Tag Archives: racism

A New Era of Canadian Sex Work: Interview With Lowell

22 Jun

Last year, Canada passed Bill C-36, a bill that governs sex work. This new law came about after Canada’s previous prostitution laws were struck down in 2013 as being unconstitutional, and the government had only one year to either leave the laws off the books or else create new ones. They chose to go with the latter option, and based their new bill on the so-called Swedish model of prostitution laws. These laws mainly criminalize the buying of sex but not the selling of it, meaning that johns would face the harshest consequences.

In theory, these laws are supposed to protect sex workers and decrease the threat of trafficking and “sexual exploitation”. In practice, they mean that sex workers are able to sell something that no one is legally allowed to buy. These laws also have the end goal of eradicating prostitution, which is not a great solution considering that there are many sex workers who love what they do and feel empowered by it. It’s hard not to feel that while Bill C-36 promises to help people, it will actually be hurting them.

Vice recently released A New Era of Canadian Sex Work, a short documentary hosted by Canadian musician Lowell. Lowell is a particularly good fit for this role, since she worked as a stripper before releasing her first album. She’s also smart, incisive, and thoughtful as she navigates what these new laws mean for sex workers. She approaches the issue from several different angles, first talking to Conservative MP Joy Smith, one of the politicians responsible for pushing through Bill C-36. She then talks to several different women involved in the sex industry, as well as Chester Brown, the author of Paying For It, subtitled a “comic strip memoir of being a john.” Finally, she travels to Nevada to see how the regulated, legal sex work compares to what we have in Canada. The documentary is short, clocking in at just under 35 minutes, but it packs a lot in and is one hundred percent worth watching.

I recently had the chance to talk Lowell, and here’s what she had to say about making the film:

Anne: So how did this happen? Did Vice approach you about making this doc, or did you approach them, or what?

Lowell: Vice approached me to host a documentary in general, and asked me to pick somethign I was interested in. I chose to do the bill because it felt like a really good opportunity to tell my story and our story.

Anne: There’s a really tense moment near the beginning where Joy Smith pretty much looks you in the face and calls you a victim. Like, when you called sex work one of the oldest professions, she immediately jumped in and said it was one of the oldest oppressions. What did it feel like to have her say that to you?

Lowell: First of all, I was like, how do you have this perfect turn of phrase ready? How long did it take her to come up with “one of the oldest oppressions”? That’s really great marketing, I wish I was that quick.

I guess I’m empathetic to the way she feels. I understand where she’s coming from. But if I were not so confident, I would feel like she was taking away everything that i’ve gained back and everything that i’ve been empowered by. Mostly, I wanted to make her understand why what she’s saying is so terrible.

Anne: What do you think motivates people like her?

Lowell:  I think there are ulterior motives that have nothing to do with speaking for women. I want to believe that she believes her personal feminism is good for women, but I also think there are a lot of rich, white Christian people with power trying to step into the lives of people who don’t have those privileges. And they do all this without identifying any of the social reasons why people might do sex work. Saving people who don’t want to be saved doesn’t work. You can’t indoctrinate your own brand of morals into people who don’t want them.

Anne: How do the new laws impact people buying sex?

Lowell: When they’re caught, they have to go to “john school,” where they’re taught that sex workers are exploited victims. Really, the whole program is based around women being victims. Which is nothing new.

Anne: Yeah, there was a part where you talked to a woman who had been arrested a couple of years ago under the old laws and sent to a similar program for sex workers.

Lowell: These programs teach you sex work is wrong, that you’re a dirty person for what you do, and you must hate yourself. And not only that, but there’s no acknowledgment of sexuality or gender – they’re very one size fits all, all women have uteruses, that kind of thing. Which makes them especially awful for anyone who falls outside their ideas of what women who do sex work are like.

Anne: I really loved that one of the women you spoke to was a trans woman. Was it important for you to be inclusive?

