City of Lies- Ramita Navai

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From above, Tehran has an ethereal glow. An orange mist hangs over the city, refracting sunrays: a thick, noxious haze that stubbornly clings to every corner, burning the nose and stinging the eyes. Every street is clogged with cars coughing out the black clouds that gently rise and sit, unmoving, overhead…- Ramita Navai, City of Lies

I’ve always been intrigued by Iranian history and this book was fascinating. It’s a collection of stories from various Tehranis, giving us lots of insight into Iranian society. These are the stories of Tehrani citizens, told to the reporter/writer, citizens including a prostitute, an assassin, an exile, and a closeted Islamic militia member.

What I’ll say is this: people who are obsessed with morals and laws are often the least moral (and the most abusive). Some of the stories in the book are heart-wrenching and so unfair. The hypocrisy of life within a very rigid religious society was so obvious from these stories, particularly the hypocrisy around sexuality.

I learned a lot of interesting tidbits about Iran; for example, I had no idea that in the 1970s lots of Iranians provided cheap labour to Japan, doing the ‘3K’ jobs ; kitanai (dirty), Kitsui (difficult), and kurushii (painful). Nor did I know about the chronic drug problem in the country.

Iran seems to be a place of contradictions, and a place where people, young women in particular, seem to be oppressed. Take Somayeh whose family believes that “religion means living by the words of the Koran and the Supreme Leader’s fatwas to earn a place in paradise”:

Somayeh and her friends strongly believed that the hejab should be enforced. They agreed with the law, which states that if your make-up and clothes are contrary to public decency and you intend to attract attention, you can be arrested and taken straight to court…The girls were not to blame for their misogynous views. They had been fed the regime’s line on hejab, which was usually touted around the city via huge billboard advertisements, since birth.

 

I’m always interested by how oppressive regimes use children to further their agendas, and how they program them to do so. For example:

Morteza’s own views were not changing so much as being formed for the first time. The lectures were having an effect. Islamic scholars thundered about the dangers of moral decay, titillating the boys with enough morsels of lascivious detail to keep them interested and entrusting them with enough responsibility to keep them excited. The boys were wide-eyed with pride when they were told tha they were the guardians of their citizens’ virtue.

I was incredibly frustrated by the limitations such regimes put on its people, the hypocrisy which unfortunately hurts the women and children the most, and how people have to often hide who they truly are. Navai did share some important stories though, and regardless of how oppressive the regime is, people do their best to live, and I’d say that’s pretty inspirational.

The book did remind me of Persepolis, the feminist graphic novel set in Iran, and it’s no wonder because the women in these stories were treated abysmally.

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Fairytales for Lost Children- Diriye Osman

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I often dream of home. It is a place that exists only in my imagination: it is my Eden, my Janna. Sometimes I associate it with my father, my mother, my grandmother, my sister, all of whom have rejected me, all of whom I still love…Other times I regard Somalia, my birthplace, as home, as the land where my soul will eventually be laid to rest. Many times home is Kenya or London. But none of these places truly embody home for me. Home is in my hair, my lips, my arms, my thighs, my feet and hands. I am my own home.- Diriye Osman, Fairytales for Lost Children

2017 hasn’t been a great year for me writing review-wise. I’m embarrassed  to say that the last time I wrote a review on my blog was in December 2016. However, on that note, I’m happy to begin my reviewing of 2017 with a book that  encompasses so many of my interests, and also reminds me why we need diverse books, and why the representations of POC in the diaspora are going to have to be more complex.

In the short stories in Fairytales for Lost Children, Osman’ discusses the African (Somali) diaspora, sexuality, and tradition, among other themes ( at this point, if you haven’t already figured it out, it’s probably good to mention that these fairytales are not for children! There is plenty of sexual content in them). Other important themes include  love, breakup, tragedy, and family.

One of my favourite stories was the titular “Fairytales for Lost Children” which featured the kind of teacher I wish I’d had in primary school: Miss Mumbi:

 Even Story Time was political. Miss Mumbi infused each story with Kenyan flavour. She illustrated these remixes on the blackboard. ‘Rapunzel’ became ‘Rehema,’ a fly gabar imprisoned in Fort Jesus. Rehema had an Afro that grew and grew…Her Afro became so strong that it burst through the fort.

I really like reading about different diasporas, and this book gave me a lot of info about the Somali diaspora, particularly in Africa and the UK. A couple of the stories speak to living in limbo:

Every day I asked Hooyo, “When’re we heading home?”

