

For a long time, South Asia has been obsessed with fairness. To be fair has been equated with being beautiful. You can see where the roots of this obsession started. When the British Raj had control over South Asian provinces, they often favored and privileged the fairer people of South Asia, as these people looked similar to themselves. Darker skin was discriminated against and seen as “lower class” and “more savage”. Centuries old Ayurveda beauty treatments have also included “solutions” for a dark skin tone, and these have been passed through the generations. (as evidenced by portraits of Mughal courtesans who have been depicted with fair skin). For this reason, South Asian culture has valued fair skin over darker skin. Those who are fair are cast in commercials, movies, and are used to show the world what South Asian beauty is.

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(Hrithik Roshan and Priyanka Chopra, the “ideals” of Indian beauty)

I remember one day in High School, showing a friend some pictures of Bollywood celebrities I was obsessed with. After being made fun of for about an hour, I landed on a picture of Priyanka Chopra with Hrithik Roshan. I remember her saying “Omg, they’re so good looking, they don’t even look Indian!”

Um excuse me?

Don’t get me wrong, there is no denying Aishwarya Rai, 1994 Miss World winner is stunning. So is Sushmita Sen, 1994 Miss Universe winner and Priyanka Chopra, the star of the popular ABC show Quantico. But there is a problem when these women are held up as the only example of what South Asian beauty is. When young girls grow up, they are told to stay out of the sun, use lightening creams like the multi million-dollar company Fair and Lovely, which also makes a product for men, “Fair and Handsome”. These cremes are marketed like detergents are. Take something dark, use the product, and it will become whiter and more lovely. Don’t have a date? Got passed over for that promotion? Don’t worry! Just slap on some fairness cream and all your dreams will come true!

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                         (Left: The promotion of a whiting cream by a Bollywood actress)

Appreciating light skin over dark skin is so prevalent in South Asian culture, there is special vocabulary that has developed to refer to it. Terms like gauri, which means: to be fair in Hindi, are used interchangeably with words like beautiful and stunning in songs and movies. If you are dark skinned, you are often called dusky. This term is supposed to be seen or taken as a “cute” nickname. Surely someone who has a darker complexion can’t be beautiful, there must be another word for them! Vogue India once came out with a token “special issue” called “The Dawn of the Dusk”, which celebrated dark skinned models. Why should there be a special issue for “dusky” models when South Asia is full of people from many different backgrounds, skin tones and ethnicity? What type of message does this send to a dark skinned little girl with beautiful eyes and a bright mind? It tells her that she can never truly been seen as beautiful, and this mindset is wrong.

Bollywood is one of South Asia’s biggest cultural influences, and has no love for darker skinned actors. To be a hero or a heroine, you have to look as fair as possible. If you are dark, you could maybe be a villain, or a thug, or a prostitute take your pick. If you take a look at photos of many Bollywood actresses when they were young, they do not have the skin tone they have today. Underground skin lightening treatments as well as photo and light editing within movies turns these girls into what society desires an South Asian woman to look like.  The pressure these girls face when they are trying to suceed in the entertainment industry makes them victims of colorism. And by caving in to societal expectations, they perpetuate colorism through to later generations.

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(Right: Kajol, a renowned Bollywood actress, who has a significantly different appearance than when she first started in the industry)

Recently, American Indian Nina Davuluri made headlines as the first South Asian women to win the Miss America pageant. The awesome part wasn’t just because she was South Asian, but because she had a beautiful darker complexion. Usually, following this type of win, Nina would have all the biggest Bollywood directors knocking on her door to give her leading lady parts in their movies. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen. Her skin tone is not considered conventionally attractive in South Asian culture, and as a result, her intelligence (she was on her way to medical school), and talent as a dancer were ignored.

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(Nina Davaluri Wins The Miss America Pageant)

South Asian matrimonial ads have actually said “darker skinned girls need not apply.” Even when competing for jobs, there has been evidence of colorism, with darker skinned individuals being discriminated against. In a world where minorities are still fighting to be recognized and treated respectfully and equally, why do we divide ourselves and give colorism so much importance?

Recently Nandita Das, a prominent South Asian film actress started a grassroots campaign “Dark is Beautiful”. Its message is simple. Dark skin should be celebrated, loved and embraced. The campaign has done very well, but is it enough to remove the deep rooted colorism present in South Asian society? Probably not, but it’s a start. I myself have also learned to embrace and love my own complexion for everything it is. You won’t see me hiding from the sun this summer. At least on my part, it’s a baby step to eradicating colorism, and all the societal stigmas that come with it.

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4 Ways Cultural Appropriation Throws Society Backwards (With Examples!)

Usually when you try telling people that they are guilty about cultural appropriation, they jump to defend their behavior. “I appreciate and respect the culture, that’s why I decided to do it!” Cultural exchange is separate from cultural appropriation. In cultural exchange, you have consent to participate in someone elses culture, and both sides benefit and gain understanding of each other. For example, if I invited you to an Indian wedding, and lent you a sari and a bindi, while explaining the cultural traditions of the wedding ceremony, that would be an exchange of culture.