Lowell: It’s an inclusive topic. When it comes to transgender women, women of colour, those are the people affected the most by the law. These women are often not able to work in strip clubs, which in my experience function as a safe place where people can solicit sex. But strip clubs are more likely to hire white, blond [cis] girls, meaning that people who don’t fit into these categories end up being forced to work on the street. The result is that these laws – which are especially unsafe for people working on the street – end up targeting certain races, poverty levels, genders.

Anne: Tell me a bit about the place that you visited in Nevada, and how that was different from how we treat sex work in Canada. 

Lowell: They call the place I visited a “sex resort,” because you can stay there over night. Contrasting with Canada, it was so much better. It’s clearly a safer way to deal with sex work. I saw women there who had been victimized in the past but wanted to continue doing sex work – they were taught how to empower themselves and given the means to do it safely. That’s huge.

But the thing is, when you talk about legalization, it’s complex. You still have people who are running things and it’s still selective and can alienate certain groups. Decriminalization is for sure the safest way to approach sex work, but it doesn’t solve everything.

Anne: When you talked to Joy Smith, she said that only two percent of people doing sex work feel empowered about it. What do you think of that number?

Lowell: I think it must be nice to be a politician and just make up statistics to prove whatever you want. 

The truth is that we don’t have those numbers. We don’t have concrete numbers about how many sex workers are abused, and part of it is that there are lots of barriers to reporting abuse. 

Anne: What about numbers that reflect, like, job satisfaction among sex workers? Like, how many of them actually feel good about what they do?

Lowell: I don’t even think anyone’s ever asked. If we had that data, then we wouldn’t be able to use victim porn as a way to get people to vote for things.

Anne: How do you think we can make sure that all voices are heard in this conversation? I know that one of the biggest concerns about being pro-sex work is that it ignore the people who have been legitimately hurt by trafficking or abuse. How do we make sure those people aren’t being erased?

Lowell: I personally think to make it easier for the average person comprehend by putting an emphasis on the actual rape laws work – how police approach rape, how they approach assault, and trafficking. We need to train the police to work better with survivors.

Blending sex work and brutality together to make it seem like we’re ignoring people who are being abused, but people who are empowered aren’t taking anything from people who have been victimized. Laws like Bill C-36 make it seem like you have to choose who you want to support – the victims, or the people out in the streets who like their work. But you don’t get to choose who has human rights. Everyone has rights. It’s the government’s job to treat every person equally when it comes to safety and their rights.

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The Seaport Farmers’ Market and Halifax’s Race Problem

14 Apr

Last week, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market announced that several “prepared food vendors” would be moved from the market’s busy main level up to its mezzanine level. According to the Halifax Port Authority (the government agency in charge of the market, not to be confused with the Halifax Party Authority, which used to be some drunk dude’s house on Hunter street) this will be done to make room for more farmers. Which, fine, makes sense since it is, after all, a farmers’ market. Farmers gonna farm, I guess. Here’s where things get tricky: all of the vendors asked to move were “ethnic” foods, including Mary’s African Cuisine, Viji’s Veggies, Stella’s, Pierogis 4 U, Turkish Cuisine and Amin’s Indian food. Meanwhile, two other prepared food vendors – Julien’s Pastry Shop and The Cake Lady – are allowed to stay where they are on the first floor.

It would be easy to argue that there aren’t any racial undertones to this situation. After all, pierogies fall pretty firmly into the camp of Foods Traditionally Consumed By White People. The argument put forth by the Port Authority that they’d prefer to have all of the farmers on one level and all of the ready-to-eat food on another seems reasonable enough at first glance. And if there are enough businesses operating on the mezzanine, well, won’t that just draw more traffic up there? Plus, the Port Authority is really, really insistent that “Ethnicity has nothing to do with this decision.”

First of all, I think there are probably racial undertones to anything that even just maybe sort of seems to have racial undertones. Secondly, I feel pretty cautious about anyone who feels the need to insist that no, for sure, this decision which impacts only “ethnic food” vendors definitely has nothing to do with ethnicity. Finally, I’m skeptical of claims of not-racism because this is Halifax, a city that struggles with its deep-seated racism. Not only that, but this is the same farmers’ market that a few years ago considered flat out getting rid of the “ethnic” vendors based on the idea that cruise ship passengers shopping at the market are looking for “authentic maritime culture.”

