Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Some thoughts on the concept of racialization

Last week sometime I was listening to CBC radio, something I have done so many times, it has become pseudo-ritualistic. You know, the voices, the theme music, the topics all blur into one, it's almost soothing. Almost, except I find much of what I hear offensive in some way. I had a friend, who listens to the CEEB religiously, once tell me that the only show she didn't find hurt her regularly in some fundamental way was the weekly gardening show. Somehow they managed to never denigrate indigenous people on this one show, no small feat in a settler country built on such trespasses. And the CEEB, despite its liberal leanings, is there to express such nationalist visions.

There I was, middle of the day listening to the CEEB and the talk turns to the so-called Chinese dairy products scandal. You know, some chemical has been found in dairy products, both wet and dry, and there has been a mass recall in China, one that has affected a few products here in Canada. I'll remind people that this comes on the heels of the listeriosis debacle here in Canada, where none other than Maple Leaf Foods, probably the national meat brand, poisoned hundreds of people with contaminated cold meat cuts, leading to the death of nearly 20 people across the country.

Anyways, here I am listening to this show, and the type of crap people were saying was infuriating. Interviewer: "So, are you going to buy Chinese products?" Respondent(s): "Never, I don't trust Chinese products, I never have, I will not go to Chinatown."

Ok, so yeah, the whole dairy product thing is sketchy. I agree. Luckily I don't eat dairy or meat products, partly because of these types of situations. But the way the respondents were racializing all things Chinese was stunning. It was like they were talking about aliens who eat their kids and love their rodents. God, it made me sick to my stomach.

Never in all of the endless discussions about the listeriosis outbreak did anyone ever invoke the moral or ethical will of the people behind the outbreak. Nor has there been any discussion of their race and/or ethnic make-up, even though many of those responsible for the outbreak have appeared regularly in the media to assuage the public. Can you imagine what would've been said if Maple Leaf Foods was run by any number of hyphenated-Canadians. Instead, I have to listen to some bullshit news report basically tarnishing the 'Chinese' with unsafe food handling practices, lower health standards, questionable moral way-points and worst of all and yet not surprising, an unhealthy disregard for human life, especially children, since many of those affected by the contamination have been children.

And this folks is how racialization works. Sure, we could talk about this in relation to racism, and it surely is an example of how the power of the racial order is upheld, but it also serves as a good example of how the process of racialization works. A whole series of values, beliefs, attitudes, and meanings are clearly being associated here with a group of people, one that is seen as racially outside the white norm. That's how it becomes possible to talk about never going to Chinatown, because the people in question are seen as untrustworthy and dirty. Of course, the meanings associated with being Chinese change and shift, they aren't static, but it is quite amazing how what was being said about the Chinese in Canada on the CEEB last week was so similar to what was being said in the early 20th century, most notably by the White Canada terrorists. Why do racial, and one could add gender and sexuality, codes have such staying power? They clearly get expressed differently, nobody interviewed on the CEEB was walking through Chinatown with a sign demanding the immediate deportation of all Chinese people in Canada and the cessation of all immigration from China, but the ideas about what it means to be Chinese, especially at times of crisis like the SARS outbreak in Toronto in 2003 and this more minor one around dairy products, are there, stubbornly clinging to life.

There was no reason to talk about so-called Chinese values and/or Chinatowns in this newscast. Just like there was no reason to talk about the dozens of grocery store chains that carry contaminated Maple Leaf meat products or who is, in the racial sense, behind that outbreak. But it happened and it happens all the time. That's racialization at work. Some, like the white executives and their representatives, are not racialized, race is not part of the story at Maple Leaf Foods, while others, in this case some apparently shady group of Chinese food producers are very clearly racialized. The dairy product outbreak occurs because of race, strange logic yes, but no coincidence.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Encounter With the Past

I was hit hard in the gut yesterday. I was having a great day, you know the type of day where the sun is shining bright and the future looks ever-so-inviting. I was on my bike, heading to a union bargaining committee meeting with management, something I absolutely love doing.

There I was, stopped at a light, listening to Peter Gabriel, and I heard a honk over the din of Gabriel's scratchy voice. I've never been a big fan of his, partly due to this aural feature of his music, but on this day I had synched a version of 'City of Angels' onto my ipod, which incidentally I had heard on Radio Paradise the week before. If you haven't tuned into RP yet, I strongly recommend it.

But back to my story. I'm waiting at the light and at a particularly melancholic moment in the song I hear a honk, which I invariably think is aimed at me. I look to the left and straight back and nothing. I look to the right and a cute-looking woman drives by, rolling her right turn on the red. What I do care? I smile large. I peer over to the next car to pull up beside me, something I have trained myself to do over the years, whether stationary or in motion at 120km/h.

A large smile beams at me and my heart races a touch. "Hi, how are you?" I can read her lips over the lilting soundtrack on my ears. My heart races still more. I take my headphones off, I can feel myself melting into the pavement, but I resist it. I will not sink to that level.

"Good, enjoying the sun." I hear myself, confident, and it doesn't seem possible.

She retorts, very enthusiastically: "Man, I can't believe it, I was just thinking about you!" The way she draws out 'just', as if she was singing a folk song, has always been endearing. I think it may one of her favourite words.

"Oh yeah." I wasn't, but I thought that might not be the right thing to say. "Cool." It probably isn't, but it seemed like my turn to say something else, and 'cool' and 'interesting' are my two favourite things to say that mean pretty much nothing but sound ok.

