Saturday, August 29, 2009

Racist Advertising

It's everywhere, not just the explicitly racist Hell Pizza billboard that read "At least our brownies won't eat your pet dog". On Friday, there was a demo at a Hell's Pizza on Quay st where a spokesperson for Hell Pizza in charge of advertising came and talked to us. He was a white guy wearing a suit. Protestors were asking confrontational questions and he was given a right of reply to all the questions asked. But some of us heckled him as he spoke. He started off with trying to justify the ad in the name of humour and couldn't understand how it could be seen as racist. For a report of the action see here.

Looking at the message in the ad itself, it's such a typical form of racism that people shouldn't be so surprised about. It's so normal in a racist society that skin colour or race becomes associated to activities, behaviour of actions deemed 'uncivilised' by white supremacist cultures. For those that don't like to watch corporate media, the billboard was made in reference to a Tongan man who was caught frying up a dog on his barbeque. The fact that he was called a "brownie" in this ad, made it about race. It was connecting a whole group of people with brown skin to eating dogs. Personally, as a vegan, I don't see eating dogs as any less horrific to eating cows, chickens, sheep or pigs. But you'd never see an ad making fun of white people for eating any of those animals or drinking milk from another species. I still remember the stereotypes of Asian/Chinese people being cat and dog-eaters and the look of disgust from people against this practice when they talk about it, but would happily consume a dead chicken's body in their sandwich for lunch.

Another ad my friend pointed out to me as we were walking up Queen st the other day was an ad for Jeanswest advertising "Authentic Japanese Denim".

The actual images in the shop were slightly different to this one, the man and the woman was on separate banners and the man was surrounded by Japanese men bowing to him. The one of the white woman had the same circle of Japanese women bowing and kneeing around her. It's such a telling image of a racist colonial white supremacist ideal of race relations. White people standing in the centre while Japanese men and women bow and kneel around them, positioned much lower with their many bodies subservient to them. They are situated on the outside, used almost like decorations while the main focus are on the idealised bodies of white men and women. What a fucked up colonial fantasy re-produced to sell jeans. It's such a blatant image of European superiority while appropriating Japanese culture and projecting a western ideal of "authenticity" onto another culture. When images like this are still in the mainstream, it can be taken in two ways. It can reinforce white supremacist ideology or it can evoke opposition because of such a blatantly racist composition that can easily be deconstructed. I think images like this are at least more honest about the reality of relationships between cultures, and they show how corporate brands use non-western cultures to make profit. Gotta love 'multicultural' capitalism.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

News from "Asia"

Worker occupations in Korea

Workers at the Ssangyong Motor factory in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, have been on a sit-in strike since late May and are currently trying to defend their factory against a police assault. Workers at the plant responded with strikes against pending layoffs in April which accelerated into a full strike and plant takeover and occupation by 1700 workers on May 27 when the list of workers to be laid off was announced. The strike focused on three main demands: 1) no layoffs 2) job security for all and 3) no outsourcing. The company wants to force 1700 workers into early retirement and has fired 300 casuals.

Hundreds of cops have been trying to storm the occupied factory in full riot gear using tear gas and other weapons, supported by scabs using slingshots.

Malaysian Protesters against security laws held by police.

Scores of demonstrators who demanded an end to Malaysia's decades-old security law are still being held by police, a day after authorities put down the country's biggest protest in nearly two years. Ismail Omar, Malaysia's deputy inspector general of police, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that many would likely be charged with holding an "illegal procession" or with other offenses. "Some of them without documents will be charged under the registration act and we're also looking under the societies act," he said.

China Steel Workers Clash with Riot Police

CHINA HAS seen several serious disturbances this weekend as people take to the streets to express their anger at perceived corruption and unfair takeovers.

The riots are part of a picture of wider social unrest in China fuelled by discontent over inequality and unemployment.

Around 30,000 disgruntled steel workers clashed with riot police in protests over a takeover deal, resulting in the death of an executive from another steel company. And more than 3,000 villagers in eastern China blocked a highway and clashed with police while protesting alleged corruption in a land compensation deal.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Issues with Biculturalism and Multiculturalism

