Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"A Thai That Binds" : An Interview with Dew Chaiyanara

In November 2008, I made my first trip to Singapore since moving to Aotearoa New Zealand with my whanau seven years ago. I was looking forward to cultural displacement, a situation which could enliven my indigenous self as a Melayu/Malay and consequently empower me to participate in Aotearoa's bicultural forums upon my return. Along the journey, I pursued a trivial agenda: to galavant through the punk scene in hopes of discovering trinkets of diyism and stories of activism with anarchists in a city more leniently known for its chewing gum bans and littering fines.

Through reconnections with the familiar, I made a chance acquintance with Dew Chaiyanara, director, playwright and actor of Underground Theatre and Starscream Productions. I presumed she was Malay, due to the matching colours of our skin, until a fellow punk pointed out she wasn't. At an afterparty, in the midst of drunken youths, Dew struck at first aloof and reserved, stating outrightly that she doesn't drink, a straightedger I thought in this context, rather than ideologically Muslim. I had questions, but due to my own failings, left for New Zealand, not having them answered.

Thanks to Facebook, we found each other and managed this interview a year later. Here, Dew irons out some of my curiosities and shares her experiences as an artist of Thai ancestry living in predominantly middle-class, seemingly racial harmonious Singapore. I hope our dialogue revives knowledge on Asian diasporas, what happens when the indigenous and migrant figure merge, and emerge in both privileged and subaltern contexts, and shed some light on the possibility of a migrant-inclusive bicultural discourse in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Punks vs Peranakans, the former vying for peaceful patronship of Substation, a beloved museum/restaurant in Singapore. Inspired, Dew later wrote it into a play, performed by Underground Theatre.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Appropriation of languages of the oppressed

One thing that's been really bothering me lately is how anti-sexist or anti-racist language are often appropriated by people in positions of power, whether it's people benefiting from white privilege, class privilege or male privilege. It's the same patronising and condescending attitude of "I know better than you" or "I know more about your oppression than you do". It really fucking pisses me off and it is another form of appropriation to maintain or enhance positions of privilege and power.

Activists/anarchists/feminists who have learnt the languages of the oppressed - without actually understanding the context in which those languages exists and the particular experiences they refer to - are perpetuating hierarchy and domination through a more subtle and sinister means. The use of it often ignores their own privileged backgrounds and addressing their own racism/sexism/class/ethnocentrism. I think this is extremely problematic.

What I mean by languages of the oppressed, is the discursive tools to call someone up on oppressive or abusive behaviour or to explain injustices. So when this is used by those who are structurally oppressors: for example, a man saying "you're being anti-feminist" to a womyn or a white/pakeha person to say to a non-white/indigenous person "you need to understand non-white or indigenous perspectives on things" to re-assert their dominance, that's when it's appropriation and a technique of manipulation. When this ideological ammunition created for liberation is used by the privileged to oppress those which it seeks to liberate, that's really fucked up. For people who come from a position of power within this white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy to be so arrogant and condescending to tell people who are structurally oppressed what they should and shouldn't be doing/thinking is another form of oppression and anyone who does that is not an ally of mine.

I think this all come back down to colonial assumptions of cultural and educational superiority that is so taken for granted and manifests in interpersonal relationships and intercultural relationships in structural, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt ways. The colonial arrogance of needing to "educate" (i.e. brainwash into assimilation and subservience) sadly exists even within anarchist/feminist/activist networks and often internalised uncritically. And it's not acceptable.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Resistance is futile

Resistance is futile.

How do we live with/in futility? Meaning, sense and use in futility.

One of the characteristic markers of my generation, the Y generation as we’ve been defined and marketed to, is cynicism and selfishness.

I have to say, I feel ‘my’ aggregate generation would give the baby boomer generation a good run for their hard-earned lucky money, on these two markers also. I might even venture to say, we may well have learnt these traits from that booming generation.

bell hooks challenges my generation on what she notices as cynicism employed as a defence mechanism and coping strategy.

I think our generation might be reeling from the baby boomer aftermath of quick attempt at social justice.

Markers are generally generalisations, and in the colonial settler society I live within, those generalisations mean white and western for the most part. So there was a white western middle class, or socially mobile bunch of young people, who thought that wars were icky, and we should have peace and free love along with a whole bunch of -ologies and -isms. When those proved difficult and tedious, the most privileged in those movements swapped their peace signs for mobile phones and mortgages, writing off “revolution” as either “done” (like Feminism) or not pragmatic/feasible/realistic/possible (economic justice).