Of course, what they mean by “authentic maritime culture” is: white people culture. Specifically, they mean the pseudo Scottish-Irish-Celtic culture the east coast is famous for. They for sure do not mean M’ikmaq culture (although there’s nothing more authentically maritime than that), or Black Nova Scotian culture (in spite of the fact that there’s been a thriving Black population in Nova Scotia since the 1700s), or any of the other races or ethnicities that been in and around Halifax for hundreds of years. In Halifax municipal government speak, maritimer is synonymous with white and everyone else is a come-from-away. Even if their family has been occupying this land since long before the white people arrived.

I love Halifax. Both of my father’s parents grew up in the north end, and I was lucky enough to visit at least once a year when I was growing up. Later, I moved there for school and wound up staying for nearly a decade. It’s one of the nicest places I’ve ever lived, and has a lot going for it – friendly people, a great local arts scene, a sweet work-to-live-not-live-to-work vibe and a really big hill with a clock tower on it. It’s also the most white supremacist places I’ve ever lived, and I say that as someone who grew up in a city that used to be called Berlin and at one point had a bust of Kaiser Wilhelm in a downtown park.

A big part of Halifax’s race problem is that it doesn’t want to admit that it has a race problem. Ask most people about the destruction of Africville (a predominantly Black community that was literally razed to the ground in the 1960s) and they’ll glibly tell you that it needed to be torn down to build the new bridge and anyway wasn’t it, like, actually a dump? They don’t want to hear about the tight-knit community that existed there; they’d rather not know about how the provincial and municipal governments purposefully placed a prison, an infectious disease hospital, a slaughterhouse, a fecal waste depository and, yes, finally the town dump next to Africville. If you mention the fact that the Africville church was secretly demolished by the city at night to limit protests, they’ll roll their eyes and say that was a long time ago and why isn’t everyone over that by now.

It was not a long time ago. The church was torn down in 1969. The final house in Africville was demolished in 1970. And the pervasive racism that led to the demise of Africville is still going strong in Halifax today. According to Sherwood Hines, three businesses in Halifax have been fined in the last year for not serving Black customers. IT IS 2015 AND BUSINESSES IN HALIFAX ARE FULLY NOT SERVING PEOPLE BECAUSE OF THE COLOUR OF THEIR SKIN. That is literally a thing that is happening and I don’t even know what to say about except: Halifax, you should be fucking better than that.

During the last few years that I lived in Halifax there was a lot of talk about “revitalizing” the north end. On the surface, this seemed like a great idea, especially since there was a several-mile radius that contained no banks or grocery stores or pharmacies. I was like, “Perfect, I can’t wait to not have to haul food all the way from Quinpool road. Bring on the revitalization.” Except, of course, what folks meant by “revitalization” was gentrification. Almost all of the new businesses that have moved into the north end are owned by white people, employ a primarily white staff, and serve white customers. The Black population in the north end no longer feel like they belong in their own neighbourhood.

The movement of the “ethnic” food vendors and the gentrification of the north end are all part of the same problem: cultural erasure and whitewashing. White Nova Scotians are eager to preserve the idea that maritime culture is a bunch of white people singing sea shanties and downing cod, and the folks selling samosas and dolmas don’t fit into that narrative arc. But you know what, Halifax? Not only is that narrative racist, reductionist and completely inaccurate, it’s also played out. YOU ARE BETTER THAN A BUNCH OF DRUNK FRAT DUDES PUKING ON THE FLOOR OF THE SPLIT CROW BETWEEN VERSES OF BARRETT’S PRIVATEERS. Nova Scotia is diverse. Nova Scotia has always been diverse. How about we recognize that and celebrate it instead of tucking away those inconvenient shish taouk vendors and pretending that Black culture isn’t a thing that’s been happening in Nova Scotia for three hundred years?

Halifax, you need to get your shit together. You have an amazing population, and it’s time to start serving all of them.