“Soon,” she’d sigh, ‘Soon.”

The precariousness of life for groups in the diaspora was definitely very poignant, and it makes sense that the word “fairytale” is in the title, because fairytales can be an escape from the tough realities of life. One reality is not being wanted by the society one lives in:

My waalid may have reinvented themselves but to the booliis we were still refugee bastards who sucked on Nanny State’s iron teats until there was nothing left for her legitimate children.

Sexuality is definitely a huge theme, and all the protagonists in the story are gay. This allows Osman to explore their relationships with their more traditional and conservative environments.  There was one excerpt that talked about  how in Somalia being gay is likened to being possessed, mentally unstable, and there are stories were gay Somalis are disowned by their family. But the reality is there are gay Somalis, and those like Osman are working hard to share their stories and experiences:

The Prophet once said that dreams are a window into the unseen. I have been told many times by family, friends, colleagues and strangers that I, a black African Muslim lesbian, am not included in this vision; that my dreams are a reflection of my upbringing in a decadent, amoral Western society that has corrupted who I really am. But who am I, really? Am I allowed to speak for myself or must my desires form the battleground for causes I do not care about?

What I’ve found about being part of the African diaspora, and what Osman also managed to illustrate (focusing on queer characters) is how the diaspora is a tricky space to inhabit and navigate. There’s always the question of deciding how to create one’s identity when straddling two or more cultures. Definitely a great collection of short stories to give me a glimpse into how others in the diaspora live.

On a sidenote, I enjoyed looking at Osman’s artwork in his book; it’s wonderful:

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There is plenty of gorgeous photography on his website too:  http://www.diriyeosman.com/

A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging- Dionne Brand

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I have not visited the Door of No Return, but by relying on random shards of history and unwritten memoir of descendants of those who passed through it, including me, I am constructing a map of the region, paying attention to faces, to the unknowable, to unintended acts of returning, to impressions of doorways. Any act of recollection is important, even looks of dismay and discomfort. Any wisp of a dream is evidence.- Dionne Brand, A Journey to the Door of No Return

There’s a short list of books that I’d say have recently changed my worldview and how I view things. This is one of them. From my research into the black diaspora through literature, art, and stories, etc, I always marvel at is what was saved and what was lost. This book goes a lot into what was lost and I read it from a personal place, identifying strongly with many of its themes.

The main premise of this book is the Door of No Return in the Black diaspora. The door in the book’s title is defined as “a place, real, imaginary and imagined…The door out of which Africans were captured, loaded onto ships heading for the New World. It was the door of a million exits multiplied. It is a door many of us wish never existed.”  I think I’m fortunate to know where my “door” is; but for others in the diaspora this relationship is much more fraught with confusion. Because The Door is not an imagining for me,  I initially felt that the book was more suited to North American and Caribbean Black people who might not know their origins, but the more I read the more I saw that oppression was universal and the Diaspora has a strong connection:

Having no name to call on was having no past; having no past pointed to the fissure between the past and the present. That fissure is represented in the Door of No Return: that place where our ancestors departed one world for another; the Old World for the New. The place where all names were forgotten and all beginnings recast.

It never occurred to me until a few years ago how the importance of maps goes further than just showing us where a place is situated. In a lot of literature I’ve read, it’s clear that maps are very political. In a lot of black literature in particular, there seems to be a focus on redrawing maps metaphorically, creating maps, changing frontier lines and so on. I thought about this poetry excerpt I wrote down a year or so ago by Jamaican poet Kei Miller:

“We speak to navigate ourselves

away from dark corners and we become,

each one of us, cartographers.”

(from: The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion)

I enjoyed how Brand used her life experiences to support the theories she came up with. Her life in the Caribbean, moving to Canada, and travelling to Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and Oceania: all her observations and experiences tie in to discussions of belonging, blackness, identity, and diasporic connections. Colonialism and its violence is evident in a lot of the places that Brand travels to.

Brand is Canadian and as I live in Canada I can relate to her even further on that point. She discusses erasure of blackness, something Black Canadians know well. There was so much in her writing about Canada which I wish was discussed on a more national scale. About Canada she says:

“How do we read these complicated juxtapositions of belonging and not belonging , belonging and intrabelonging. In a place such as this, so full of immigrants, everyone is deeply interested in belonging.”