On the other hand, cultural appropriation involves dominant borrowing aspects from the marginalized cultures often without proper understanding and respect for the origins of these practices. This is different than assimilation, where marginalized peoples adopt dominant customs to better survive in a culture when they are oppressed. Most of the time, they don’t have the choice to stick with their own customs.

When people of color speak up about appropriation, we’re trying to show you how you can support and appreciate our cultures without appropriating them. Remember, your intentions, however good they are, won’t matter much if your actions are harmful!

  1. Ignoring Historical Violent Oppression.

Many sports teams and schools use a Native American “Red Skin” as a mascot for their team. Often, they defend this action by claiming they’re “honoring a culture” or that everyone is being too sensitive. People don’t want to take extra time and money to change their mascots. But think about it this way. When a group of people go through genocide, slavery or colonization, the trauma lasts through the coming generations. “Red Skins” (an offensive term often used when describing Native Americans) comes from time state governments and companies paid white settlers to kill Native Americans, and used their scalps or “red skins” to prove their kills. This time in history should be looked upon with shame, and we are still healing from the damage. But instead, many sports teams insist on indirectly celebrating the genocide of a group of people by using this term and symbolism, frivolously, and in relation to a mascot

Currently, white people can also freely do what people of color have traditionally been punished for doing. The commercialization of yoga in Western nations is a prime example of it. Yoga was once banned in India by the British Raj, and used to create a racist narrative about the Indian people when a group of yogis protested against the oppressive English rule. By doing this, the British removed a culturally significant source of spirituality, attempting to weaken the resolve of the people they were trying to rule. Yoga has deep significance in South Asian culture, and it can be sensitive talking about the practice of yoga as cultural appropriation, as yoga has many physical benefits. The point isn’t to stop practicing yoga if you are not a South Asian. Its important to practice it in a way that does not separate it from Indian culture and access. Reducing yoga to Lululemon products and ignoring its origins and the people who fought to keep it alive is wrong.

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  1. Certain practices become ‘cool’ for white people, but ‘too ethnic’ for people of color

If I stepped out of my house wearing a bindi, a traditional dot worn by Hindu women between the eyebrows as a “third eye” to protect against evil gaze, I would be seen as too “FOB” (Fresh off the boat), and clearly not adapted to Western culture. However, at music festivals and raves, I see non South Asian women wearing bindis, and praised for their trendiness, and fashion statement. How is this fair? Another prominent example is black women being discriminated against in the work place for wearing cornrows, dreadlocks or afros. Then when you look online, Kylie Jenner, a white celebrity, is praised for the very same “edgy” cornrow hairstyle. This type of unacceptable double standard implies that cultural beauty practices are only appealing, and cool and accepted when they are adopted by white people. In addition, there are many barriers (Classism, racism and xenophobia) that prevent people of color from making profit off of their cultural practices. These barriers are not present for white people, who in turn, make profit off of cultural practices and hurt the community they borrowed from. An example is if a middle class white woman wants to sell products related to Native American spirituality. She wants to adopt the culture without being held accountable to Aboriginal communities and the oppression they face.

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(Illustration Credit: Shannon Wright! Check out more of her fantastic work here!: http://shannondrewthis.tumblr.com/post/134820711632/some-time-ago-i-did-a-piece-for-ink-magazine)

  1. People are rewarded for things other people created.

When I say Rock and Roll, the first artist that you would think of is Elvis Presley right? The King? But did you know Rock and Roll actually originated out of the blues and was developed by Black artists? In the 1950s, mainstream American society wasn’t completely ready to propel black music stars into the spotlight. So they found popular white stars and molded their look and sound after Black artists. While Elvis never himself claimed to have invented Rock and Roll, the media has rewritten history that way. When Macklemore won four Grammys, even he was confused, and thought Kendrick Lamar should have won best rap album.

Adding to this, cultural appropriation also spreads lies about marginalized cultures. For example, do you know of anyone who dressed up as Pocahontas for Halloween? Did you know the real Pocahontas had the name Matoaka, and was abducted as a teen and forced to marry an Englishman? She was used as propaganda for racist practices and died at age 21. Disney has made a film where her life was romanticized with a happy ending and this is now a primary cultural reference for that point in history. The film depicts Native Americans as savages, and their oppressors as heroes. How can we turn these victim’s stories into costumes, or twist them to excuse the truth of what actually happened? This displays the privilege of our society, and the failure of education systems to properly teach.

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(Big Mama Thornton, a name you probably don’t recognize. She was one of the original creators of the Rock and Roll sound Elvis Presley is now known for)

  1. The perpetuation of Racist Stereotypes.

During the 2013 American Music Awards, Katy Perry put on a geisha costume and sang her single “Unconditionally”, which was about undying love, while portraying the image of a passive submissive sexual Asian woman. While she claimed performance was honoring Japanese culture, she used a huge public platform to encourage negative and common stereotypes about Asian women. This type of portrayal has very real consequences for Asian women in Western nations. Their experiences with dating, sexual harassment and fetishization reveal that white men actually seem to expect them to live up to the “exotic” overtly sexual, and submissive character perpetuated with performances like these. This scenario happens for many people of color, who often have one mainstream image of their sexuality constantly reinforced by cultural appropriation. People view women of color as exotic objects to be collected rather than real women with real stories and ambitions.