I have a problem with state policies of biculturalism and multiculturalism. First of all, biculturalism is a problematic concept that only recognises two existing cultures in this country called “New Zealand”, and it is used more so to legitimise Pakeha dominance and government rather than as a genuine attempt to reconcile the invasion, stealing, cheating and manipulation of the Pakeha colonial past. With popular opinion shifting through indigenous agitation and struggle, Maori are recognised as tangata whenua and indigenous inhabitants of Aotearoa, at least legally and formally under a liberal democracy. Biculturalism as based on Treaty principles of partnership, participation and protection is rather void in practice. Partnership implies an equal positioning of power, which is not the case in practice. The extent of participation and what forms of participation are legitimate are still under the governance of the state. Protection is also selective and what exactly is being protected, who is being protected, how they are protected and what they are protected from is all done under the terms of the state. Within this bicultural model, all the terms and conditions are set by the Pakeha state, so nature of this bicultural relationship allows little room for autonomy and self-determination. By claiming New Zealand as a bicultural country, gives visibility to the colonial and colonised cultures, but it does not actually give equal status. It’s a fluffy white liberal idea for NZ to be a bicultural nation because it does not actually threaten the power of Pakeha society and government but further attempts to legimitise it using a more underhanded strategy (even if that wasn’t the intention, it seems to be the effect).

Within this discussion around bi or multi-culturalism, the idea of culture is never really defined. Coming from an anthropological perspective, the idea of culture is a contested and ever-changing concept that has different meanings in different contexts. What does it mean when state policies of biculturalism or multiculturalism are implemented? If culture is taken to be the visible and tangible things that is defined under the terms made by a Pakeha-dominated state, then it is established within a framework directed by the state.

The other obvious problem with the idea of biculturalism is – what does that mean for those who aren’t identified as or identify themselves as Maori or Pakeha? Where does the existence of other minority cultures fit into this bicultural framework?
In a tutorial discussion I had today, there was a woman saying that biculturalism can mean Maori and non-Maori. But if we take this idea of culture to mean ‘a way of life’, which has had changing meanings in different contexts and still does, then that makes no sense to lump all other minority cultures in the same boat as Pakeha culture. There are major differences in power relationships between minority groups and Pakeha which manifests in a similar hierarchical relationship as Maori/Pakeha relationship, and many of us have had to deal with European colonialism/imperialism in our own countries and the racism and ethnocentrism of Pakeha culture in Aotearoa. To put us in the same boat as our oppressors is ignoring some major and fundamental differences in our cultures. Immigrants from non-western countries go through the same shit experiences of Pakeha arrogance and ethnocentrism, and in general, immigrants don’t have the same intentions as Pakeha colonisers to conquer land and territories for an empire or to dominate indigenous people to gain power and authority. I see it as a different relationship, and one that is not spoken about or dealt with very much in popular discourse on ‘race’ matters.

It is an awkward position to be in when you don’t fit into either category in a binary system of thought. When you are non-Pakeha tau iwi, coming into this country through the Pakeha state’s means and under their terms and conditions rather than through direct negotiation with nga tangata whenua, where do we fit in the scheme of things? How do we support tino rangatiratanga?

Up at Waitangi last year, election year, there were some questions asked of the different parties and one of them was a really peculiar question with an interesting assumption. It was, “Giving the rising number of other ethnicities, what policies do you wish to introduce to protect Maori rights?" That question constructs immigration and the "rising number of other ethnicities" as necessarily a threat to Maori rights. It operates under the assumption that other minority ethnic groups are a somehow going to erode or take away Maori rights, and it definitely doesn't insinuate an inclusion of Pakeha as an "other ethnicity".

But I do think the government tries to use multiculturalism as a way to ignore and detract primacy from addressing Maori issues. The whole idea of "we are all New Zealanders" hides and masks the inequalities that exist and is ultimately used as a way to appeal to liberal ideas of equality while completely ignoring, denying and refusing to acknowledge the history of colonialism. Because multiculturalism is used that way, I can understand how the idea that the interests of "other ethnicities" and Maori rights can be conceived as conflicting. That's the way multi and bi-cultural policies have been framed, and both these ideas are ultimately token gestures that make it appear like they are doing something to redress the wrongs of the past and include new migrants, but in reality, it is just another way to maintain power. So I see it as a form of co-option that stifles real attempts to achieve self-determination.

Sameness does not equal safety.

I was having a cuppa with a white activist I’d recently been hanging out with, and said something along the lines of “Blah blah blah caucus”. To which they asked “What’s caucus?”. “It’s when you have a meeting or whatever that’s indigenous peoples, or women only, or coloured queers, trans peoples only etc”, I responded. To which they said “Oh right, I know now, safe space”.

I’ve kinda been thinking about that a bit. Whether caucus is actually safe space. Is it just an evolved term, that caucus from the 80’s has shifted, and its revamped name is “safe space”. I don’t really know, but I am suspicious for a couple of reasons.

To me it feels like there is a tendency from the wider liberal groupings, to equate sameness with safety.