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Leigh Anne Tuohy Update: One Of The Teens Responds

19 Dec

One of the two teens involved in Leigh Anne Tuohy’s recent social media stunt has spoken out on Instagram (his name has been blurred out for privacy):

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Person One aka Teen Leigh Anne Tuohy approached at KFC:

Yeah people don’t know what really happened because I actually had money I have a job and have had one for over a year I was gonna pay for my brother the other guy in the picture but he was insisting on waiting on his uncle but his phone was dying so we were charging it which is the reason we were in KFC in the first place.and the game was only a 3 min walk up the street I don’t see why she said bus fare that kinda ticked me off a little but the way she worded it is making us sound less fortunate and that isn’t the case at all & when she came over to us she never mentioned her initial reason was because of her friends comment im just now finding that out

Person Two:

May I ask how she asked for the photo?

Person One:

Yeah she never actually asked for it as she was handing us the money she was like “hey you know what I think this would be a great picture” and everyone with her was yeah totally so we just kinda went along with the situation like sure why not your Michael Oher’s mom but the whole time I was thinking you know why’d she come up to us in the first place I was still clueless up until she posted the picture on social media and stated “the person with me said I bet they’re up to no good.”

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a Black teenager, especially a boy, just trying to exist in a public space. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to constantly wonder what white people might find threatening about you, and try to adjust your appearance and behaviour accordingly. There’s no right answer, of course – there’s no actual magic formula that Black people can apply in order to not trigger a racist reaction from a white person. It’s like trying to hit a moving target – once you think you’ve got things figured out, the earth shifts again under you and you have to add yet another must-not-do to the extensive you already have. Ijeoma Oluo recently catalogued 25 things Black People Shouldn’t Do Around Cops, and I know that this list is by no means exhaustive (nor does it just apply to cops). It seems like every day there’s something new to add to it – apparently the most recent one is “don’t charge your cell phone in KFC.”

For anyone defending Leigh Anne Tuohy, I want you to consider how absolutely mortifying this must be for those kids. Think about what it would be like to have some white woman come up and pepper you with questions about who and what you are while you’re just sitting there trying to mind your own damn business, and then think about what it would be like to wake up the next day to find your picture being used by a quasi-celebrity as some kind of race parable. Not only that, but in the picture you are being misrepresented – instead of a middle class kid trying to charge his phone, you’re a have-not case, taking charity bus fare to get to a basketball game. And now think about all the comments you get to read from racist white folks making assumptions about where you got your necklace from and why you were loitering in a KFC in the first place and you were probably just going to use that money to buy drugs like every other Black kid and look, honey, here’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with Black people today, they’re always hanging around wanting hand-outs.

All of this because you dared to be Black in public.

In response to all of the uproar, Tuohy took the haters-gonna-hate route and shared the following image on Instagram:

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I’m not here to disagree with any great Greek philosophers or anything, but I’m willing to bet that even Aristotle would have a few words to say about the value of criticism. Criticism isn’t fun, but it’s what helps us grow and learn – it challenges us to change our perspective and be better people. I’m not saying that all criticism is valid, and of course it can be challenging to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to people calling you out, but it’s incredibly vital that we learn how to do so. In this case, I would really encourage Leigh Anne Tuohy to take a hot second a listen to all of the Black people explaining why her actions and words have been hurtful. Because if your end goal is racial equality, then a good starting point is treating People of Colour as equals who deserve to be heard and not just objects in need of your gracious white help.

Leigh Anne Tuohy, Racism, and the White Saviour Complex

15 Dec

Leigh Anne “That Nice Woman Sandra Bullock Played In The Blind Side” Tuohy recently posted the following picture and caption on her Facebook and Instagram accounts:

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We see what we want! It’s the gospel truth! These two were literally huddled over in a corner table nose to nose and the person with me said “I bet they are up to no good” well you know me… I walked over, told them to scoot over. After 10 seconds of dead silence I said so whats happening at this table? I get nothing.. I then explained it was my store and they should spill it… They showed me their phones and they were texting friends trying to scrape up $3.00 each for the high school basketball game! Well they left with smiles, money for popcorn and bus fare. We have to STOP judging people and assuming and pigeon holing people! Don’t judge a book by its cover or however you’d like to express the sentiment! Accept others and stoping seeing what you want to see!!!

