Tag Archives: Australia

The Unbearable Whiteness Of Being (Part I)

FACT: All Asian Americans are Asian by definition, but not all Asians are Asian Americans. The truth is that most Asians aren’t. While they may share an ethnic heritage, as well as many cultural similarities, Asian people who were born and raised in and reside in an Asian country have vastly different wants and needs and priorities than those who were born and raised in and reside in North America [and other non-Asian countries].

I wanted to start out with that quote for two reasons.

First, because it’s stolen from my co-writer’s post last Friday, which was a really good post you should read.

Second, because I think it does a good job of establishing the complicated and sometimes uncomfortable nuance that goes into addressing identity politics. Which is what we’re going to be talking about today and in the weeks to follow.

More specifically, we’re gonna be talking about White people.

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We’ll probably cover my use of this specific gif sometime later…

Before we dive in, I just wanna make something clear.

Race is a social construct – a series of categories that we’ve made up and ones we’ve made up only very recently in the scope of history. The fact of the matter is that there’s no actual place you can draw a dividing line when it comes to human beings and there’s no good reason you’d want to.

Not that it’s ever stopped us.

For better or worse, we have divided the world up into so many arbitrary categories, and those divisions have played and continue to play a major role in today’s culture. In spite of what some folks might suggest, ignoring racism doesn’t make it go away, and if we want to end the unspeakable hassle that is identity politics, we’re going to need to start by actually addressing them.

And here at Culture War Reporters, I think we’ve done a decent job. Continue reading

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“Sorry” Means Nothing Unless It Comes With Real Change: On Truth and Reconciliation in Canada and Beyond

Last semester, I took a course called “the Dark Side of Sorry”, which examined the Sorry Movement in Australia and the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa and Canada. Since it was a literature course we spent part of the semester reading books that dealt with the effects of colonization in those three countries.

The novels we read explored the effects of apartheid in South Africa, the Stolen Generation in Australia, and residential schools in Canada on the lives of specific characters. In contrast, our critical readings examined the way each of those countries dealt with those events after they were nationally, and internationally, condemned. I want to touch on a few of the criticisms that were raised through our critical readings and discuss why those arguments are particularly relevant today.

South Africa

“Suffice it to say that none of these unconventional projects was intended to lead to any gross violation of human rights […] It can, however, be argued that they did create an atmosphere conducive to abuses.”

– from the apology that F.W. de Klerk, the last South African leader of the apartheid era, gave to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.While de Klerk apologized for apartheid before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he later “withdrew from the commission, saying he had no need to apply for amnesty as he hadn’t committed any crime.” In an interview in 2012, Klerk pointed out that he had not apologized for “the original concept of seeking to bring justice to all South Africans through the concept of nation states”. He also stated that, not all aspects of apartheid were “morally repugnant”.

After apartheid was finally overthrown South Africa attempted to bring healing to a divided nation through their Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This commission, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was meant to be an act of restorative justice, rather than retribution.

In many ways the TRC was a success. For example, it unearthed the truth about many missing persons, allowing families to finally discover what happened to their loved ones. However, there were also many criticisms against the South African TRC, some of which I’ve outlined below.

1) The TRC didn’t differentiate between violence committed by “an illegal state” and “the combatants of a just war”.

“… from the moment the Commission chose to define violation of human rights in terms of individual acts, it ceased – politically and historically – to be viable: ‘There is,’ write Kader and Louise Asmal and Ronald Suresh Roberts… ‘simply no proportionality between the two sides of the struggle, a fact that is lost on the commission’s decision to individualize it’s definition of a gross human rights abuse'” (171).

– from”Apathy and Accountability” by Jacqueline Rose

2) Racial wealth equality was never really on the table.

“Let one’s fantasy roam a little – what really would be preposterous or ethically inadmissible in imposing a general levy on South Africa’s white population? … such an offer could originate from the beneficiaries of Apartheid themselves, in a voluntary gesture of atonement – it need not be a project of the state. Is such a genesis – from within the indicted group itself – really beyond conception?”

– from “Reparations, Truth and Reconciliation” by Wole Soyinka

3) The TRC remained so focused on the horrific crimes that were being confessed during the hearings that it overlooked the general state of apathy that allowed apartheid to exist for so long. The crimes presented at the TRC trials stood out as “outrageous” acts, and they drew “the nation’s attention away from the more commonplace violations” (162).