And:

“National identity is a dance of artificiality, since what it dances must essentially be unchanging. Some would say, well, no, Canadian identity has changed over the last thirty or fifty years. Not at all.  We are drawn constantly to the European shape in its definition. A shape, by the way, which obscures it own multiplicity. And when we read the hyphenated narratives we see the angst produced by this unchanging quality.”

It’s important to say that Brand is a poet because her metaphorical and intuitive language really illuminated a lot for me. This book is rich and extra-sensory, great depictions of history, the land, the people. Reading this was like going on a journey with Brand and learning a little something about myself and my place in society and history at every stop. It was a very enjoyable and thought-provoking process., and she leaves us to think about how true the following is: “To live in the Black Diaspora is I think to live as a fiction–a creation of empires, and also self-creation.”

In Another Place, Not Here- Dionne Brand

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“They thought that the time would come when they would live, they would get a chance to be what they saw, that was part of the hope that kept them. But ghostly, ghostly this hope, sucking their jaws into lemon seed, kiwi heart, skeletons of pawpaw, green banana stalk.”– Dionne Brand, In Another Place, Not Here

If a favourite poet writes a novel, I’m probably going to read it, especially when the poet is Dionne Brand. I’m writing this review very soon after reading  Brand’s non-fiction book, “A Map to the Door of No Return“, and I’m seeing her experiences and thoughts on immigration, identity, the diaspora, colonialism etc in that book, displayed in this book.  Prior to this I’d only read a few volumes of her poems; in prose form, she is just remarkable and this is a beautiful, intricate book. It did take me a while to get used to the language but once I got into the flow of things it was wonderful.

This book is set in Ontario, Canada and an unnamed Caribbean island (possibly Grenada?). The main stories are those of  Elizete and Verlia. Verlia immigrates to Canada as a teenager, becomes a member of the black power movement in 1970s Toronto, then goes back to her island to try to ignite a revolution there with the exploited sugarcane workers. She meets and becomes lovers with Elizete, who eventually moves to Canada herself. The women’s lives as  immigrants in Canada were very difficult and transformative. When Verlia moves to Sudbury, Ontario to live with her relatives, her observations of whiteness as a black immigrant to Canada were quite interesting. She witnesses and questions the assimilation approach of her aunt and uncle and how this is toxic and seems to result in their emotional death. As immigrants are we supposed to embrace whiteness? Verlia decided she didn’t want to:

“They are imaginary. They have come as far north as they could imagine. And they have imagined themselves into the white town’s imagining. They have come here to get away from Black people, to show white people that they are harmless, just like them. This lie will kill them. Swell her uncle’s heart. Wrought the iron in Aunt Idrisse’s voice.”

This book made me think, and at times it touched on personal thoughts or the many stories I’ve heard about from fellow-immigrants:  immigration isn’t easy. The tough life of a single, black female immigrant in 1970s Canada must have been even tougher. Brand is honest with her portrayal of Canada, and how others often perceive it in a way that sugarcoats very real issues:

“Except that everyone is from someplace else but this city does not give them a chance to say this; it pushes their confusion underground, it wraps them in the same skin and slides them to the side like so much meat wrapped in brown paper.” 

In this Brexit era  when so many immigrants hear the phrase, “Go back home”, it’s a good time to understand why certain immigration patterns even happened. Often people rarely take into account history and how damaging and pervasive the ills of the Empire have been. There’s a realization by so many of us that there is no place where we can be truly free because of history and neocolonialism.

I appreciated this book for  highlighting the  traumatic experiences of immigration. There were several passages that were heartbreaking because they spoke to loneliness, depression, confusion, waiting…:

“She was working edges. If she could straighten out the seam she’d curled herself into, iron it out like a wrinkle, sprinkle some water on it and then iron it out, careful, careful not to burn…”

 “She has too much to tell. That’s the answer, too much she holds and no place to put it down that would be safe.”

“She was trying to collect herself again, bring her mind back from wherever the pieces had gone skittering. She had deserted herself she knew, given up a continent of voices she knew then for fragmented ones.”

This is definitely a book I think will appeal to many. It’s beautifully-written, very thoughtful, and gives a voice to Caribbean immigrant women in the big city in Canada.

 

 

 

 

lost in language & sound- essays by Ntozake Shange

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“Like most people of color, Black people in the New World, I came by my passion for literature in a circuitous way, a night journey marked by music, movement, improvisation, and smells of perfume, sweat, and humid star-flickering nights.”- Ntozake Shange (In: from analphabetic to script obsessed.”