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So, what does this all mean?

By ignoring cultural appropriation, the feelings of privileged people are prioritized over justice for the marginalized people. No one can stop you from taking things from other people’s cultures, and you should have the right to express yourself the way you wish. But the thing is, marginalized people who are having their culture appropriated don’t have the institutional power to stop you. People might think cultural appropriation isn’t a big deal, or that society has “more important things to worry about”. But claiming the dominant culture has the right to take from marginalized groups shows the continuing impact of oppressive attitudes in society. Changing societal norms is not an easy task, but one of the ways we can do it is to stop dehumanizing and erasing the histories of people of color.

This doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to practice yoga or make Mexican food at home. It just comes down to being thoughtful about using thing from other cultures, considering the context those practices and engaging in them respectfully.  There is room for us to have fun without oppression! What do you think about cultural appropriation? Let us know your thoughts!

Its Wedding Season: A Discussion on Arranged and Forced Marriages

Its wedding season! Throughout the many ceremonies and parties I’ve been attending, people have asked me a lot of questions about arranged marriages. Some of the brides and grooms were Canadian born and raised, and it stunned many people that they would agree to such a custom. How could they? Why?

I didn’t share their surprise. After all, generations of my own family had undergone arranged marriages as well. But I could understand their interest in the practice. I thought this post would be a great way to address and explain this traditional cultural practice, and provide some perspectives for discussion!

First of all, historically speaking, arranged marriages were the norm in societies all around the world. The concept of marriage being a personal choice, where individuals could choose their spouses based on love and affection actually developed very recently. Marriage was traditionally an alliance between two families to solidify wealth and resources. Since then, marriage has evolved and changed at varying rates within different societies. Arranged marriage is still considered the norm in South Asia, as well as many parts of the Middle East and Africa. In certain cultures, marriage between people who are first and second cousins is also common and even encouraged. This contrasts with the culture of Western society, which doesn’t readily accept these unions.

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People have undergone arranged marriages for generations and in many cases they work very well. Families often look for qualities their children may overlook when considering a spouse, like financial stability and family background. When families are well acquainted with each other, it leads to additional closeness and familiarity. Arranged marriages now often include a short courtship period where the couple can get to know each other and make the final decision themselves. My parents’ marriage was arranged (although they weren’t related!). My parents Netflix together, go on walks together, and are each others #1 fans.

My favorite story of theirs was when my mom was coming to Canada for the first time after her marriage, to meet my dad who had always lived and worked there. Her flight got delayed in Toronto and as a new immigrant she was confused and scared. Suddenly she heard someone call her name, and it was my dad! He had been tracking the flight since it had left India and had flown to Toronto to meet her when he found out it got delayed! If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is!

Now there is arranged marriage and then there is forced marriage. Although forced marriage has been internationally condemned as a violation on human rights, the practice is rarely studied as it is considered taboo. Forced marriages happen in many different cultures and faiths, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism etc. It is important to recognize that forced marriage is a cultural practice, not a religious one. All religions require the consent of both spouses before marriage. Forced marriages often occur due to poverty, to obtain a load, dowry, or erase a debt. They lack free informed consent from the bride and groom, who are often economically and emotionally blackmailed by their families into agreeing to the marriage.

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Forced marriage doesn’t just happen in immigrant communities. LGBTQ youth are also forced into heterosexual marriages and relationships. Mormon communities have also had cases for forced marriage. The practice occurs in communities all over the world, including Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe, and some common factors were economic, social and ideological reasons, as well as the need to control the sexuality of girls and women. Quickly marrying off a rebellious daughter is a way for parents to make sure she does not dishonor their family. They often look for a man from their country of origin, who can “control her” and teach her how to be a “proper wife”. Sometimes these marriages are of convenience, where the reason is to sponsor the non-Canadian spouse and their family.

The victims of forced marriages face devastating consequences. Many have compared their wedding nights to a rape, and continued relations with their spouses as repeated rape. The inequality in their relationships denies their freedom of choice in a number of other areas. Their education and careers are put to an end, and they are vulnerable to domestic violence. As divorce is often considered a dishonor to the family, especially when put forward by the wife, many women resign themselves to their fate. Some are driven to commit suicide to escape their conditions, and others bravely attempt to separate, though they may face horrific consequences like honor based violence.

Awareness of these issues is so important and the Indo-Canadian Womens Association has been working on many initiatives to prevent forced marriages and provide assistance to victims. What do you think about arranged marriages? Do you think they still have a place within modern society? Would you ever consider one? How can we educate people on valid consent to marriage? Let me know your thoughts!