“Spread accountability too wide by flattening out the differences between the state and its opponents, then oddly, symmetrically, it will also start to shrink, as the crimes of apartheid becomes more and more the acts of individuals, [and] less and less the machinery of the unjust, and illegal apartheid state” (168).

– from”Apathy and Accountability” by Jacqueline Rose

Australia

“We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.”

– from the official apology given by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in February 2008.

I knew the least about Australia’s history, out of the three countries we studied. From what I understand, race relations in Australia were fairly similar to here in Canada, where indigenous peoples were restricted from public areas, treated like scientific specimens, and removed from their families “for their own benefit”.

In May 1997, the Bringing Them Home investigation shocked the Australian settler community by publicizing these historical injustices. It also prompted the Sorry Movement and Sorry Day, which has been held on May 26th since 1998. Below are a few observations critics have made about settler Australians’ “Sorry” response.

1) The Sorry movement is entirely settler-centred.

“These revelations brought about a form of ‘bad conscience’ in the settler Australians… [and] present[ed] them with a vision of a nation improperly formed. They experience the unsettledness of losing their sense of innocent national selfhood. For settlers so afflicted, the postcolonial apology becomes a lifeline to the restitution of a legitimate sense of belonging” (243)

– from “Apology in Postcolonizing Australia” by Haydie Gooder and Jane M. Jacobs.

2) The Sorry movement backfired politically for indigenous Australians.

“The era of reconciliation has coincided with a post-native title backlash in which many sectors of Australian society, not least the powerful mining lobby, have responded negatively and often hysterically to the overturning of the doctrine terra nullis (land belonging to no one) and the common law recognition of native title… Federal Government policy, attentive to the electoral and economic implications of such a backlash, has responded by cutting funds to key indigenous organizations and eroding the gains secured through the Native Title Act and subsequent native title adjudications.”  (234)

– from “Apology in Postcolonizing Australia” by Haydie Gooder and Jane M. Jacobs.

Canada

“The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history.”

– from the official apology given by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in June 2008.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a Canadian who isn’t familiar with the trauma residential schools inflicted on Indigenous communities across the country, but for those of you who are not Canadian I’ve included a short video below that sums up some of that history.

In 2008, Canada instituted our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which allowed survivors of the residential school experience to speak out publicly. Unfortunately, there were several elements of the TRC that many indigenous spokespersons found problematic.

1) The term “reconciliation” misrepresents our history.

“Re-conciliation refers to the repair of a previously harmonious relationship. The word choice imposes a fiction that equanimity is the states quo between Aboriginal people and Canada.” (35)

– from “Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation” by David Garneau

2) The majority of the damage had been done by Christian organizations, yet the reconciliation movement rests upon Christian theology and terminology.

“Whether the choice of this world [reconciliation] … is an accidental inheritance, it is ironic, if not sinister, that survivors of religious residential schools … are asked to participate in a ritual that so closely resembles that which abused them” (35)

– from “Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation” by David Garneau

3) The Western understanding of apology allows us to move on, without necessarily doing anything to rectify our mistakes.

“Cree artist, poet and oral historian and theorist, Neal McLeod explains that there is no equivalent in the Cree language for the Western notion of an apology. The closest equivalent to ‘I am sorry’ is nimihta tân, which means ‘I regret something’.  McLeod explains that the word used in reference to the residential school experience is ê-kiskakwêyehk, which means ‘we wear it.’ This is a profound difference. It is visual and visceral rather than abstract. It describes a recognition and acceptance that cannot be washed or wished away.” (36)

 – from “Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation” by David Garneau

4) The government continues to protect perpetrators.

“While many truth commissions are granted judicial powers to subpoena witnesses and the ability to ‘name names’ of perpetrators, the Canadian TRC has neither of these powers.”

– from “Truth, Reconciliation and “Success” in the International Context” by Dr. Rosemary Nagy

5) Activists are worried that nothing will actually be done about the commissions recommendations.

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission came to a close in June of this year, making many of the critiques we explored in this class particularly relevant. The TRC commission concluded that residential schools were an act of “cultural genocide” and put forward 94 recommendations for the Canadian government. Several weeks have passed and Canadians are now asking, is our government going to act on any of them?

In Conclusion

It’s hardly surprising that the one thing in common with the national apologies offered by political leaders in each of these countries is their attempt to distance themselves from the atrocities that took place. The Canadian and Australian prime ministers attempted to do so metaphorically, by referring to the events as a chapter which could be left in the past. In contrast, de Klerk’s non-apology seems to reflect a more blatant refusal to fully accept responsibility.