My first book by Ntozake Shange and I’m not sure why it took me this long to finally read her. Her writing is very real and true to her feelings and experiences. I love essays on black art and culture, and the more I read about the arts, the more I realized just how important, life-giving, they are for all, but particularly for marginalized people: for us art is truly about survival. And it’s clearly been survival against the odds.

What I appreciated, apart from her lyrical and insightful prose and poetry, was also her diasporic reach and content, from Latin America, the Caribbean, to Africa. For me it’s always been important to read about black art in the context of the black diaspora because there are so many connections between cultures, so many ways we have been influenced by people in other places on the globe.

A lot of the essays dealt with language and as a result Shange is very much involved in deconstructing the English language. I’m learning more about what language means to people whose culture, language, and traditions have been suppressed, and more and more I’m in awe by how those people have managed to contort their language to fit their purposes. Linguistic creativity is brilliant to me and when I read the following passage, it made me realize even more what was at stake here:

“i cant count the number of times i have viscerally wanted to attack deform n maim the language that i waz taught to hate myself in/ the language that perpetuates the notions that cause pain to every black child as s/he learns to speak of the world and the “self.””

And also:

“in order to think n communicate the thoughts n feelings I want to think n communicate/ i haveta fix my tool to my needs/ i have to take it apart to the bone/ so that the malignancies/ fall away/ leaving us space to literally create our own image.” (In: my pen is a machete).

I know less about dance and drama than I do about literature but Shange shared her knowledge and personal experiences. I was grateful to her for allowing me to see the importance and the power of these other art forms.

“We must sing and dance or we shall die an inert, motionless, “sin ritmo” death. “Negros muertos,” killed by a culture afraid of who we are and what we have to say with our bodies, our music, and our brains.” (In: a celebration of black survival).

Read this if you want to perspective on a black female artist’s journey. There is so much honesty and warmth in this book; it gave me a desire to learn more, especially about the world of theatre.

30 Diverse Poetry Books You Should Read

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Following my previous post about reading diversely, as well as the recent #diversebookbloggers hashtag that was started by Naz at Read Diverse Books, I decided to compile a diverse poetry list. I don’t do many  poetry book reviews but I do love poetry. Here is a list of 30 diverse poetry collections that I love. In lieu of book reviews, which I rarely do for poetry collections, I’ve attached excerpts to each title. Enjoy!


1. Selected Poems- Po Chu’ I (China)

I wish we could be trees deep in the mountains,
touching, twining limb around limb.


2. Unattainable Earth- Czeslaw Milosz (Poland)

Do not die out, fire.
Enter my dreams, love.
Be young forever,
seasons of the earth. –Winter


3. The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks (USA)

Life must be aromatic.
There must be scent,
somehow there must be some.


4. In the Presence of Absence- Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine)

My memory is like a pomegranate.
Shall I open it over you and let it scatter,
seed by seed:
red pearls befitting a farewell
that asks nothing of me except forgetfulness?


5. Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful- Alice Walker (America)

We who have stood over
so many graves
know that no matter what they do
all of us must live
or none. –Each One, Pull One


6. The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion- Kei Miller (Jamaica)

We speak to navigate ourselves
away from dark corners and we become,
each one of us, cartographers.


7. She Says- Venus Khoury-Ghata (Lebanon/France)

I stuff the French language with loukoum, I teach it to do the belly dance.


8. Ossuaries- Dionne Brand (Canada/Trinidad)

I lived and loved,
some might say,
in momentous times,
looking back,
my dreams were full of prisons.- Ossuary I


9. Mercurochrome- Wanda Coleman (USA)

i wanted empathy & tea leaves,
answers & directions
toward a healing path. –Soft Boy


10. The Ink Dark Moon- Ono No Komachi (Japan)

No different, really—
a summer moth’s visible burning
and this body,
transformed by love.


11. Forbidden Words- Eugenio de Andrade (Portugal)

Books. Warmth,
their tender skin, serene. Loving
company. Willing always
to share the sun
of their waters. So docile,
silent, loyal.
So luminous in their
white and vegetal closed
melancholy. Loved
like no other companions
of the spirit. So musical
in the fluvial overflowing
ardour of the day.- On a Copy of the Georgics


12. Fugitive Suns- Andree Chedid (Algeria)

With spadefuls of petty life
We bury what outmeasures us
Eluding the fabulous intimacy
For the instant’s wage.


13. Redemption Rain- Jennifer Rahim (Canada/ Trinidad)

Honestly, I have no regrets.
Our talk is so full of recognition,
the light we generate makes night, day.