The comments on both posts are full of people praising her – telling her how awesome she is, how open-minded, how kind. Reading these responses is completely baffling – like, did these people and I all read the same words?

Let’s break down what happened here:

1. Two teenagers were sitting alone and completely minding their own business.

2. A white woman decides that based on the fact that they are “huddled” in corner “nose to nose,” they must be “up to no good.” Because obviously whenever Black people (especially Black men) gather in public, it’s bad news for the rest of us!

3. Another white woman, one Leigh Anne “I Adopted A Black Boy So I Can’t Possibly Be Racist” Tuohy, decides that White Lady #1 is wrong. Which is actually the correct assumption for Ms. Tuohy to make, so I guess this is where some people are getting confused because we see that her intent is good, and that makes us want to believe that the action that follows will also be good. She’s at a crossroad here – two roads diverged, etc. Had she taken the road less travelled, Ms. Tuohy might have said to her friend, “Wow, you’re being really racist right now! I’m not comfortable with how this conversation is going.” Instead, she decided to confront the teenagers who, as a reminder, have done absolutely nothing wrong.

4. Leigh Anne Tuohy walks over to the two boys and sits there in silence. I’m sure that wasn’t scary for two Black teenagers at all, especially given recent events.

5. After what was certainly the most awkward ten seconds of those boys’ lives, Ms. Tuohy asks what’s “happening” at the table. Like, other than two teenagers sitting there talking like anyone sitting at a table might do? Some kids are hanging out and chatting. That is what’s happening.

Unsure of the correct answer to this question – other than “we are two friends sitting together and not causing any trouble,” which probably seemed too obvious for them to point out – the boys remain silent.

6. Leigh Anne tells them that this is her store and they need to “spill.” Again, these kids have done nothing except be in public and be Black.

7. After being interrogated by this woman, and probably afraid that at the very least she’s about the call the cops, the boys show her their phones. This part just breaks my brain, like, these two kids had to show this woman evidence that they are doing exactly what they seem to be doing: sitting at a table and having a conversation.

8. Apparently satisfied with the evidence the boys have presented her with, Leigh Anne Tuohy gives them bus fare and money for popcorn, but not before she has White Lady #1 take her picture with them.

9. Ms. Tuohy then posts this picture to social media and receives thousands of responses lauding her for being such a good person.

Leigh Anne Tuohy profiled two Black kids, invaded their privacy and interrogated them, but somehow people are behaving as if this is some kind of wonderful social justice moment. No. Not even a little. This is some fucked up racial profiling combined with white saviourism, and it is racist as hell. Assuming that those kids were doing something bad was racist. Assuming that she could take up space at their table was racist. Insisting that they talk to her was disrespectful and racist. Wanting evidence that they weren’t up to no good was racist. Treating those boys as props to make her look good and then posting this picture publicly (and honestly, I wonder if the boys consented to that) is incredibly racist.

Also, can we talk about how problematic using the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is when it comes to talking about race? First of all, it begins with the assumption that the “cover” (or in this case, skin) tells you something unappealing about the contents of the book or person. It also implies that there is something unattractive or bad about the “cover” (or, again, skin). I can’t believe that I have to say this, but: there is nothing wrong or bad about Black skin. Black skin is not unpleasant or ugly, and to imply that dark skin might devalue someone is really, really fucked up.

Black people aren’t things. They don’t exist just so that white people can make a point about themselves. These are two real kids who not only had to endure this woman’s microaggressions but have now had their image splashed all over social media – the Facebook picture alone has 150,000 likes and over 12,000 shares. Step away for a hot second from this white woman’s narrative, and think about how those teenagers must feel – having their privacy invaded, having assumptions made about them based on their race, and now having a white woman use their images to get praise for herself.

Now tell me again about how Leigh Anne Tuohy did a good thing.