"It's really nice to see you." She's still beaming, as if the sun is shining too bright in her eyes. She sounds sincere. "It's nice to see you too." And then for what feels like an eternity we both stare into each others' eyes, in a way I've rarely done with anyone, as if we're playing some infantile game of "who will blink first" with nothing at stake.

I look away. I feel happy to see her, but I wonder, almost cryptically, what does she want from me?

The conversation continues in this way, with her smiling larger than I have perhaps ever seen her smile and my mind wandering to her intentions, for the minute it takes the light to change. In that uncomfortable moment, there's a slight pause, before I say, rather matter-of-factly, "Well, it was nice seeing you. Have a good day." And I mean it. I don't want to pursue anything more.

Then I go about my day and I think back to that brief moment, the type of moment I used to obsess over (what will i say? what will she say? how will i feel?) and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. I was nice and friendly to someone who treated me more or less like shit. I'm relieved. And feel stronger than I did before. I thought I'd fail the test, but I passed with flying colours. I wouldn't change a thing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Visitor Overview

For regular visitors to Courir dans le vent rose, you may know that I track visitors to my blog. I haven't given an update since last December, so here's the latest news about visitors from the period that covers June 1st-September 10th, 2008 according to Google Analytics.

992 Visits
279 Absolute Unique Visitors
1,559 Pageviews
1.57 Average Pageviews
00:03:10 Time on Site per Visit
26.31% New Visits

My top content pages over that period as measured by percentage of page views were as follows:

1. Home page--> 77.4%
2. Rainbow Lake Trail Whistler--> 2.76%
3. Howe Sound Crest Trail--> 1.22%
4. Edisto Beach State Park--> 0.96%
5. Short Stories label--> 0.96%

My top traffic sources (referrals) as measured by percentage of page views were as follows:

1. Direct to blog--> 38.41%
2. Google--> 18.41%
3. Facebook--> 15.83%
4. maecallan.blogspot.com--> 15.52%
5. blogger.com--> 2.62%

My top search engine keywords as measured by percentage of page views were as follows:

1. Edisto Beach Campground--> 9.68%
2. Howe Sound Crest Trail--> 3.76%
3. Kilmainham Gaol--> 3.23%
4. leventrose--> 2.15%

Thanks to everyone who visited!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Canadian Elections

Those who know me could attest to the fact that I don't talk much about electoral politics. I don't see the state-based political system as a central space to engage in struggle over the meaning of living an ethical and just life. In fact, I think the electoral system, with its roots in liberal ideologies, has many built-in inequalities deeply structuring it. Because of this political analysis, one I'm admittedly not developing in this post, I'm a lukewarm voter at best. I've voted NDP a couple of times when I thought they might win, and Green once when my friend was running for them. Whatever the case, I don't believe that any of the parties would change much in society. And this isn't some narcissistic, relativist argument. I just think that anything other than a devolution/revolution, a mixed-bag of socialist and anarchist political theories if you will, can fundamentally change societies in a way I can support wholeheartedly.

As an example of the futility of the current system, I take none other than the current debate about the televised leadership debate. Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, was up in arms yesterday when she found out that the television consortium that decides who gets to sit in on the debates has decided not to include the Greens alongside the usual suspects: Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Bloc. This decision came after the NDP, Conservatives and Bloc threatened to boycott the debate if the Greens were given a spot on the broadcasts.

Before this sad episode, I was thinking about voting for NDP candidate Paul Dewar, an NDPer who has a real chance of winning in my riding. The same NDP that continuously harkens about bringing in change, about being more equitable, about getting rid of the old parties, can't face up to some healthy challenge from the Greens. Not that the Greens are clean in the entire affair either: they made some deal with the Liberals where their leaders agreed to not run against each other, which apparently led to the Liberals supporting May's appearance in the debates. Whatever. The whole thing is political theatre at its worst. Whenever I follow the news about such items, I feel like I'm in a time machine 2,000 years in the future watching an episode of "The Lost Years: 1700-2100 AD," and it's so funny I want to cry. But then I remind myself that some of the talking heads on the podiums with the beautiful photo-ops in the background not only really believe they might be able to change certain things for those most in need, but many of them will actually have the ability to make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people, often, as is the case with liberal, capitalist societies, to the detriment of the majority of folks out there.

So I'll keep following the stories about how Stephen Harper is more masculine than Stéphane Dion, and how Jack Layton would make a better Prime Minister than Elizabeth May, but not without wondering who the fuck cares? What about the fact that we live in a society where the huge majority of people have accepted that a grossly disproportionate amount of indigenous people live in dire poverty? I could list off any number of issues that will not be discussed in any real, sustained manner during these elections, but I won't bother right now. Instead, I'll suggest that those who care about the issues that aren't going to be discussed address these issues in their own ways, amongst their own communities, and let those around them know that they are doing so. And if you want, tell them that you're disengaging from the elections, not because you don't believe in freedom or justice or the fuzzy principles of democracy, tell them it's precisely because you do care. About people, animals, birds, fish, trees, water, and all those other beings and things that animate our world.

No leaders' debates. No political attack ads. No commercials selling you a constructed image. No polite, parliamentary debate about what the definition of torture is. Or whether there are too many immigrants. Or welfare Moms. Or criminals in communities of colour. There are too many inequalities that go unmentioned every day. Because of this, I'm not voting, and this time I'm telling people why.