What irks me about this over publicised wave of public and “general” feeling is that is it a minority’s feeling that dominates and shapes general public future generations. What irks me, is that it invisibilises all the non-dominant and non-privileged, and also, non-western-white-middle-class-university educated socially mobile people, who have been struggling for social justice across all strata, long before, and long after this “60’s and 70’s revolutionary” period.

So yes, I think ‘my’ generation is reeling from the experiences of a group of people with loud voices, who gave it a go for a while, and now think “resistance is futile, this is the way the world is, we gave it a go and it didn’t work out”. These momentous viewpoints drown out resistances from groupings, communities and societies that didn’t, and still don’t have the luxury to choose to mainstream and go with the neo-liberal flow. Those who did not, and still do not benefit significantly, consistently or meaningfully from the law reforms. Who might these be? No they’re not simply the young women on campus with short hair, who spell womyn, wimmin untraditionally. Nor are they just the older long haired guy in the army jacket trying to sell you the Socialist newsletter. They are people affected by and living in destitution, stateless citizen-less peoples (refugees and sometimes migrants), indigenous peoples, and peoples in majority world (known here as the-unlucky-poor-them Third World).

These are some of the voices drowned out and silenced, or just neglected by (baby boom) mainstream media (unless it’s doing a social feature piece), who resist by surviving, loving, continuing, struggling, fighting, challenging, and resisting. Resisting futility.

So maybe after all the times I’ve been told;

“There will always be rape and sexual abuse”

“People like their own kind, and so are naturally racist”

“Naturally the strong will dominate over the weak”

“Colonisation has always happened”

“You’ll grow out of it, I’ve been there and done that, you’ll see”

“There’s no point, the problems are too big, inequality is too big, the big corporations are too powerful”

I could concede that maybe resistance is futile. But only futile, if (like the Baby Boomer generalised generation) you think that World Peace, on the beauty pageant stage of the “First World”, can happen in a few short decades when you decided you’d have a go at it in between your university papers.

Maybe living through a rhetoric of futility, or a affluent-white-western-minority-world- Baby-Boomer noisy-rhetoric definition of futility, is simply that. Living through that noisy rhetoric that resistance is futile.

And we live with and within futility all the time. The futility – the waste, the pointlessness, the emptiness, hollowness, of neo-liberalism and rampant capitalism that reduces and confines people and the earth to profits and resources for profits.

And yet we and so many others continue to hope, to struggle, to live, to continue, to act, to love, to endure, to grow, to connect; despite, and because of, the sometimes overwhelming myriad of oppressions and inequalities many of us cannot simply opt out of.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gay-Pride Parade in Hong Kong

Monday, 2 November 2009.

1800 take to Hong Kong’s streets to highlight the struggle for equality and LGBT rights

Chen Lizhi, chinaworker.info

Hong Kong’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people) community took over the streets of central Hong Kong Island in a loud, spectacular and overwhelmingly youthful Pride parade on Sunday 1 November. Organisers announced to cheers from the crowds in Chater Garden that around 1,800 had joined this year’s parade – almost double last year’s tally. This was the only the second ever Pride parade and the increased participation is therefore a great encouragement and sign of rising self-confidence for LGBT people in Hong Kong and China.


The parade drew participants from mainland Chinese regions including Beijing, Guangzhou, Guizhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai and Sichuan, as well as from Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. The participation from mainland China was very significant as Amnesty International in Hong Kong pointed out: “In mainland China, it’s impossible to have a gay-pride march, so this is a very important day that has attracted many people to Hong Kong.”

Pride’s director Connie Chan Man-wai said the event gave the gay community the opportunity to express themselves with pride. The parade was a carnival of colour and song, but also put across a serious message of “anger at the city’s homophobic laws and attitudes,” as The Standard newspaper commented. Hong Kong is at first appearances a tolerant cosmopolitan city, but Christian right groups are an influential force here with their reactionary views on the family, women, and homosexuality. Massive pressure needs to be exerted on the political establishment to shift them from current policies. There is still no anti-discrimination law in Hong Kong and same-sex partnership or marriage is vigorously opposed by right-wing religious lobby groups.

The city’s political establishment was noticeable for its absence from HK Pride. “The government always says how much it values equal rights but no official showed up today,” said Chan. The exception was the League of Social Democrats (LSD) and its chairperson Wong Yuk Man, who was joined by a sizeable contingent of LSD members and supporters. The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) also took part and produced a pamphlet ‘Pride, solidarity and socialism’ on global LGBT struggle especially for this event. A PDF version of the pamphlet can be downloaded here.