Tuesday, November 12, 2013

White People Objectify Me....

and so do brown people, black people, mediterranean people, men, women...

Its what humans do unfortunately. 

In my life experience, I've had more than my fair share of objectification. For several reasons;

a) I'm a woman
b) I'm a person of colour
c) for much of my young adult life I had very visible subcultural affiliations. 

And it really pisses me off when people use their race or even gender to constantly point out differences, to highlight the 'Us VS. Them'. If you are experiencing discrimination based on these things, never hold back. Call people on their prejudices. But if you are not experiencing discrimination based on something, there is no need to incessantly, irrelevantly bring it up in every situation.

I had the pleasure of conversing with someone recently who was advocating 'precautionary measures' against being objectified and exoticized. Basically, you're a person of colour-- you can never be in a genuine relationship with a 'white person', because they are the oppressor, they are out to culturally appropriate and exoticize you. You must question the intention of every white person that wants to have a friendship/relationship with you (sounds a lot like the strain of radical feminism that thinks you can't consent to sex with a man if you're a woman...because he's automatically the oppressor).

When I protested this idiotic paranoid assumption for what it is, I got whacked with a 'well you clearly know nothing about your culture or your identity, and you must be one of those people who are thankful/grateful living under the service of their white overlords'.

Though I was thankful for this valuable insight into my own ignorance, I had to come to terms with the fact that I did not have any "white overlords". 

Listen, we were once oppressed and often still are (in a less colonizy way) by 'white countries' - I get it. And I demand that sensitivity from the people around me. No you cannot make fun of the poverty in my motherland, no you cannot make jokes about colonization or how all brown people are cab drivers, no, brownface/blackface is NEVER ok, there are some things that are obviously racist, and there are somethings that are less obviously racist...sure...But beyond that, I am not going to live in hatred and fear the fact that any white person talking to me might be out to oppress me. Because let's face it, that's ludicrous.

(And neither am I that easily oppressed.) 

Sure there are racists out there, plenty of 'em. But you'll probably know one when you meet one. And sure there are people who will fetishize and exoticize other people based on difference. 

I used to believe there was no 'reverse racism', because racism had to be systemic, rooted in power dynamics to be considered 'racism'. Oh how wrong I was...The more of this toxic brand of anti-racist activism I see, the more convinced I am that racism isn't just rooted in power at all. Of course systemic racism is a much larger issue...but I see prejudice and discrimination based on race coming from minorities all the time. What else would you call that, if not racism?

Being prejudiced against someone for something they have no control over... like 'race', is pretty shitty, even without the historical context of colonization/mass oppression. 

Someone on Twitter pointed me to a related article called 'Why I don't Sleep with White Men' -- I'm going to be honest. It annoyed me...a lot. This woman describes Toronto as a predominantly white and male place (Which is really not so true in my observation, but people do have different realities just from one street to the next - and the douchey crack-a-lackin' image of our mayor may lead you to believe Toronto is a crappy place, but really, it is multicultural in all the right ways, diverse and quite lovely - at least I think so). She talks about her experiences of constantly being exoticized by white men, so they could experience what it was like to sleep with a black woman. Now I'm not saying this never happens, but to have a rule like, you will not sleep with white men because they will only want you for your skin colour is pretty offensive.  No, I'm not just saying that to please my white overlords. Sigh. Its your body, do what you want with it, sleep with who you want (everybody has physical preferences), but just try not to make sweeping generalizations based on skin colour/race. If you're consciously making a decision that you'll avoid men of a certain colour...because you assume they will posses a certain characteristic, you're racist.



-----

When I was at the peak of my piss-off-my-parents era, I got pigeonholed by all sorts. When you take away the obvious physical markers of your ethnicity, it leaves everyone confused. Even people of your own ethnicity. You couldn't tell my race by my hair colour thats for sure, because it was every colour of the rainbow during that period of my life. Sometimes it'd be pink, purple and turquoise...it threw people off... that as well as the loads of black eye shadow, the spikes, black lipstick.... what I found was, that people were always asking me what my background was. And I look pretty averagely desi (south asian) in my features I'd say.  But I was so often asked that question that I got sick of answering it. I asked people to guess... they guessed all sorts of things, Iranian, Greek, Italian were most common. I was most bothered by the constant need that everyone had to know.... and it dawned on me, that it was because I had gotten rid of the common physical traits people can box other people with. I used to walk past the group of desis that hung out by the wall in the foodcourt and they would whisper things about me in my own fucking language. Obviously not knowing I'd understand. This 'not knowing who' or where I was from got so extreme, that once in the darkness of the predominantly white goth club I used to frequent - I was being hit on by a neo-nazi. I didn't know he was one, till some of my friends came to me and quietly asked if i was aware he was a white supremacist.  :O 

he probably (obviously) didn't realise I wasn't white. I had a little fun, made him buy me drinks...then told him to fuck off. But generally my experience in that predominantly white subculture was very warm and welcoming. I wasn't treated like some freakshow novelty coloured goth person at all. 

I was young and overly angsty and had a ridiculous need to wear my expression on my body. When I got sick of being probed about my background I evolved my look to have elements of my culture in it. Alongside my bondage collars, spikes and corsets I wore some hardcore Pakistani jewellery. And a bindi. Always, a black, evil looking one (yes I know its not Pakistani, but we were all Indian once upon a time, and I grew up looking at pretty pictures of my mother wearing bindis in the 70's). Was I trying to exoticize/objectify and orientalize myself? I think not. I was trying to find a way to express cultural diversity within my chosen subculture.