14. Fuel- Naomi Shihab Nye (USA/Palestine)

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.- The Rider

 


15. Spring Essence- Ho Xuan Huong (Vietnam)

How many thousands of years have you been there?
Why sometimes slender, why sometimes full?
Why do you circle the purple loneliness of night
and seldom blush before the sun?
Weary, past midnight, who are you searching for?
Are you in love with these rivers and hills?- Questions for the Moon


16. Bridge to the Soul- Rumi (Iran)

Rise. Do not keep stirring
the heavy sediment. Let
the murkiness settle.- A Northern Wind


17. Selected Prose and Poems- Gabriela Mistral (Chile)

At times your heart will be ready for harvest, like the fruits from which honey or oil is pressed.-The Dream


18. Language is not the Only Thing That Breaks- Proma Tagore (Canada/India)

for you to feel the warmth of your grandmother’s touch.
for sorrows
that this land keeps to unfold,
like the moon, into dreams,
to know that even in loss there is living transformation.
for us to live, reconnected, and your stories, this poem to have many beginnings.


19. She- Saul Williams (USA)

For all the ghosts and corpses that shall never know the breath of our children
so long
for the sacrifice and endurance of our mothers and the sustained breath of our fathers
we live


20. Behind My Eyes- Li-Young Lee (China/ USA)

I’m told I’m a fourfold mystery
like the planet, but I think more.
I mean, there are tears inside me I’ll never weep.


21. Sea Grapes- Derek Walcott (St. Lucia)

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at each other’s welcome,

and say sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self,
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love-letters from the bookshelf

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.—  Love After Love


22. Solar Throat Slashed- Aime Cesaire (Martinique)

I am a memory that does not reach the threshold
and wanders in the limbo where the glint of absinthe
when the heart of night breathes through its blowholes
moves the fallen star in which we contemplate ourselves.- The Griffin


23. The August Sleepwalker- Bei Dao (China)

A Perpetual stranger
am I to the world
I don’t understand its language
my silence it can’t comprehend
all we have to exchange
is a touch of contempt
as if we meet in a mirror

a perpetual stranger
am I to myself
I fear the dark
but block with my body
the only lamp
my shadow is my beloved
heart the enemy.- A Perpetual Stranger


24. A Little Larger than the Entire Universe- Fernando Pessoa (Portugal)

Whether we write or speak or are but seen
We are ever unapparent. What we are
Cannot be transfused into word or mien.
Our soul from us is infinitely far.
However much we give our thoughts the will
To make our soul with arts of self-show stored,
Our hearts are incommunicable still.
In what we show ourselves we are ignored.
The abyss from soul to soul cannot be bridged
By any skill or thought or trick for seeing.
Unto our very selves we are abridged
When we would utter to our thought our being.
We are our dreams of ourselves, souls by gleams,
And each to each other dreams of others’ dreams.


25. The Collected Poetry of Leopold Sedar Senghor (Senegal)

I am thirsty, so thirsty for space and new waters,
And to drink from the urn of a new face in the sun
Without hotel rooms or the crushing
Solitude of big cities driving me away.—  It is Time for Me to Go

26. The Selected Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca (Spain)

I sat down
in a space of time.
It was a backwater
of silence,
a white silence,
a formidable ring
wherein the stars
collided with the twelve floating
black numerals.— Pause of the Clock

 27. The Essential Neruda- Pablo Neruda (Chile)

And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.


28. Collected Poems of Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

Absentminded
our thoughtful days
sat at dire controls
and played indolently.- 1966


29. Shake Loose my Skin- Sonia Sanchez (USA)

And I cried. For myself. For this woman talkin’ about love. For all the women who have ever stretched their bodies out anticipating civilizations and finding ruins.


30. The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry (Eds. Valerie Mason-John & Kevan Anthony Cameron)

When a hunger for our own vernacular
mingled with the passion of romanticism
a new language was born, on the page
on the stages of smoky coffee houses
deep in the heart of Harlem

In this Renaissance, we began to reclaim ourselves
Began to own our newly found freedom
to simply read and write, en masse
in public, to make love and meaning
from our suffering, to live our loud
word by word, on our own terms.- Andrea Thompson, A Brief History of Soul Speak

Diversity? My Thoughts

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I haven’t written a post on race or anything along those lines for a long time and to be honest, they probably won’t be nearly as frequently as they used to, but this has been a post long in the making and one I was hesitant to discuss for so many reasons, but it keeps coming up. As always, when I discuss such issues, I feel the importance of stating by way of a disclosure that these are my personal thoughts and experiences, and I acknowledge the people who are doing good diversity and intercultural work in the field, and in no way am I demeaning their efforts.

