Sunday, April 29, 2007

Review: Back to the Drawing Board

[Njoki Nathani Wane, Katerina Deliovsky, and Erica Lawson, eds. Back to the Drawing Board: African-Canadian Feminisms. Toronto: Sumach Press, 2002.]

Back to the Drawing Board is a collection of essays in which the lives and struggles of African-Canadian women are at the centre, and the world is theorized from that starting point. According to the editors, although there has been a small but significant and growing body of work with such a focus for a long time, it has tended to be in scattered sources and not to come easily together into a single, simple starting point for learning about African-Canadian feminisms -- it has been easier to look to African America, an important source but still not quite a perfect fit. This book attempts to become such a starting point and to function as a stimulus for further discussion and writing by Black Canadian women about their lives and the world. As with the book I reviewed earlier this week, this is a rereading of a text I first read a number of years ago.

The book begins with several essays situating African-Canadian feminisms with respect to other feminisms and with respect to history. Then there are several pieces that look at education and pedagogy, followed by several more theorizing different aspects of the social -- Black women and the media, law and the "spirit-murder" that is everyday racism, the social construction of white women in relationships with Black men, and an argument for treating the experience of what are usually conceptualized as several different but simultaneous oppressions as multiplicative (1x1x1=1) rather than additive. The book closes with three short pieces linking African and indigenous North American traditions via spirituality.

These days, in the reviews I write on this site, even when I don't explicitly draw attention to it, I try to take a particular approach to writing. I try to be transparent about the fact that I cannot or will not attempt to create the pretense of some sort of pseudo-objective (that is, standpoint erasing) oppressively normative evaluation of the text as it exists with respect to a pseudo-objectively defined spectrum of other texts -- a field that I can "know" in a way that performs my expertise and that situates me in a superior position to the text in question, while managing to erase my embodiment. I mean, I'm sure I fall into that sometimes, because that is how privileged men are trained to think and write all our lives, and it permeates left writing just as it does the mainstream. But generally, and increasingly over the life of this blog, I have tried to approach these reviews as engagements with texts and ideas by someone, by me, an embodied individual who has a social location and is on a specific material and intellectual journey; who creates inter-textual connections not because I have privileged access to deciding Which Texts Matter but simply because I have happened to read what I have happened to read and experience what I have happened to experience; who attempts to take up and respond to the words I encounter in critical ways, but also respectfully and dialogically rather than through the sorts of monological, almost objectifying imposition that characterizes so much academic and political writing, particularly (but by no means limited to) those of us trained to do in locations shaped by white masculinity.

This approach, though I think it is important and it is the one that I choose, also makes me uneasy occasionaly, for a few reasons. For one thing, I am aware of how it runs counter to norms that are uncritically reproduced even in left spaces that I really like. For example, last year I did a review on this blog of Sociology for Changing the World, which at the request of the editors I reworked for inclusion in an issue of Upping the Anti, a publication I've found interesting since it began and whose advisory board I have since joined. (Unfortunately, I don't think the reworked version is available online so you can compare.) But in retrospect, I recognize that this reworking involved not only tightening and polishing, both of which were very necessary, but also a process, unnamed but actively embraced both by myself and by the editor that I was working with, to largely erase the presence of me, to make it less dialogical in how it engaged with the book and more declarative, and to adopt a less openly embodied standpoint for the writing. Looking back, these changes were not improvements.

Secondly, this approach sometimes makes me uneasy precisely due to one of the things that is politically important about it: it makes the author -- me -- more visible as embodied, messy, fallible, self-contradictory, incomplete, and engaged in the perpetual process of becoming that is life. I know it is foolish because this is true of all of us, but I often find it hard to admit these things, these vulnerabilities, in spaces far beyond just web-published book reviews. It is connected to training in privileged masculinity, I guess, and the associated unhealthy compulsion to avoid seeming vulnerable at all costs. It is probably this that is the biggest push I feel in any particular moment while writing on this site to pull away, moderate, restrain, and subvert my impulse to grounded writing.

The final source of my unease is a worry that such a strategy of engagement might, by making me more visible, decentre the standpoint, voices, and analysis at the centre of the book being reviewed, thereby reinscribing hierarchy and just plain disrespecting the authors. Not only can this involve silliness like a multi-paragraph aside on some white guy's writing practices in what is supposed to be a review of a book about African-Canadian feminisms, but more importantly it can be expressed through a disjuncture between the intentions of the authors and editors, and the nature of the points in the book that I latch onto as meriting active engagement in my response to it. Post-modern insight about the text taking on a life of its own once it is released into the world aside, straying too far from authorial intent does seem to me to be disrespectful of the authors, an imposition or overruling rather than a true engagement. That said, the choices seem to be not engaging at all, disembodied engagement from above, or engaging in the grounded way i have described but being careful to do so in a way that puts effort into speaking my reality while being attentive to how that relates to those of the authors and others. Obvious, I think.

All of that is a longwinded way of prefacing the admission that I don't feel that I have much of anything to say about the place of this text in the history of the development of African-Canadian feminisms and struggles by African-Canadian women, or about its utility as a tool for individuals directly engaged in those processes. (Btw, that is only partially a response to what I can't know -- or, more accurately, to how my particular profile of privilege and oppression shapes the space in which I can justifiably write -- and is also an admission of what I could know and say but don't and therefore won't.) There are a few things the text has inspired me to comment on, and I worry they are a bit peripheral to the significant substance of the book. But they reflect where I am at and where the book took me, so here they are.

The first has to do with what we can learn from the construction of the book itself about the creation of focused political space, and practices around boundaries. At least since the late '60s, when movements centred around the identity "woman" and the identity "Black" began to seize such space whether their supposed allies on the white-dominated and male-dominated New Left wanted to cede it or not, a group defined by shared experiences of oppression creating space just for themselves has been a crucial piece of anti-oppressive practice -- complete physical spaces, times and places within groups, targeted services, and more abstract spaces like publications and, more recently, web sites. It is often controversial (see "supposed allies" above, never mind massive resistance from the mainstream) and always complicated (because any slice of people will still be stratified along lines of power and privilege within itself) but is still a crucial tool. One way such spaces are often created is by the drawing of sharp boundaries between who is in and who is out. I won't explore the issues in detail, but suffice it to say that such sharp boundaries, in the face of the real-life complexities of human experience and its relationship to "identity", can at times function in ways that are oppressive even as they are anti-oppressive in other ways; yet because strategic or tactical separation can be such an important tool, I am not for a second saying they should be abandoned.

Drawing Board, however, provides a model that does not function by the drawing of such sharp lines, yet still succeeds in its aim of creating a space that is completely grounded in and organized around the experiences and theorizing of African-Canadian feminists. The editorial trio includes a white woman, and the contributors include several white and indigenous women, a Black Canadian man, and two reprints from prominent African-American women. I obviously have no insight into the editorial processes that shaped the book, but I take this evidence of success in creaing political focus despite selectively permeable boundaries as a nudge to keep thinking critically and creatively about how we can actually make political spaces of all sorts and purposes work. Again, this is not meant as a jab at those who decide to organize and produce text autonomously, but rather as encouragement to the rest of us to continue to critically explore approaches to organizing political doing of one sort or another that includes participation from those of us with privilege but that truly moves towards liberatory ends.