Of course there were always the random men who saw me as a conquest because I was different. Both brown men and white men. Interestingly enough, never black men.  When I was gothed out in my youth... black men* never even glanced at me. Brown men glanced at me with fear or disapproval, or with a gross pervy look as if i was something unique yet familiar. Something they would never want to take home to mommy, but something they wanted to explore. 

*oddly though when I started dressing less extreme and less 'goth' I was often checked out by black guys. Such a noticeable difference. Were they now objectifying me? Perhaps. Based on my colour? probably not. Were they objectifying me before? Perhaps. As someone not appealing to the values/aesthetic they grew up with.  But I cannot make sweeping statements about the preferences of black men, or warn myself against them just because the ones I came across disapproved of my appearance. 

My long commutes to uni were becoming a problem, because of the amount of times I was harassed, I was like a weirdo magnet. I piled on the spikes and became 'more intimidating' - or I learned to take my dog collar off and casually wrap it around my knuckles. The harassment lessened. But I remember speaking to an older relative about it...and she just said, "Well maybe so many men want to talk to you because they think you are a prostitute" -- Was this brown woman trying to exoticize me based on my 'alternative appearance' - perhaps. 

Anyway, that sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. "WTF? why?" I asked. 

"Well because of all that dark make up you have on, and black lipstick, only women of 'bad character' wear so much makeup. And look at the leather accessories/cut off gloves...what else would they think?"

Ummm....clearly, this woman was not familiar with the goth scene. Black trenchcoats and combat boots, are really not what comes to mind if someone was effectively trying to sell mainstream sex services. Anyway, like I said. I've been objectified by all types. 

An arab friend of mine in uni was taking a marketing class with an Indian female professor. And she had an assignment on stereotypes/ misconceptions etc. She asked me to be a 'prop' in her presentation. Was she objectifying me? Perhaps, but for good reason. And I enjoyed it. So she started her presentation off talking about her friend who was of a Pakistani background, grew up in conservative Saudi Arabia, raised muslim, wore a lot of black, etc etc. She asked people to picture what kind of person I'd be... what I would look like (at this point they are all picturing a woman with a head scarf or in a burqa).

No one including the professor had seen me. That was my cue to stroll in and watch peoples JAWS DROP TO THE FLOOR. 

One of my favourite memories, to this day... like.... the reaction was insane!! there was an audible gasp and then pindrop silence. Then a barrage of questions. 

The teacher came to me after class just to tell me repeatedly 'how beautiful' I was. It was sweet of her, but this was another kind of objectification I faced on a regular basis. The need for people to tell me I was beautiful (despite my weird appearance). I could hear it in their voice usually. Hear the fact that they thought i could actually be conventionally beautiful if i didn't choose to dress the way I did. A sort of pity in their tone...

Before that time I was briefly sent to do my A-levels in a fancy pants school in Karachi. I lived with relatives - ones who constantly told me how a 'girl' should/shouldn't behave and who aggressively disapproved of the way my parents raised me to be outspoken, etc. I was actually told that a girl shouldn't eat a banana or a cucumber whole in public, and that I was being inappropriate when I did so. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? I was a bloody teenager, eating a banana...way to sexualize everything. Fuck.



It wasn't a great time in my life. I was terribly homesick, and used to multicultural expat surroundings. In Pakistan I was always judged and exoticized for having a foreign accent (when i spoke english). I remember kids in school asking me to say certain words over and over. I mean, it wasn't hurtful, but got annoying to be a 'fascinating object'. 

Anyway I could go on with stories of my objectification by people of different races/ages and genders. But I shan't bore you with more. My point is, its what humans do. Not all of them, but a lot of them. If you come across an offensive version of it, call people on it - by all means. But to have a precautionary rule against one race incase of objectification or exoticization is foolish. It's like me saying, "all men are sexist assholes", and "I'd rather think of their intentions in general as questionable in every interaction, than take each person at face value". 

Yes, racism and sexism exist. But to think everyone is out to oppress you is not only delusional, it devalues the harm done by actual racism/actual sexism. 

In my life experience, the people who have not objectified me are the people who want to get to know me. The people who find me interesting, and see me as a person.  You can usually gauge if someone sees you as a potential notch in their bedpost or if they are genuinely interested in having conversations with you - If they want to know more about the differences between yours and their life, because ... well... diversity. 








5 comments:

  1. The 'Why I don't sleep with white guys' article is about her experiences at the University of Western Ontario in London, not Toronto.

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    1. why yes, indeed it is. My bad. Regardless.... im not a fan of her 'I dont sleep with white guys as a rule' mentality..regardless of where she lives.

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  2. when i first saw the mayor of Toronto i actually stereotyped him, i thought he was a mayor of a city in the USA. when i found out he was from Toronto i thought Nice Mangos is going to tear him a new one. That booze, coke, food addicted fat ass makes me ashamed I am white. and just to think he is your white overlord, i empathize completely. While the look of the white overlord, as a fad, fashion statement, is catching on around the world, not all of us look nor act like them.

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  3. I enjoyed reading this. Thank You.

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  4. "Listen, we were once oppressed and often still are (in a less colonizy way) by 'white countries' - I get it."

    It's not even that simple. Yes, Portuguese and Dutch and British and French and Danish oppressed you. But so did Turks, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Persians, and Mughals--all groups disputed between "white" and "people of color" categories. Noticeably, a number of uncontroversially white groups, such as Poles, Italians, Russians, and Austrians, among others, had no hand in oppressing you. Just think about this.

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