Walk With Me
Antiracist, feminist, against imperialism and colonialism and for solidarity. This is a place for personal and political reflection, analysis, and intervention in a world of mistruths, deliberate distortions and lies, and social inequities. If you happen to be on the same road as I am and are like-minded, I would welcome genuine dialogue and interaction so that we can grow and develop personally, socially, intellectually and politically.
When I was a student in a Catholic boarding school in India, it was not unusual to be sick of the unappetizing routine meals served in the refectory and the girls would stack someone else’s cleaned out plate to cover the uneaten food on the bottom plate. Of course we were caught quite often and the nuns would remind us of the starving children in Africa. This came up in a conversation with friends yesterday and I marvelled at how in India, a place often depicted as backwards, and Calcutta where I was born, was made famous for the toil of the poor as the “City of Joy”, we were still able to metaphorize Africa as the repository of misery and depleted humanity against whom we all come out looking good. While taking Urban Geography in high school in the 80s in Scarborough, my home city, Calcutta was unequivocally categorized with Mexico city as places of overpopulation, underdevelopment and of insurmountable urban problems. Perversely, I was able to salvage my pride on being able to scale this background or on being commended through the extreme surprise expressed that someone from such a place could speak “good” English.
I am much older now and have done much work in thinking about how the hierarchy of white supremacy allows us all different access and proximity to whiteness and what is assumed to be quintessential human. Yet it remains a constant struggle to see the world from someone else’s perspective as we all feel the need to consolidate ourselves and our position to maintain our confidence and privilege. It is hard to take the risk of moving aside in order to centre someone else’s experience when our access to whiteness is also precarious. Many, like the actual starving African (or Indian for that matter) remain locked into this representation of being posed as the stark contrast to whiteness and western plenitude, even as there are actual living people with real experiences that are completely distorted in the way they are represented through this contrast. For most of us however, we can always find someone else to step on as we orient ourselves towards the apex of this hierarchy of humanity. This is the fundamental barriers we face in coming together and in learning to appreciate differences.
The understanding of who I am is not just a personal identity issue; it is in fact embedded in the organization and location of people in this hierarchy, and in our ability to maintain our superiority over “others” by mobilizing commonly accepted “wisdom” about these people. Hence social inequities are constrained not only by the hierarchy structure, but also by our very narrow vision and limited knowledge. This knowledge and understanding of the world around me requires continuous questioning, expansion and some amount of reflection. Given this state of our personal knowledge and perspective, it imperative that we learn to unlearn what we know (or think we know) and dwell on the borders of our knowledge to ask what is absent from my knowledge? what do I or do I not know? what can I not know? Adopting this humility about our limited knowledge and perspective is crucial for working with people who are different from us.
For this blog, I want to carve out new neural pathways for our collective and social imagination by practicing different ways of thinking:
I physically recoil when I watch mainstream news. Seeing Trump’s image on screen gives me a panic attack. Conversely, it raises many other’s spirit. I don’t want to give him too much credit but his election has coincided with my increasing sense of alienation from mainstream perspectives about the world even as I get cheap thrills from jokes and critiques of Trump and the US generally. I feel a sense of helplessness over many issues and injustices and oppressions experienced by the Poors, Blacks, Indigenous, People of Colour, Migrants and so many other marginalized folks. I am also frustrated with the gulf in perspective from the majority of people in North American and Western societies who feel that they are absolutely justified and right about their opinions of the world; their arrogance allows them to judge and impose themselves on the rest of the people and across the globe. In addition to this extremely divided world and highly emotional response to public affairs is the tragic but greatly rousing events that spur and consolidate Indigenous and Black Lives Matter movements. Moreover, the impact and politics of the covid pandemic has created an unstable, anxiety-provoking and very new circumstances for the whole world that are set to exacerbate the wealth disparities even more. As I write this, the US is beating the war drums against China, while Chinese are facing increased racism in North America and across the world. Instead of being debilitated, it is even more urgent and necessary to see this situation as a source of information about ourselves and our world, thus requiring analysis.
This series of events has spurred me to look for more like-minded people and perspectives in social media. I have never been as active as now in engaging in various platforms seeking out different knowledges. It has been a period of immense growth for me in learning about politics as I search out ways and language to speak against the accepted truths. It has facilitated a period of intense participation in my immediate social world to find different ways of articulating our social realities and an alternative voice. Against the forces of divisiveness and disparities, I feel it is extremely important to reflect on our own experience, position and relationships with others, to acknowledge our privileges and challenges of seeing the world that is limited only to our perspective; to learn and practice humility knowing that we are imperfect in our thinking and action; and to take risks by going beyond our comfort zone to work with people differently marginalized or have very different experience from ourselves. I have found many people who share affiliations and perspectives on specific issues and at specific times. These groups are out there. This set of experiences and like minded people in short are my inspiration to reflect and record my feeling and interaction with the world around me, and hope that I at least, if nobody else, will be a better person and be able to interrupt the lack of reflectiveness and thoughtfulness, as well as the readiness with which people accept the spoon-fed “truths” out there simply because it is the most convenient and easy thing to do.
I end here with the hope that a sense of humility can begin to bridge the chasm among polarized worldviews and make it easier for people to walk in someone else’s shoes, especially those of whom we know so little because their perspectives are simply not out there or if they are, they have been silenced or drowned out by the louder voices.
Why I am here
I am here because I want this to be a record of my reflection about and interruption of what we all take for granted to be true about our society. I am also looking for genuine interaction with like-minded people who can motivate me as well as help me develop my thinking, self-reflection and growth.
I am disillusioned by the conventional truths, perspectives and explanations about our world that I see out there along with the complete lack of analysis of our world and ready acceptance of these inculcated views. Some of my key concerns are the treatment of Blacks, Indigenous and People of Colour folks, American imperialism that is fuelled and supported by Western centrism, Islamophobia and Orientalism that are propagated in Western media and even academics. I have stayed away from my daily diet of CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news because of the increasing distance I experience from its perspective. Recently, the experience of pandemic lockdown and its politicization has made me turn my attention to our relationship to China and relatedly to the Chinese Canadian.
As an academic myself, challenging media representations, propaganda and international relations have not been my research interests or expertise but they have increasingly occupied my attention. My scholarly training is better rooted in feminist and antiracist activism, “immigrant” incorporation into the “host” society (Canada), multicultural politics and racism generally. So these issues will also engage my attention. I am however moved to speak about the divided world and perspectives out there, and intervene in the lack of self-awareness in the way we access, collect, seek and share our knowledges, and impose our views on others. I also want to be able to find ways to create solidarities among very different groups by finding common grounds. Finally, because of my strong emotional reaction to some of the reporting that goes on and perspectives that are shared in my experience of the polarized world, I feel it is imperative to analyze that using my intellectual and academic training.
I have written very personal articles in academic journals in the hopes of infusing academic thinking with more affective and personal elements. Here, I am hopeful that academic knowledge need not exist only in its ivory tower but be better mobilized to speak with a wider audience, and used better to comprehend the social world by merging intellectual analyses with affective experiences of our society. It is also my hope that some of my reflection here can be compiled and extended in scope and analysis as I continue the process.
Most importantly, my wish is for this blog to be a reflection exercise that can help me find inspiration, new ideas and new ways of challenging the fragmented world, different ways to advance social justice and equity, new language and framework to describe our social world, personal growth, and improved solidarities among different groups I work with.