Another thing that struck me about this book was the relative lack of attention paid to issues of class -- race and gender were very much in view, but class less so. It was certainly mentioned, and I doubt any of the contributors would disagree that class relations are key in shaping our experiences and our society, but it was not as visible as I had expected. This was particularly true in contrast with Scratching the Surface, which I reread and reviewed a few days ago. A number of the contributors to that volume are quite openly Marxist in their politics, and not surprisingly that showed up in their writings. Drawing Board's contributors seem lest influenced by the Marxist tradition. I'm not sure why, but one speculation that has occurred to me is that there might be a generational component and that the difference reflects changes in the world betwteen when many of the Scratching the Surface authors were politicized versus many of those in Drawing Board, who seem to be younger.

So what to make of this? Well, for one thing, I have an ambivalent relationship to Marxist traditions myself, so failing to embrace them is hardly an automatic negative for me. However, though I am certainly open to other ways of conceptualizing and talking about class issues, I do have a gut-level sense that the projects of African-Canadian feminisms as a whole need to and in fact do treat issues of work, of poverty, of class relations, of relations of production, and what have you, more substantively than this book necessarily does. Which is fine, since no single book should have to bear the weight of anything and everything. Also, I can imagine, though I do not know for sure, that it might be a deliberate choice to invest effort in creating spaces that get away for awhile from issues that are traditionally grouped as "economic", and that this might be important for elaborating an overall politics that captures the full nuance and complexity of lives (living, celebrating, violence, learning, crying, oppression, resistance, struggle, loving) that get marginalized in their entirety and not just in relation to production.

On a related note, this also made me think about the ways in which white people who identify their politics as anti-capitalist of one sort or another might relate to a publication like this. I know that it is very easy to use the lack of markers that we can identify with our particular traditions of anti-capitalism as an excuse not to listen, not to engage, not to pick up the book in the first place. I have seen/heard things like this over the years from people I really like personally and otherwise admire politically. I can't think of any instances, but I would not be at all surprised to be told that I have done the same myself at times.

I can think of two different places I would take this observation. The first is that those of us who are privileged in multiple ways cannot afford to narrow too far the range of sources we will consider for political input. For practical reasons, we obviously have to set limits somewhere, but they should be broad, and they should be attentive to the biases we bring with us. Does it really make sense to admit, say, Marx or Bakunin into our personal canon despite the fact that we know they were pretty bad around gender, but to dismiss some report on instiutional anti-racism in Toronto because it fails to openly name global capitalism as part of the problem? Again, I'm not saying we should suspend our critical faculties as we engage with the world and texts around us, but even material that really is more "conservative" than we take ourselves to be along one or several axes can and must still teach us important things.

The other direction in which I would take this observation is that we must be critical of how we construct our markers of what "anti-capitalism" really is. For example, radical indigenous politics in North America do not necessarily come with language that we associate with explicitly anti-capitalist traditions derived form European or EuroAmerican sources, and they may not even use the word "capitalism". Yet I have trouble imagining how the visions they present could be realized without a radical transformation of class relations that extend far beyond indigenous nations themselves, and I suspect many authors and activists coming from this standpoint would agree but would consider it not their business to spell out the details because they are very conscious of not wanting to tell other nations how to live beyond how we need to get off their backs. Though it is not identical, I get a similar sense from at least some of the politics advanced in Drawing Board -- the ways of naming what needs to be changed and how things should be done instead are different from European and EuroAmerican anti-capitalist traditions, but at least in places they are de facto anti-capitalist because they could not be realized in the context of current class relations. The key, then, is learning to see and hear such realities even when the usual language markers that we expect to accompany politics we label as "anti-capitalist" are not present.

A final observation -- one that I suppose is somewhat connected to this last point but that deserves independent consideration -- is the sense of radical politics as a wholistic enterprise that I got from this book. That isn't particularly unique to this book -- it is something you get routinely from texts grounded in women of colour politics, indigenous politics, some white-dominated women's movement politics, and other places. Even so, it is easy for white-dominated progressive/centre-left approaches to professionalize politics, to treat them as only relevant to particular activities and/or particular institutions. It is just as easy for white-dominated radical/far-left approaches to fetishize the moment of collective confrontation, to formally acknowledge that all of life is political but to leave all but that moment drastically under-theorized and largely unconsidered. It is perhaps its ability to refocus my attention on the necessarily wholistic nature of any truly radical politics that I valued most about my second engagement with Drawing Board (and in particular its ability to do so with much less evidence of the grating taint of anglo-saxon protestant puritanism that often infests EuroAmerican, including some feminist, considerations of the politics of everyday life).

And that is, more or less, the end of my long and winding review. As I said, I cannot comment on how useful this text might or might not be to Black women in the course of their daily struggles and their efforts to theorize their lives and the world. But it is definitely an important text to include in our political self-education as white Canadians who wish to change the world in ways that are truly liberatory.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Quote: Self and Domination

[O]ur culture constructs some, but not all, selves to be the servants of others. Thus, some "I's" are defined as "your servant," some as "your master." The struggle for the self becomes not a true mirroring of self-in-other, but rather a hierarchically inspired series of distortions, in which some serve without ever being served, some master without ever being mastered, and almost everyone hides from this vernacular domination by clinging to the legally official definition of "I" as meaning "your equal."

-- Patricia J. Williams

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Review: Scratching the Surface

[Enakshi Dua and Angela Robertson, eds. Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-racist Feminist Thought. Toronto: Women's Press, 1999.]

Scratching the Surface is a collection of essays representing a cross-section of analysis from anti-racist feminists in Canada. The contributors include many of the best-known activists and writers whose energies have helped shape that tradition in this country both on the ground and in the academy, including women like Dionne Brand, Linda Carty, Tania Das Gupta, Himani Bannerji, Sedef Arat-Koc, and Sherene Razack.

I mentioned in a recent post that, last week, I finished writing the chapter of my book project that had been occupying me for some time and moved on to another chapter. Though my writing so far has kind of jumped around, I had been intending to write the remainder of the book more or less in order. But given the fact that the chapters can largely stand on their own and that there is not a need for strong attention to narrative continuity across chapters, I realized it made more sense to do things a little differently, and instead to pay attention to creating efficiencies by writing those chapters that might use some of the same sources at around the same time even if they will not be physically adjacent in the manuscript as a whole. For that reason, I am jumping from the recently completed Chapter 4 into working on Chapter 10, and will then go back to write 6, 7, and then probably 9.

One of the outcomes of this shift in scheduling has been to make me feel more justified in going back and re-reading a number of books that I first read years ago, books that are relevant to all of these upcoming chapters to a greater or lesser degree. The book that is the subject of this review is one of these. I think I originally bought and read it about six years ago. After completing a second journey through the text, I am very glad that I did. It has given me a couple of useful references to stick into the chapter just completed, and it will provide a useful grounding for my thinking as I write the next three or four chapters. As well, my own understanding of the world has developed quite a bit since I first read this book -- though it was an important influence when I first read it, I have definitely gotten more out of it from this second exposure.

The strongest impression left on me by my second encounter with this collection is the consistent strength of the pieces that comprise it -- usually with books with this structure I find more variability in quality and interest-to-me across the contributions.