However, these apologies are certainly better than nothing at all. In fact, many indigenous peoples in South Africa, Australia and Canada have celebrated their country’s national apology as a hard-won victory. But shouldn’t we strive for something more than “better than nothing”? Especially when a a public apology eases settlers’ consciouses and allows us to overlook the systemic problems that led to these injustices in the first place?

“How can we overlook the fact that those admitting to guilt and professing regret continue to occupy, and to speak from, a position of dominance, so that to read abjection or loss of power in their situation would be to misread not merely power relations but the nature of the political apology itself?”

– from “Righting Wrongs and Rewriting History” by Rajeswaru Sunder Rajan

Shame Day: Nike, Coca-Cola, and Nestle

By request, this Shame Day is going to be a triple-feature, with three of the most insidious corporations out there out in the stocks. Now I’m currently boycotting all three of these companies (and have been for some time) and made banning them from campus the priority of my college activism. That’s all just to say that I’ve had a long time to build and hone my venomous rage and hatred of both these companies, so buckle up- this is going to be vicious one.


Let’s start with Nike.

Nike

Even the mildest of the companies many, many offenses is still pretty vile. Take a look at this ad Nike ran back in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics:

Continue reading

February 25: What’s Not Being Talked About In The News

Back on October 15th of last year I ran a little piece on what’s not getting covered [enough] in the media. As I struggle in vain to fend off a nasty cold, I’ll be submitting a similar piece today.

Palestinians and Hunger Strikes

Today marked a massive hunger strike protest by Israeli prisoners, with over 3,000 inmates refusing meals in solidarity with another prisoner allegedly tortured to death. These strikes also call attention to the continued hunger strikes by four Palestinian inmates, the longest of whom has been on intermittent protest for 200 days, and is currently in critical condition.

While this is in the news (depending on the site), the importance of this story is that it marks a continued attempt by these prisoners at nonviolent protest- the kind many in the West proclaim would lead to justice for the Palestinian people if only they would attempt to use it. Well, here it is, and despite the attempts by these prisoners to emulate the tactics of Gandhi and MLK, they remain (surprise, surprise) rotting away in Israeli prisoners under “detainment”- that is, they may be indefinitely held without being charged with any crime. One might imagine that the attempts by the Palestinians to meet the demands of many in the west might merit some more attention.

Coca-Cola Vs Australia and the Environment

Recently in Australia legislation was passed to help meet the growing environmental issue of pollution from discarded soft drink bottles. Essentially the bill adds ten cents to the cost of each bottle, which will be refunded upon the bottle being recycled. Over 40 countries currently maintain such programs, and in Australia this legislation has doubled the local recycling rates. Coca-Cola, fearing that this environmental legislation may hurt its sales, has been campaigned viciously against this legislation and is currently suing the Australian government over it.

Let’s keep in mind here that Coke isn’t paying the ten cents- the Australian government is. Coke is simply that concerned that “tax,” for lack of a better term, is going to somehow hurt their profits.

Coke made 2.79 billion this year. I’m going to posit that 10 cents isn’t going to crush ’em.

Fracking Battle in New York

And to continue on with environmental news not in the news, the battle against fracking rages on in rural New York.

Fracking (see graphic above) is the process of extracting natural gas from the ground by piping in an as-of-yet undisclosed compound into the earth to widen natural fissures in the stones trapping the gas. The issue with this is that the process is pretty dang inaccurate, with gas (as well as the undisclosed chemicals) leaking into the local water supply, resulting in, among other issues, water catching on fire from all the methane in it. Now this is a fairly major issue, and one you’re almost certain to not see in the morning paper or the nightly news.

As before, people, it’s high time that we demand that our journalists actually act like journalists. What do you really want- news about major events affecting your life, or coverage of the academy awards?

Barring the people for whom the two are one and the same, but that’s a post for another time.

British Television VS American Television

Despite our focus on American issues, we here at Culture War Reportersrecognize that in our world of ever-shrinking borders, there’s plenty more out there than just the cloudless skies of Nevada or the homeless-packed streets of Toronto (Evan, seriously- if the healthcare system’s so good, why does Canada have so many crazy people?).

Today we turn our attention to our pasty cousins across the pond, more specifically, their TV,  excuse me, “Telly” (this is why you lost your empire- well, this and genocide), and how it stacks up next to ours.

CGI and Production Values

Now I have to admit- I haven’t extensively researched British and American television financing, nor have I had a chance to compare the two, taking into consideration differences in the economy and advertising fees over the past couple decades.