That women spaces will be safe, as opposed to dangerous mixed genders spaces, that queer only spaces will be safe compared to mixed sexuality spaces, so on and so forth. So while I can see that this is sometimes the case, the underlying framework and its assumptions, need to be addressed. I don’t know if caucus was solely set up for safety, and nor do I think it can be reduced to that purpose. While safety, or feeling safer in regards to a certain aspect of identity and self may have been, and still will be an outcome, I don’t think it can be assumed or taken for granted.

All caucus spaces are aggregate groupings, like age or hair colour. Not all women are the same, not all indigenous peoples are the same, and not all coloured queer women are the same. Safety (whatever that means) or maybe more appropriately, freedom at a particular moment in a particular place, from oppressive operating centricisms, do not come about solely from people sharing the same gender, sexuality, ethnicity etc. If only it was that easy...haha

The point of caucus, as I see it, is not simply to feel safe. It is to get together unhindered (hopefully as much as can be) to discuss strategy, tactics and general issues of how to relate and move on certain issues that affect a certain group differently to another.

My main suspicion with reducing caucus to safe space, places difference and diversity as dangerous, is if we are to read the flipside of say coloured womens’ caucus as safe, it then places white womens’ space as essentially safe. Or even white mens’ space, without the interruption of women and coloured men and women, as inherently safe. Therefore the emergence of caucus groups which don’t tend to be the dominating groups, as being dangerous (as the opposite of safe) and something to be managed.

I see this narrative and set up as being an extension of a wider liberal working framework of governmentality, control and assumptions based on same equal good and safe, diversity/difference equals dangerous and volatile, or at least an annoying thing that must be managed by the dominating groups.

If sameness equals caucus equals safety, then it could be argued that a white supremacist groups is simply caucusing and making safe space, and its those foreigners that threaten the safety of our nation..

“The foreigners, the migrants, the indigenous people with their issues, the queers, the peoples with a differing religion from ours, the people not from round here.. they all make “our” country, city, society etc, unsafe”.

Luckily the liberals know they aren’t really allowed to say that anymore, so those things (diversity and difference) are just mitigated in veiled controlled policies and strategies. One being multi-culturalism and to differing degrees, biculturalism and talk about nationhood, social cohesion, kiwi values and traditions.

“We like your food and dancing, but that’s all of what we will tolerant and consume of your culture, we don’t want to hear of your land rights, housing, health and education concerns”.

This form of multicultural policy ( as well a bicultural lipservice) calms certain minority groups, marginalises others, and makes the majority groups feel good like they are so generous and so not racist, and does the most important thing of keeping the dominant power structures intact and able to continue to function.

The other problem with viewing caucus reducible to “safe space,” is that it lets the dominant groups off the hook in looking at their own cultures, assumptions and ways of operating. If the women, the non white, the indigenous, the queers, the differently abled etc etc, can just have a caucus to feel happy and safe, then that’s what they should do, and the rest of us can just carry on. The responsibility of changing oppressive, silencing and centric ways of operating, continues to fall upon those adversely affected, rather than the privileged group taking responsibility also.

I think I also have a chip on my shoulder about the word “safe” as I’ve experienced it used. The term “cultural safety” has its roots in Aotearoa, in nursing, Maori nursing to be specific. Where Maori nurses discussed the need for cultural safety. Cultural safety being that nurses, specifically Pakeha nurses, need to know about and acknowledge their own culture and all the workings and assumptions that come with culture, to therefore be able to work safely and with people from other cultures. So the focus was not “Hey whitey, learn about all those Asians, Africans, Maori and PI whack customs, so they don’t get upset”. But about making visible, and learning about the expressions of a dominant culture, Pakeha culture, so that one is then aware of their own actions, and therefore hopefully more aware to culture and cultural needs and workings in general.

This is a far cry from how I’ve experienced the need for safety, and “I’m feeling really unsafe” calls from white activists, feminists and just white people in general, when their racism is challenged. Then these calls fall into the “I feel unsafe cos I’ve never had to think and move outside of my white comfort zone. And when I feel uncomfortable cos my racism is being challenged, I will say that it’s unsafe that I’m challenged and derail this whole meeting, hui and project”.

Sameness does not inherently equate to safety. We have to move from this assumption, as the flipside, is of diversity and difference as dangerous, volatile and needing to be managed and controlled. This fabricated problem leads to policy of biculturalism, multiculturalism and tolerance, that sounds nice and fluffy, but in reality is manipulative and maintains and hides the workings of oppressive structures.

By Dumpling