Of course there is still some variation. A couple of the pieces have lost some relevance with the passage of time, such as the essay on economic restructuring and women of colour, just because the process has continued to march on in significant ways since this was published. But even some of these are still important reads today -- for example, one piece organized as a dialogue among several feminists of colour about organizing is definitely situated in a particular historical moment, and there have been lots of changes in political environment between the late '90s and 2007, but in terms of providing insight into organizing by women of colour that feels nuanced and whole (if that word makes any sense in this context) and something that is an actual process engaged in by actual people, it is far more effective than a piece that was written yesterday but was, say, structured in a more traditionally academic way.

Of course different contributions are of interest to me in different ways and for different reasons. The chapter in my own book that I am just easing myself into writing focuses on an African Nova Scotian woman who has been involved in community organizing all of her life and has been active in the labour movement, particularly around racism, for many years as well. Therefore Dionne Brand's essay, "Black Women and Work" and Ronnie Joy Leah's "Do You Call Me 'Sister'?" were both of very direct relevance. As well, the former is a reprinting of a classic intervention by Brand in the the often heated discussions among white and racialized feminists in the late '80s about race and racism, and is of great interest for that reason too. Sedef Arat-Koc's piece on immigration policy and paid domestic workers in Canada was also of direct practical use to one section of the chapter I just finished writing.

The essay that was the most work for me was Sharon Donna McIvor's look at "Self-Government and Aboriginal Women." I think this is largely because my introduction to that topic has been primarily through the work of Patricia Monture-Angus. Monture-Angus and McIvor share a commitment to undoing the centuries of damage that colonialism has done to their peoples, but they also have analyses that are different in some pretty important ways. Frankly, I think I feel more connection to Monture-Angus' work because it seems to contain scope for a more explicit to-the-root kind of questioning of certain assumptions about the Canadian state. Nonetheless, both are important ways for a white male settler such as yours truly to learn about indigenous struggles and their relationship to the law.

The two essays in the collection that I found most powerful were "Colonialism and First Nations Women in Canada" by Winona Stevenson and "A Question of Silence: Reflections on Violence Against Women in Communities of Colour" by Himani Bannerji.

Now, I've read this book before, so I must've read Stevenson's essay before, but I experienced this reading of it as a first opportunity to go from the bare bones knowledge that colonization usually includes a forced radical reorganization of gender, sexuality, and kinship among the colonized peoples along horrid, European, patriarchal, repressed lines, and turn it into a more detailed sense of how that actually happened in northern North America. It is probably a reflection of years of white, middle-class, masculinity training that I read a lot of stuff about pretty bad things and often enough it hits me in the head but leaves my body untouched. But not this. This essay made me angry, physically angry.

Bannerji's essay is on no less affecting a subject, but she does not necessarily discuss violence against women directly but rather contextualizes violence against women of colour within broader social relations. She takes apart the notion of "community" as it is deployed by both the state in the context of liberal-democratic multiculturalism in Canada, and the dominant actors within the "communities" thus defined. She discusses how "community" in this sense is socially organized, how it is both a product of colonial/racial oppression and serves to shape and is shaped by patriarchal relations. She fixes her gaze unrelentingly on the oppression, whether it is from male elites in communities or from the colonial state. Her essay was powerful for me not so much because of any visceral triggering, but because her vision is so sweeping and her naming so clear. Bannerji writes:

Though it may sound like a tall order, it is possible to enter our politics through the door of particular 'women's issues,' for example, and come into the arena of a general political resistance. It is only in doing this that one can shape one's politics in ways that are nuanced by other struggles, where what comes out is the convergence of various politics against oppression, and not their separate directions. I don't think we need to fear a loss of specificity, of our selves, in a vast sea of abstraction or generalities controlled by others. If we can frame our critique and create organizations that challenge patriarchy, heterosexism, class, and 'race' with even a semblance of integrity, we will create the bases for an embodied, social revolution.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Anti-War at Earth Day

The anti-war group which has been coalescing in Sudbury over the last couple of months had a table at the Earth Day festivities today in downtown Sudbury.

The event was great. The weather was gorgeous. There were lots of booths, lots of great musicians, and lots of people in attendance.

I don't have much to say about the event, except to note that in the two and a half hours I spent at the table, the response from people passing by was overwhelmingly positive. There were a few people who, judging by their body language, reacted negatively to our presence but were not interested in engaging, and there was one very obnoxious and very racist older white gentleman who volunteered opinions on issues as varied as Islamic history, contemporary Canadian immigration policy, and last year's riots in France, but most people seemed pleased to see us there and were solidly opposed to Canadian involvement in Afghanistan. This included one woman who has three sons in the Canadian Forces and a few others connected to the military in various ways. Of course, an event like an Earth Day celebration will tend to select for people with a pro-peace orientation, but peace issues often have the capacity to trigger a lot of hostility even when presented in nonthreatening ways to crowds you expect to be mostly friendly. Given that this is the first anti-war/anti-occupation outreach to the general public in Canada that I've engaged in since late 2003 and that there have been non-trivial shifts in the Canadian state's relation to the conflicts since then, it was reassuring to see such significant anti-war sentiment.

Canadian Vets and Military Families Speaking Out Against War

One of the most important sources of energy, conviction, inspiration, and mobilization in the peace movement in the United States has been from veterans and from families of people serving in the military. As Canada's involvement in the recolonization of Afghanistan drags on, soldiers, veterans, and their families will become increasingly important in opposing Canada's involvement in war, militarism, and empire.

In fact, it has already started, as shown by these YouTube videos of speakers at a Canadian Peace Alliance conference last November:

  • Andria Hill-Lehr, whose son at the time of this speech was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan
  • Francisco Juarez (Part One)(Part Two), a former member of the Canadian military and an officer candidate who was training for voluntary deployment to Afghanistan when he decided his conscience required him to refuse to participate in a mission of this sort

Check out these videos...there are sure to be many, many more in the years to come unless we can force our government to bring the troops home now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Movement History Project Update

Earlier today I posted one of my occasional updates on the progress of my Canadian social movement history project. I thought I would share the update here:

And the months they just fly here's where things are at: In terms of the queries to agents, I got a few responses from people that were not interested in seeing the full proposal and one that was. When I received this expression of interest I spent a little time further refining the proposal and sent it off. I have heard nothing yet, but it is still early. I may send out some more query letters in the near future. Chapter 4 has taken much, much longer than I had hoped, but it is largely done. There are still a few holes -- a paragraph missing here, a sentence there -- that depend on me receiving sources that are not locally available, and I will fill them when I can. And it still will require a bit of polishing I am sure. But it is essentially done and I am moving on. I had originally intended to work on Chapter 5 next, but I think I will jump forward to Chapter 10 because the sources it will require will overlap to a certain extent with the chapter I just completed. I am not far enough into it yet to say for sure, but I would imagine it will go quicker than Chapter 4 did -- 4 was a fairly complicated chapter in terms of the ideas I was presenting, whereas I think 10 will be quite a bit simpler. (An aside: I have occasionally been quite discouraged at the length of time this project is taking, as passionate as I am about it. Partly this is because it has always been something I have been pursuing in the context of other demands that have had to take priority in my life, like full-time paid work or full-time parenting. However, the slow pace of the writing -- and I am not generally a particularly slow writer, at least of non-fiction -- also has to do with the nature of the project. Rather than writing a book about one topic area in which I am already an expert, as most writers of non-fiction books do, I am writing a book that talks about a dozen different areas that I knew very little about when I started and that I hope to cover sufficiently well such that people who have devoted their lives to the areas in question will read what I write and think I have done a decent job. I am very much enjoying the opportunity to do this learning...I just wish it could happen a bit faster. :) )

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Plausibility, Probability, and Conceptual Containers in our Guts

Recently I was reading and I felt, in a sudden and intense surge, awareness of the extent to which many of our political choices are not made on the basis of absolute, empirically derived certainty but rather on the basis of often unconscious gut-level evaluations of plausibility and probability.