What I’m saying is- I’m not an expert.

That said, I don’t need to be an architect to tell you that chances are pretty good that a lot less money was put into making a tent than a condo. British TV shows, put bluntly, just seems to be vastly less funded than their American counterparts. Just take a look at this scene from America’s Battlestar Galactica.

Pretty intense, right? If there’s any poor-quality, it’s probably from the YouTube video, rather than the actual series.

Now look at this clip from Britain’s Doctor Who.

Way worse. And oddly enough, Doctor Who has a bigger fanbase than Galactica, and despite it’s ever-increasing popularity, still has to deal with props dug out of someone’s kitchen drawers. I’m not saying Doctor Who is bad- it’s not. It’s really good- only it’s tough to really feel the full effects of a horrific reveal when the monstrous alien that’s been lurking the shadows until now makes your sock-puppets look scary by comparison. I can’t claim to know the reason for it, and I’m not putting the Brits down for it- I’m simply saying that funding- especially in CGI- appears to be a significant difference between the worlds of British and American TV.

Pretty Faces

You’ve probably heard jokes cracked about this. Not the “British are ugly” or the “British have bad teeth” jokes- the fact that the people on British television have the audacity to look like the people you’d see on the street.

That’s not to say the Brits don’t share the American weakness for fantasizing and glamorizing each and every facet of life, but it’s pretty clear that it’s nowhere near on the scale we have here in the US. Here- take a look at the leading characters of the American version of Being Human.

The guy on the left is decently attractive, as is the girl, and the guy on the right looks more or less like a life-sized Ken doll. Idealized people- no question about it. Now look at the same characters in the British original:

There’s not a huge difference between the girl (the blonde girl is another character- ignore her), and the dark haired guy certainly isn’t his American counterpart and stop looking at that guy’s ears! Yes, they’re huge- they’re gargantuan– and no, this isn’t just an unflattering photo- they actually are trying to escape his head in the first three seasons.

The point is, when it comes to their actors, the British are- well, appear to be- considerably less shallow. They don’t need a couple of supermodels to tell a compelling story of murder, secrecy, and perversion- and speaking of which…

Raunch Codes

Watch this clip- but before you do, get all children and Weslyans out of the room.

Pretty nasty stuff, right? Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

People complain that American media is nothing but sex and violence, but believe me- those Axe commercials are prudish compared to the Brits (and indeed- most of Europe). We may give the Brits a run for their money when it comes to blood and gore but never will we compete with them when it comes to explicitness of this degree. It’s almost to the point where it’s not even repulsive- you’re just impressed at how logic-deafeningly far they take it.

But only almost.

The Dying and the Dead

It’s been said that the difference between British comedies and American comedies is that American comedies begin with everything going wrong and end with everything being fixed, while British comedies begin with everything going right and end with everything falling apart. I wouldn’t call a story where everyone dies of scurvy at the end a comedy, but then again, I don’t whittle my life away on a miserable island full of alcoholics and skinheads.

I can say that because the only people who hate the British more than the Irish, the Kenyans, the Indians, the Chinese, the Australians, the New Zealanders, Iranians, and the Egyptians are the British themselves.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is this viciously self-deprecating mentality that pervades every element of British culture (barring fox hunts, which are just weird) that couldn’t be further removed from the general sense of optimism that you tend to find in America. Just take a look at British crime series.

Now I’ve seen quite a few, and while this certainly isn’t universally true, what I’ve typically found is that British murder mysteries focus on the whole “Whodunnit?” element, whereas American murder mysteries either have a “How’d he do it?” or a drive to keep the murderer from murdering again. Gross over-generalizations, I know, but it does seem to be true that American crime series episodes end with the detectives patting each other on the back for having done justice, while British crime series episodes end with the detective giving some despairing monologue about the tragic depravity of all mankind.

Because that’s a very depressing (and therefore, British) way to end the post- allow me offer this:

To say I’ve been ragging a bit on the British would be an understatement, and no- despite our attempts to be unbiased, we here at Culture War Reporters don’t care much for contemporary English culture. That established, there may very well be something to be said for the Brit’s here. Is it pretty? Not remotely, but for all the weirdness (from our perspective) that British TV has to offer, it can’t be denied that it’s simply more “real” than American TV. The sets aren’t shiny, the people aren’t (exclusively) gorgeous, and a stories of sin and murder actually recognize human suffering. There’s certainly a lot from British TV that merits imitation here in America.

Except for sexually explicit sausage commercials. **** that.