It goes without saying that I no longer see the world through rose-tinted glasses. Being black, a woman, an immigrant twice-over, I cannot afford to do so. My very presence affects how people around me react. It’s difficult to guess whether I’ll be feared, coddled, condescended to, or ignored and discredited.  Rarely am I seen as an equal.  As a result, it’s been a very interesting position for me to be involved in the diversity and intercultural field,   and I’ve made so many observations that have made me consider my stance, and about whether I actually see any good in me continuing to work in the field. From my first semester of grad school, to subsequent diversity events I’ve not only co-facilitated but also attended, my questions have often been :”Why am I doing this? Who is this diversity work for? What IS diversity?”

I do feel somewhat disillusioned by the diversity and interculturalist field. In my field of interculturalism, a field with a large number of  well-travelled and educated people, perhaps I let my guard down a bit and began to believe that my presence in this field would be valued and that I  might possibly be able to influence change. In Vancouver we often lament about the invisibility of black people, and just before Black History Month, organizations are often scrambling for black speakers, performers etc. But it turns out a lot of this interest is very cosmetic.

I feel we are still tiptoeing around issues. And what does that make people like me feel? Tired and completely fed up. Yet we are told to be patient. Nina Simone’s lyrics from “Mississippi Goddam” come to mind:

Don’t tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I’ve been there so I know
They keep on saying “Go slow!”

My original thoughts that my experiences, and the experiences and thoughts of people like me, would be better-received by open-minded voices who profess to value and honour diversity, was unfortunately not a reality. What I soon realized is that the diversity we often deal with here are sugarcoated and very disingenuous.

At diversity events, microaggressions are rife. An example is at an event on leadership I attended in March, My partner during one of the exercises was a Middle Eastern woman. As the only women of colour at the event, we inevitably discussed the reality of race, and the fact that nobody had brought up this in the whole event. During the sharing time I felt the need to bring up this point, saying it was important to acknowledge this reality. A white Canadian lady spoke up, clearly taking umbrage at the comment that race is an issue. She objected to my usage of the word “marginalized” and proceeded to “remind” me that I have a great cultural heritage to draw on, and that the reason people want to talk to me is that I’m elegant and eloquent, something she didn’t stop commenting on the entire morning. To top it off, she said she’d experienced racism in Japan.

At these events, what usually happens, as did happen in the woman’s response to my comment is silencing (“racism isn’t so bad here”), tone policing (“don’t use that term, it’s not becoming”), equating oppressions (“I’ve experienced racism too”), and operating according to stereotypes (“you’re so eloquent.”).

Luckily I’m now able to anticipate these things and I’ve had to grow tougher due to my experiences. I have an M.O. for these situations: when I realize I’m not going to get through to people the best thing for me to do is to shut up and preserve my valuable energy. No further interactions with these folks are necessary because you already know you’re talking to a brick wall.

The reality is when a person of colour at one of these events attempts to challenge the narrative and the accepted knowledge, these reactions are very common. They’ve happened to me, as I’ve illustrated, and I’ve seen them happen to others. What people often hope for is for a good photo opportunity to showcase the diversity and market it, and a nice personal story that will make them feel sad or good about themselves. It’s rarely about challenging oneself it seems.

So I’ve come to realize the face of diversity is often not diverse at all (if you look at the board members of diversity organizations, this will become very obvious). I’ve realized that things are taken differently depending on who is saying it. I note the difference in how the black and Asian women I meet at these events feel after them. I often talk to them afterwards and the general consensus is often “tokenism”, “sugar-coating”, “the discussion could have gone deeper”, or “this isn’t new; I’ve known this since birth.”

It would be wonderful to be colourblind but it’s too late for me. Sharing my perspectives to show that there are several frames of reference, is important to me. What I’d like for more people in the field to acknowledge is that how they operate isn’t equitable, it isn’t real diversity work. If we are to call ourselves liberal and such, surely it would make sense to allow those who are marginalized the most to speak out and not to attempt to appease them with platitudes? If we’re not willing to hear the point of views of POC, to hire them in our intercultural organizations, then our diversity push is a mere façade.  If we’re not willing to be honest with the nitty-gritty of how race matters etc, I’m definitely not for it. Being involved in anything half-baked was never my plan.