I was reading an article by John Pilger, which is apparently the cover story of the current issue of the British political journal New Statesman. It is a discussion -- largely familiar in content to people who keep current on Western imperial adventures in Asia but still useful, I think -- of moral responsibility and atrocities by the West, past and present, with an emphasis on British involvement.

What got me started down this line of thought was the final paragraph:

These are critical changes in the way the sane world thinks – again, thanks to the Reich of Blair and Bush. However, we live in the most dangerous of times. On 6 April, Blair accused “elements of the Iranian regime” of “backing, financing, arming and supporting terrorism in Iraq”. He offered no evidence, and the Ministry of Defence has none. This is the same Goebbels-like refrain with which he and his coterie, Gordon Brown included, brought an epic bloodletting to Iraq. How long will the rest of us continue looking from the side?

Without me asking it to, my gut processed this paragraph and made three observations:

  1. This one specific accusation made by Blair is actually reasonably plausible, if understood in a certain limited light.
  2. This is in contrast to the bulk of the accusations made by government officials (and their media-based apparatchiks) from the U.S. and U.K. in the run-up to the invasion and recolonization of Iraq, which I, along with most of the world's population, found completely implausible at the time.
  3. Blair's implication that his accusation against Iran's government leads to the conclusion that taking military action against Iran will somehow make the world a better place and lead to greater human freedom and/or less human suffering than not taking military action against Iran remains so highly improbable as to be ridiculous.

The sudden and intense surge of awareness followed shortly thereafter. After all, given no direct experience of the situation, given no proficiency whatsoever in Arabic or Farsi, given no personal contacts in that part of the world, how can I presume to evaluate something like this? How should I think about reading such things? How should I evaluate what I read? What gives me the right to decide what is plausible and what is not?

I want to tackle that last question before I go through my exploration of what exactly my gut was doing to come up with those three points and what the implications are. I want to emphasize strongly that I don't think making such judgments is a right possessed by a privileged few; it is a responsibility faced by us all. Every single one of us is at where we are at in terms of our understanding of the world, and no matter how flawed our understandings might be, we cannot let awareness of these limitations paralyze us. We should be conscious of requiring a minimum threshhold of knowledge before acting, but act we must, so we must evaluate what we know and how we know it. We should do so self-critically and with caution, and we should be open to new information and interpretations, but every day we make choices to act in certain ways, so every day we are acting on assessments of what is and is not plausible whether we are conscious of doing so not. Even the "La-la-la, I can't hear you" response to things like news of faraway war in which Canada is involved or other sorts of nastiness closer to home is still based on finding statements like "This has nothing to do with me and/or there is nothing I can do about it" plausible.

Anyway, after that surge of awareness, I then thought a little harder to figure out in a little more detail my process of reading this small paragraph. It was nothing complicated, really. Each time my eyes scanned a word in that paragraph, that word evoked certain content stored in a container inside of me that is labelled with the word in question. Words like "Blair" and "terrorism" and "Iraq" and "Iran" each conjured from within me lots of content not explicitly specified in the paragraph. As words turned into larger groupings of words, the rules of grammer that I have been trained to use to understand how each of those words are supposed to relate to one another helped to organize the content thus evoked.

The conjured content itself is not just dictionary definitions, but a whole complicated mess of things. It includes empirically verifiable, widely agreed, mostly head-based nodes of meaning like the fact that "Blair" refers to the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It also includes more complicated gut-level stuff that could be excavated and put into words around, say, the relationships between this "Blair" person and actions of brutal import going on in Iraq in recent years, or even more general things like an instinctive sense of the ways in which modern, Western, state relations tend to operate. It also includes affective and visceral stuff that is less easily dug out and put into linear sentences, but that is still a crucial part of those in-the-moment gut reactions. Because the content in each deceptively simple little word is so vast and complicated, the relationships among the parts that took shape inside of me were defined not only by the grammer of the sentence but by the pre-existing relationships among the content those words conjured. One way to see this gut-level assessment of plausibility is as an in-the-body way to deal with the places where relationships as constructed explicitly in the text and relationships already existing in the web of content invoked within me do not agree with each other.

None of these ideas are terribly novel, of course. In a lot of ways, this is just a different way of describing what many academics have talked about for years in terms of discourse and its anlaysis. However, a lot of those discussions attribute agency to discourse itself and erase people. The way I've just described it recognizes that what matters it not some abstract discourse that functions on its own, but a very specific active process happening in a single person's gut. The pre-existing content that these words invoke for me are not the same as for you or for my mother or for George Bush. Because the existing meaning invoked by those words is, to a certain extent, specific to the person in whom it is being invoked, it follows that my reading of that paragraph is not deducible purely by looking at the general content of those terms out somewhere in the world, but rather it is a product of a specific history of my individual encounters with direct experience and texts. Well, mostly with texts, in this instance, but in other circumstances material experience can be important too. Each time I have encountered the word "terrorism", for example, the content of the container inside of me labelled by that word has been modified in some way by the circumstances of the current encounter as interpreted in light of the meaning already stored in the container. Obviously the conceptual contents of my "terrorism" container are more likely to be shifted by a detailed book length historical analysis of the phenomenon and related terms than, say, a passing mention in a daily newspaper article, but both can have some impact.

Like I said, none of this is particularly original, though framing it as an active process that occurs within a specific human being is perhaps less common. The thing is, though this understanding is out there in academic ways of looking at the world, we don't tend to think in these terms when we act and speak and write in the world in non-academic spaces, whether that is in alt/indy media spaces or blog posts or verbal texts in discussion with right-wing family or pamphlets to hand out on street corners or whatever. Very often in progressive or lefty or radical circles, even if we know better we sometimes fall into the trap of implicitly treating people as passive containers into which we can pour facts, and as if they were stupid or the enemy when they refuse to act like one. We want to "get the facts out there" and "tell the truth" and show people how they are wrong. All of which can be important, but treated simplistically that can lead to us not recognizing what is actually going on when we engage in a communicative or pedagogical act. It can also lead to use being less than honest with ourselves about our own journies of learning, too -- all of us react in significant ways based on these gut-level assessments of probability and plausibility rather than purely on linear, easily sourceable stuff we could expand into a heavily footnoted Chomsky book at the drop of a hat.

I don't have any single conclusion for what this can or should mean to those of us trying to create social change and trying to read and create texts in that process. I just have a few thoughts.

First of all, I want to reiterate that this is unavoidable. This is not a matter of stupid people, it is not a matter of lack of education, or of working to refine some supposedly scientific understanding of society to eliminate this process within ourselves. Rather, it is the harsh reality of how we have to interact with a world in which we are implicated materially, politically, and morally in a whole web of relationships that extend far beyond our immediate environment. We all do this and no amount of wishing can make it go away.

Yet not only is this gut-level evokation of existing images, narratives, stories, feelings, facts, conjectures, and beliefs completely universal in how all of us make decisions yet often ignored or forgotten, it is ignored and forgotten despite being central to a number of socially and politically important realities.

It is an important part of how our media system sustains and supports oppressive social relations, for instance -- that is, it is a central site for the operation of the propaganda machine that is our dominant media. Sure, there is direct deceit involved sometimes too, but a big part of how our media system convinces so many of us to internalize the standpoint of the powerful is by the investment of billions of dollars in media, both news and entertainment, that shape that space of gut-level assessment of probability and plausibility. We can be lied into war, for example, in part because in school, from the state, and in the news and entertainment media we are relentlessly pounded with particular content meant to fill the containers labelled "my country" and related things. For a lot of other issues, specific interests try to shape what's in containers like "global warming" and "cigarette smoke" not so much to convince us of anything but make us sufficiently skeptical or confused about the claims of those pressing for change that we end up feeling that there is still a lot of doubt when there is little, and that we do not need to act when we really do.

This space, this process, is also an important means by which oppressive social relations are expressed and replicated at the individual level. Our containers for "woman" and "Black" and "gay", for example, are shaped from the time we are born with content naturalizing and rationalizing the subordination of the people to whom those labels get applied, whose bodies and words conjure that content. We see the word or the person, and it evokes that near instantaneous and largely unconscious gut-level assessment of what is probable, what can be expected from this person or from "these people." What we accept and what we question when we read a newspaper article or hear a comment from a co-worker is framed by the containers in our guts attached to these different groups of people. How we react in both gross and subtle ways in social situations, in activist situations, in our workplaces, in our families, is shaped by this gut-level assessment. As I described above, the content of these containers is not unchangeable, but neither is it easily or rapidly changeable, so decolonizing our guts is a lifelong process. Taking on some sort of assumed identity as anti-racist or anti-sexist or adopting a certain set of intellectual positions is not a sign that we have conquored this conceptual colonization of self but, at the very best, a recognition that we are putting energy into wrestling with that lifelong process on an ongoing basis.

This process of gut-level assessment is not just a space where big nasties can do their thing, however. It also has huge implications for those of us trying to create a better world. Even for the most dilligent practitioner of direct action politics, the largest mechanism of action of what we do in the world has to be through the changing of human consciousness -- ours, those of people we interact with interpersonally, those with whom we are collaborating politically, those who are intended to take up the words we write and the videos we produce, and also a more diffuse and amorphous public that will (if we are at all successful) come to know in one way or another about what we are doing. Changing consciousness -- that is, pedagogy -- is not so much about convincing ourselves or others of facts as influencing the contents of all of these containers so as to bring them closer to the real world and into harmony with goals of justice and liberation.

This is not to say that we should engage in manipulation and deception based on our analysis of the contents of these containers, the way the dominant media and the state often do. Actually, that kind of manipulation for supposedly positive ends is how I understand a major part of the agenda of those progressive all excited about George Lakoff's talk of "framing." Manipulation for short-term gain is ethically and politically dubious. What we need to do is challenge the containers that feed into the gut-level plausibility evaluation, again both in ourselves and in everyone around us.

We have to recognize that the kind of pedagogy that we need is seldom instantaneous. Shifting what's in those conceptual containers takes time and is not going to be purely cerebral and linear. Also, because learning always happens in the context of relationships of one sort or another, we need wherever possible to find ways to create sustained engagement rather than just drive-bys.

Regardless of whether it is a lifelong political dialogue with a loved one or a ten minute interaction on a street corner or a debate in the comments section of a blog, we need to seek opportunities for interactions with those who differ from us that are more about mapping than about combat. Jumping straight to the flames tends to leave the real differences -- the differences in what's in each party's conceptual containers -- obscured, and noone gets to learn anything. Of course sometimes jumping straight to flames is entirely justified -- noone is ever under any obligation to try and educate their oppressor, especially when he's being a no-holds-barred idiot. But in other sorts of situations we are likely to learn more ourselves and to facilitate more learning in whoever we are talking with if we try to tease out what is lying underneath our differences.

Understanding the actual basis for, the actual conceptual construction of, the opposition of those who we think it might be possible to sway will help us make decisions about how to intervene in the world, textually and otherwise. We need to know what exactly we are trying to accomplish by our activist pedagogy in order to effectively do it.

Also, as I've tried to keep visible by my choice of wording, the fact that we have no choice but to base our own political decisions on exactly the same process as everyone else should encourage us to enter into pedagogy with humility, and with an explicitly dialogical approach. By definition, an activist or a writer is someone who has certain understandings of the world that they think are worth sharing and acting on. That's fine, but a good activist or writer is one that keeps as far away as possible from thinking that means they have all or even very many of the answers, and that prioritizes active listening even, or perhaps especially, to people and views that challenge them.

The colonized nature of the conceptual containers that most of us are bequeathed by the world in which we are raised means that beyond actively listening to challenges, we have a political obligation to seek them out. Obviously that should not happen at random, but should be shaped by what we learn about how those containers have been colonized, and how that relates to oppression in the broader world.

And I didn't really think of it this way until I started writing this post, but I think an unarticulated recognition of the phenomenon that is the focus of this post has a lot to do with my approach to blogging and to political learning more generally. Engaging purely with current events, in your media consumption and in your blogging, will leave those conceptual containers largely unchallenged because of the fairly narrow range of production relations that result in most media and because of the almost complete lack of critical content in media that focus purely on current events. So go read some books. And it is because it is this kind of process that I am interested in that I blog about the things that I blog about.

Oh. And in case you were wondering about why I came to those three points listed miles and miles above near the top of the post re. Iran and Iraq and Blair and so on:

Frankly, given the forces arrayed against it, it would be surprising if Iran was not doing whatever it could to have influence in the chaos across its border and to maximize its ability to strike against the superpower that is threatening to pulverize it, even if that means some level of non-belligerent interaction with groups that are otherwise its deadly enemies (something that it would have to be doing for Blair's accusation to have even a whif of truth about it, since the groups in Iraq that are actually pro-Iran are the biggest part of the current U.S.-approved pseudo-government and not part of the insurgencies). That's why the accusation is plausible. But the insurgencies in Iraq would look much the same whether or not Iran was meddling, I think -- another long-distance gut-level judgment of plausibility and probability. The insurgencies are creations of the U.S. invasion, they are firmly rooted in Iraqi society, and they are largely self-funded (I have read) and at least some of the Sunni groups probably get more external money from people intimately connected to the House of Saud, a supposed U.S. ally, than from anywhere else (I couldn't prove in the least but I would bet). As well, claiming to have evidence for something that you have no evidence for, and that is merely a plausible guess, is still a lie. And Bush and Blair fabricating evidence to justify imperial military intervention go beyond plausible to virtually guaranteed, just based on knowing how states have always done war and without even looking at their disgusting performances in 2002/2003. And any good propagandist will tell you that any good house of lies gets built not purely with falsehood, but with bricks made of a mix of overt falsehood, things that have been proven, and things that may be true but for which there is no evidence, all of which are put together and spun in deceptive ways. So I find this accusation somewhat plausible, but largely irrelevant to the actual functioning of armed opposition to the U.S. recolonization of Iraq, and the idea that it justifies military action against Iran would be laughable if so many lives weren't at stake.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Quote: Unpaid Labour in Canada

The Canada Year Book 2001 reported that in 1998 women spent 15.2 hours on unpaid housework (not counting childcare) per week compared with 8.3 hours for men. Mothers aged 25-44 who were working full-time also spent nearly 35 hours a week at unpaid work.


Canada's method of assessing the value of unpaid activities is one of the more conservative approaches, but even that gives a result of the value of unpaid work being one third of Canada's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

What does that mean? If you take a look at the monthly GDP figures for Canada in March 2004, unpaid work [which is disproportionately done by women] was equal to the total production from agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, mining and oil and gas extraction, manufacturing, and the construction industries utilities -- and at that point it was still $20 million short.

-- Marilyn Waring

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Anti-Colonial Audio Documentary

Red Jenny posted a link to what looks like an amazing audio documentary called Hoping Against Hope: The Struggle Against Colonialism in Canada.

Take a look, order it if you can, and listen with friends and family.

And just because it is so powerful, I'm going to lift the following quote from RJ's blog, which in turn is taken from the words of Roland Chrisjohn early in the transcript of the documentary:

What if the Holocaust had never stopped?

What if no liberating armies invaded the territory stormed over by the draconian State? No compassionate throng broke down the doors to dungeons to free those imprisoned within? No collective outcry of humanity arose as stories of the State’s abuses were recounted? And no Court of World Opinion seized the State’s leaders and held them in judgment as their misdeeds were chronicled? What if none of this happened?

What if, instead, with the passage of time the World came to accept the State’s actions as the rightful and lawful policies of a sovereign nation having to deal with creatures that were less than fully human?

What if the Holocaust had never stopped, so that, for the State’s victims, there was no vindication, no validation, no justice, but instead the dawning realization that this was how things were going to be? What if those who resisted were crushed, so that others, tired of resisting, simply prayed that the ‘next’ adjustment to what remained of their ways of life would be the one that, somehow, they would be able to learn to live with? What if some learned to hate who they were, or to deny it out of fear, while others embraced the State’s image of them, emulating as far as possible the State’s principles and accepting its judgment about their own families, friends, and neighbors? And what if others could find no option other than to accept the slow, lingering death the State had mapped out for them, or even to speed themselves along to their State-desired end?

What if?

Then, you would have Canada’s treatment of the North American Aboriginal population in general, and the Indian Residential School Experience in particular.

Check it out!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Anti-War and Anti-Racism

One evening last week I was sitting in an anti-war/anti-occupation organizing meeting. I realized close to the end of that meeting, much to my chagrin, that except for my reflexive stock-taking of who was and was not present at the beginning of the meeting, in the constant dance of consciousness among ideas, analyses, personalities, interpersonal dynamics, discourses, mostly hidden histories, identities, and trajectories of various sorts that is inherent to participation in any meeting that is not completely mind-numbing, I had not been touching at all in my head upon anti-racism.

This is, of course, completely uncool politically. No axis of oppression and anti-oppression should go untouched in such circumstances, whatever the meeting is about and whoever is present. Forgetting is an indulgence of privilege, i.e. can happen only if remembering is not mandated by the need to safely navigate the oppression in question. But, though they shouldn't, lapses happen, and self-flagellation is not the point of this post.

What is more interesting is the questions that this observation brought to mind once it was made.

First, some more context. Until about a month ago there had been no anti-war/anti-occupation activity in Sudbury since I moved here. Apparently there was some pretty vibrant stuff going on in 2003 and the last big event was in 2004 on the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, but then there was an extended lull until a meeting was called shortly before the March 17 anniversary this year and then an event on the 17th itself. I attended neither, and in fact went to the event in Toronto that day, but I was pleased to hear that folks here in Sudbury had decided to see if it might be possible to get something regular going. The follow-up -- the meeting with which I began this post -- was attended by nine people, seven white men and two white women. There was one high school student, one other guy my age, and everyone else was a little bit older. Most seemed to be fairly experienced in terms of political involvement -- a few were involved in the anti-poverty group that I have been a part of in Sudbury -- and a couple seemed relatively new to social change.

Concerns relevant to anti-racism were not completely absent from the meeting, as there was sentiment voiced repeatedly that we keep some focus, as we go about our business, on the connections between Canadian militarism abroad and that targeted against indigenous peoples here in Canada. Nonetheless, there was not really any explicit effort to address the fact that we were all white, for example, or to talk about what connection we might see, if any, between our future activities and not only indigenous struggle but people of colour politics as well.

Now, I'm not necessarily very sure what all of that might mean. Perhaps not a lot, in terms of the paths we choose to take. All I know is that not thinking about it and not talking about it do not strike me as a good way to go, so at least on an individual level (for now) I want to start thinking about it.

One thing that I know it should not mean is the main thing it seems to have meant, when such issues have been considered at all, in the context of a lot of the anti-war organizing in U.S. cities -- that is, a focus on the question of why communities of colour don't seem as interested as the organizers would like them to be in coming to anti-war demos, particularly given that opposition to the war ranges from a bit higher to a lot higher in communities of colour compared to white communities in the U.S. This way of asking the question contains a big part of its own answer, of course: "Why don't they come to our events?" [emphasis added]. That should set off major warning bells and trigger not frustration at communities of which you are not a part but significant self-critique of where you are starting from in terms of assumptions and process. In addition, an article a friend forwarded me a few months back (and also either the same article or a similar one I had seen when we were in L.A.) made the point that in African American communities, even if people are not on the streets in the way and numbers that white-dominated anti-war organizations would like, there is very effective mobilization in a quiet, everyday kind of way by many community leaders to discourage youth from enlisting, which has probably had more effect on U.S. army recruitment than the showier stuff that ANSWER and UFPJ have been doing.

Beyond being a politically lousy question to begin with, the "Where are they?" approach has no chance of being relevant to Sudbury anyway, however, because non-indigenous racialized communities in the city are tiny. That doesn't excuse white-dominated social movement groups here in any way from the need to make ourselves as unhostile an environment as possible to individual people of colour who might wish to participate, but engagement with communities or organizations is just not possible in the way that it at least might be in Toronto or Los Angeles. Anti-war/anti-occupation organizing in Sudbury will inevitably be white-dominated because the population of Sudbury is so overwhelmingly white.

Another thing that raising this issue should not mean can perhaps be seen by looking back at another group I was involved with in another city. (And just in case people who were involved in that group happen to read this post, I am not meaning to dismiss the group as a whole or individuals within it, or to say that what we did was bad or useless. After all, I participated in it for a good while at its beginning, then after time spent doing other things for reasons not connected to any criticism I had of the group, I went back and participated for the final half year or so before it decided to go dormant. If we can't do some of this postmortem critique in public, I don't think we will learn much, collectively.)

Anyway, this group came together after 9/11 but before the bombs started falling on Afghanistan. The person who originally circulated the idea for a meeting had in mind something that would address both the pending war and the very acute realities of racism as a lived experience in the city both at that time and in general. There was intense unproductive conflict on this point at the initial meeting -- majority but not entirely white -- and the group stumbled into a much narrower understanding of the issue. Eventually the group adopted a name that included the word "racism" and the sentiment that it should be opposed, but I do not recall that during the two periods of time when I was involved with this group that it ever addressed the issue more directly than as demonstrated by the adjective "racist" modifying the noun "war." There was certainly success in making connections with West Asian and South Asian and Muslim groups in the city, and the majority of participants in some of the demonstrations that we held were from those communities, but I do not recall there being any effort to do things in a deliberate, collective way that might make white liberals/progressives/radicals/lefties at all uncomfortable. Which anti-racism work will almost by definition do, at least in flashes. (And I'm including myself in that.)

So. Yes. Dealing with racism in name only, or only as its exacerbation pertains to the war being opposed but not as a broader way in which experiences of privilege and oppression are organized every day, including complicity on the part of white people who organize against racist wars, is not a good option either, in my opinion.

So what does anti-racist and more broadly anti-oppressive organizing that is focused on Canada's participation in war, occupation, and recolonization look like, particularly in a mostly white city like Sudbury? Well, like I said, I don't really know at this point. The attention to solidarity with indigenous struggle is crucial, but not the complete answer. Right now, I'm working from the idea that whatever that answer might involve, the first step is to keep the issue visible -- in how I/we think, in how I/we talk at meetings, in literature we produce. There are connections, and we are starting from a place of copmlicity, so let's resist the temptation to allow those things to stay invisible. That's not a solution, but it's a place to start.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, April 08, 2007


You would have to be pretty foolish not to expect that "Grindhouse", the latest offering from Quentin Tarantino, is going to be completely over the top, because pretty much everything he does tends towards excess.

The movie is actually two not-quite-feature length movies in one, plus a bunch of smaller segments that are mainly fake movie trailers. The first not-quite-feature is written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, and is called "Planet Terror". It is a spoof on zombie movies. I enjoyed seeing Freddy Rodriguez ("Rico" from Six Feet Under) in a starring role and Naveen Andrews ("Said" from Lost) on the big screen. It is, however, unrelentingly over the top, as are the fake trailers. Surprisingly, though it also has its moments, it is Tarantino's piece, "Death Proof", that is the least ridiculously excessive. Even so, the whole thing is kind of like what you might get if you gave a couple of teenage boys millions of dollars and told them to go nuts with all the violence and grossness they could think of.

I don't intend to write some long, detailed review as I occasionally do of the movies I see; I just want to ask a question or two. See, the absolute best part of this movie was what Tarantino has always excelled at, and that is creating characters through dialogue. In "Death Proof" there are two long, wonderful segments where you get to know two different sets of characters just by observing them talking to one another. And then there are car chases and violence and death. But it is those two segments that were the most interesting to me.

So my question is, why is someone who can create people and dialogue as skillfully as Tarantino does -- something one would assume would require a real understanding of people as people -- so obsessed with treating those people like objects through excessive violence and often blatant misogyny? Is he devoting his career to showing the guys who beat him up in high school that he really does deserve to be a full member of the cult of hegemonic masculinity? Does he just like to see things go boom? Is it a "bums in seats" thing, and splatter and explosions sell tickets? Why? Why????



[I wrote the following in a comment in response to another commenter's observations and thought it would be a useful clarification to include in the post itself.]

Hmmmm...yes, actually I agree with a lot of that. I think I missed the mark in characterizing Tarantino's dialogue as being something evocative of real has always been highly stylized, in every film he has ever done. I think perhaps that aspect of it was less visible to me in "Grindhouse" because it happened after already having watched two hours of deliberately, ridiculously not-real characters, so its stylized nature didn't stand out as much for me.

That said, I still enjoy the dialogue and not so much the action. And I still maintain, from my own experiences of other sorts of writing, that you could not produce that without having spent a lot of very careful attention to people, both people as active agents that talk and people as entities that actively take up and respond to films and other texts. Even if the dialogue is really about Tarantino himself, with no interest in exploring humanity more generally, which I'm perfectly willing to admit is the case. And I have trouble understanding how that sort of attention to people can happen in the absence of an interest in them as people, an empathy for them, a desire to know and show them primarily as subjects, not objects. That puzzlement, I think, was the basis of my questions, and still is.

But perhaps you are right as well that his approach to dialogue is not separate from his utilization of human bodies as objects to harm for the sake of entertainment, but rather completely contiguous with it...he is no more interested in people as people when he has them talk than when he has them decapitated by automobile, for example. They are bodies that are useful both to create context for action, and also purely as a mechanism to show himself off.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

People's History of Canada/Kanada Poster Project

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising given the nature of my own work, but getting an email today about this Vancouver-based project really excited me, so I thought I would share it:


No One Is Illegal- Vancouver is excited to announce the People's History of Canada/Kanada Poster Project, a colloborative project between No One Is Illegal-Vancouver and a group of grassroots artists.

The artists working on this Project come from a diversity of communities and almost all carry his/herstories and direct experiences of colonization and displacement that are being engaged within the Project. The artists are: Alex Mah, Ange Sterrit, Annie Banks, Avneet Pannu, Elogyny Tharmendran, Harjap Grewal, Kara Sievewright, Naomi Moyer, Tania Ortiz, Tania Willard, Setareh Mohammadi, Tyler Toews.

A series of pieces will explore various moments in Canadian history such as historic and ongoing occupation of indigenous lands, links between the Indian Act and the Immigration Act, exclusions of racialized migrants from the Komagatamaru to the Fujiyan women, systems of apartheid from reserves to Palestine, environmental racism in Africville to Skwekwek'welt, head tax on Chinese migrants and the current head tax in the form of processing fees, criminalization of resistance, relationships between the US-Mexico and US-Canada border, construction of migrants as terrorists from the Japanese Internment to present day anti-terror laws, social control within institutions from prisons to hospitals, and much more.

Through this project we aim to have art actively become part of building social movements through creative engagement, infuse art into public space as a tool of education, and produce art in more widely accessible formats. Although this Project is being initiated by No One is Illegal-Vancouver, we see it is a larger community-based and community-building effort to articulate and give voice to our anti-colonial histories through art and popular education.

Therefore, the main product of this Project will not be a gallery showing, but mass-produced black & white posters based on the artist’s original art piece to be widely disseminated through postering in diverse communities, having up at community centers and schools, and other public spaces. There will also be a limited number of full colour posters, prints, and silkscreen posters available for sale.

The collective agreements to the Project include commitments to anti-oppression principles, to anti-capitalist and anti-colonial practice, non-hiearchical and collaborative working environments, consensus building, mutual respect, solidarity not charity with those from directly affected histories or communities, working together to ensure the dignity and safety of all participants, and to fulfill our commitments to each other and the project.

WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT! This Project is a relatively large undertaking for us, particularly as a grassroots group with limited resources. Since we are committed to ensuring that the final result is produced in an acessible format (i.e free posters) there are significant costs of production for the posters and prints; for artists supplies and tools; and of course a small honararium for artists in deep appreciation of their work, time, and effort.

If you are able to contribute in-kind donations or share resources (such as artist supplies including digital SLR cameras, canvases etc.), or have access to an art space/dark room space, or are willing to make a small financial donation, please do get in touch. Financial donations in the form of cheques can be mailed to No One is Illegal, Office 714, 207 West Hastings, Vancouver BC V6B 1H7 with "Poster Project" in the memo.

Thank you in advance for all your support and we look forward to any feedback or suggestions you have for us with this Project.

Please donate however and whatever you can!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Assembly of First Nations Decries Canadian Counterinsurgency Manual

Released yesterday by the Assembly of First Nations in response to the Canadian government's inclusion of reference to indigenous groups in its new manual on counterinsurgency warfare:

Assembly of First Nations National Chief demands that Federal Government Immediately Repudiate and Remove Reference to First Nations from Military's Terror Manual List

OTTAWA, April 1 /CNW Telbec/ - Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine today demanded that the federal government immediately remove any reference to First Nations in a Department of National Defense draft counter-insurgency manual listing international terrorist threats. According to a report by The Globe and Mail, radical Native American organizations such as the Mohawk Warriors Society are listed in the training manual as insurgents, alongside other insurgent groups.

"Any reference to First Nations people as possible insurgents or terrorists is a direct attack on us - it demonizes us, it threatens our safety and security and attempts to criminalize our legitimate right to live our lives like all other Canadians do. Just being referenced in such a document compromises our freedom to travel across borders, have unimpeded telephone and internet communications, raise money, and protest against injustices to our people," stated AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine.

"I am calling upon Prime Minister Stephen Harper to immediately and without reservation, reject and remove any references to First Nations from all versions of the training manual."

"It is shocking and outrageous to learn that the Canadian military would consider First Nations people as insurgents or equate us to Hezbollah or Hamas. Not only is there not a shred of evidence to make this link, First Nations have always served Canada well by their contributions to the Canadian services. Such absurd allegations only serve to undermine respect for the military and lead us to believe we will not be able to rely on their protection the way other Canadians do."

Moreover, the federal government has also recently threatened that it would aggressively audit and possibly cut off funding provided to First Nations organizations who participate in, or support a peaceful National Day of Action on June 29th. This, taken with the report that we are included in the list of insurgent organisations in the military's manual, raises serious questions about the federal government's respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly for First Nations people. It appears that they want to silence us.

"The proposed June 29th National Day of Action is intended to bring focus to and generate awareness of the deplorable social - economic status of First Nations peoples in this country. Too often, First Nations poverty and the injustices suffered by our communities are not well understood. We aim to begin changing that by reaching out to Canadians and by putting our issues and our solutions front and center. First Nations people are people of integrity and we will abide by the rule of law while exercising our right to free speech," said the National Chief.

The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.


I suspect other indigenous activists and leaders might change some of the wording and political choices in this document, of course, and the manual deserves opposition on other grounds as well. That said, it is still vital for settlers of conscience to support the demands of the AFN around this issue.

(Received from DJ)

Review: Racism and Paid Work

[Tania Das Gupta. Racism and Paid Work. Toronto: Garamond Press, 1996.]

I first encountered this book in the late '90s. Unfortunately for my political education, that encounter mostly involved lifting and carrying it -- I worked a couple of stints in the textbook section of a university bookstore. Thankfully, it doesn't read at all like the sort of eye-glazing, pedantic stuff I usually think of when I hear the word "textbook". Rather, it is a delightfully clear, straightforward, cohesive piece of political analysis that has obviously been constructed to be of broad pedagogical value while proudly embracing a framework Das Gupta describes as "Marxist, feminist and anti-racist."

The book begins with an outline of its theoretical framework. This is followed by brief descriptions of the various ways racism can actually happen in workplaces. For all its brevity, this list was enough to trigger me to really engage with the nuts and bolts of the issue, and had me going over my memories of a particular former workplace that was persistently inhospitable to several co-workers and trying to see if I could figure out which mechanisms applied and which ones did not. The book then moves on to two case studies: racism (predominantly anti-Chinese) in the garment industry in Canada and racism (predominantly anti-Black) in nursing in Ontario. Both, of course, are sectors where it is primarily women of colour that are affected. The work concludes with a look at mechanisms for resisting workplace racism. This chapter is also quite short, which in this case I think is a problem -- I think the book would have benefited from a much more extensive treatment of strategies for resistance.

Despite being published over a decade ago, this book is still a great introduction to the issues and concepts. The down side, not surprisingly, is that a lot of the detail is dated. Much newer statistics are available, for example, on labour market outcomes for people of colour and women of colour (e.g. in this book). Some of the qualitative research for the garment industry case study was done a decade or a decade and a half before the book was published -- so as much as a quarter century before the present day -- as part of Das Gupta's doctoral research. I think a lot of the general attributes of workers' experiences would be much the same today, but I'm sure details are different since then, and a lot about how the industry as a whole is organized has changed since since she wrote the chapters context and summary in '96. (Roxana Ng's chapter in this book talks about more recent changes in the Canadian garment industry due to global economic restructuring.) This is my first exposure to material specifically on nursing so I have no pointers to other sources, but I know the health care sector has also been under tremendous pressure in the last ten years, and has probably changed a lot in its organization. Given how these things tend to play out, I would bet that female-dominated professions like nursing have borne the brunt of these changes, and that racialized women within these fields have been particularly affected.

Despite the eleven years that have passed, the core ideas in the book are just as important and just as relevant today. In fact, as a book I reviewed recently argued, it seems that class relations in Canada are becoming increasingly racialized, and the need to acknowledge this and understand its implications may be even more important than ever. Racism and Paid Work remains a great resource to start wrapping your head around what that means.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Some Anti-Oppression Basics

Here is a simple but powerful list of some key, basic political realities that we all need to keep in mind, and that those of us with a lot of unearned privilege of various sorts could do with posting it to our wall and examining it daily. These keen observations come from blogger Yolanda Carrington and were found by me via this list at Women of Color Blog.

Here it is:

In light of recent assertions and statements that I’ve encountered on comment threads, message boards, and in private conversations, I thought I’d just take a moment to relate the following observations:

1. You can be a good, decent, loving, caring person and be a white male supremacist.
2. You can be a hard-working, dedicated, self-sacrificing person and still have unearned privilege.
3. White male supremacy is a system of power, not a moral failing or an individual flaw.
4. Having a spouse of color and/or children of color does not make a person antiracist.
5. Working with, helping out, donating money to, or otherwise providing resources and services to people of color does not make a person antiracist.
6. Being a fan of, an expert on, or a scholar of Native American literature, Eastern religions, manga, Afro-Asian languages, jazz, reggae, anime, Bollywood cinema, hip-hop, or national liberation movements does not make a person antiracist.
7. Being a woman, lesbian, gay, transgendered, or poor DOES NOT negate one’s white and/or male privilege.
8. Even if most men are not rapists, 99% of rapes are committed by biological men. This is a political reality.
9. All human beings are equal. Men and women are not equal.
10. All human beings are equal. White people and people of color are not equal.
11. All human beings are equal. The rich and the poor are not equal.
12. One does not need to be a white person to be a white supremacist.
13. One does not need to be a man to be a misogynist.
14. One can be both antiracist and white supremacist (Example: yours truly).
15. One can be both feminist and misogynist (Example: yours truly).
16. Critique of privileged and/or oppressive behavior is not a personal attack.
17. Resistance to oppressive bevavior is not a personal attack.

And most important:

No matter how long you have lived, what you’ve experienced, what work you have done, you will never outgrow the need to change.

You can also find a nifty graphical version of this list here.