UPDATE:

One of the two teens involved has responded on Instagram (his name has been blurred out for privacy):

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Person One aka Teen Leigh Anne Tuohy approached at KFC:

Yeah people don’t know what really happened because I actually had money I have a job and have had one for over a year I was gonna pay for my brother the other guy in the picture but he was insisting on waiting on his uncle but his phone was dying so we were charging it which is the reason we were in KFC in the first place.and the game was only a 3 min walk up the street I don’t see why she said bus fare that kinda ticked me off a little but the way she worded it is making us sound less fortunate and that isn’t the case at all & when she came over to us she never mentioned her initial reason was because of her friends comment im just now finding that out

Person Two:

May I ask how she asked for the photo?

Person One:

Yeah she never actually asked for it as she was handing us the money she was like “hey you know what I think this would be a great picture” and everyone with her was yeah totally so we just kinda went along with the situation like sure why not your Michael Oher’s mom but the whole time I was thinking you know why’d she come up to us in the first place I was still clueless up until she posted the picture on social media and stated “the person with me said I bet they’re up to no good.”

Guest Post: On Attention Deficit Disorder, Video Games and Community

30 Nov

This is a guest post written by my amazing little sister, Catherine Thériault. She is a complete treasure.

I was seven when I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, although my parents had suspected since I was three or four that I might have it. I had all of the classic symptoms – difficulty focussing, poor impulse control, and a mind that was easily distracted by, well, anything. I had some of the lesser-known symptoms, too. For example, high-pitched noises really bothered me. Another behaviour that I exhibited, which my mother would often use to prove to ADD-non-believers (you know, the ones who say that it doesn’t exist, that it’s just kids being kids or else kids who have watched too much TV) that I did in fact have ADD was my ability to hyper-focus. I was especially good at hyper-focusing on video games.

School was tough. I couldn’t sit still. I constantly spoke to the people around me until I was moved to the very back or front of the room, where I couldn’t bother others. I struggled all day long trying to understand, trying to “get it”. My mom usually wasn’t there yet when I got home; our neighbour babysat me for a while, and then when my sister watched me when she was old enough. I loved the hours before my mom came home from work, because that was leisure time; after she got home was homework time, and I would have to spend hours on the “homework couch” trying to focus enough to get my assignments done. During leisure time, I would sit and play Mario, Tetris, or Looney Tunes on my NES. I could happily play those games for hours and hours and hours.

People don’t get it – they didn’t understand why I could focus on this one thing, but not other things. They would say stuff like, “How come you can’t even pay attention long enough to listen to the answer to a question you just asked me, but you can play video games without interruption for hours?”

The answer is simple: video games are my anchor. They are the one thing in my life that can make my brain settle down. The rest of the time, my brain is distracted by everything the world around me. Any sound or image that comes along, no matter how minor, sidetracks my attention. It’s a constant flood of things gaining my attention for seconds, then comes something else, and then something else, and something else. Think of it like this: my brain doesn’t have a secretary, but yours does. Your brain can decide that a conversation is more important than the bird that just flew by the window. Your brain will let you do a page of math problems without suddenly noticing that your pencil case needs to be rearranged RIGHT NOW. But when I play video games, it’s like I have blinders on. There’s so much going on in the game, and it’s all happening at once, and I get to pay attention to a lot of things at one time. So when I’m in my video game world, I am so deeply focussed on everything that’s happening in it that I can’t be distracted by the outside world. To be totally honest, it’s a complete relief. It feels like my brain finally gets to take a break.

I started an online game 6 years ago called World of Warcraft. You may have heard of it. The company that makes it, Blizzard, gets a lot of heat in the news, because some of their players take things too far, sometimes starving themselves or even killing themselves over the game. Sometimes people who play WoW get violent in real life. Some of the men who play treat female players badly. And this is the kind of stuff that makes the new – all of the awful stuff. So people who don’t play video games sometimes get the impression that games make you violent or make you hate women.

What you don’t hear about on the new are the average people who play video games. They have families, jobs, and lives outside of the game. I have a job. I go to college. I have a successful relationship. I also have a level 100 warlock that I use to kill in-game monsters and sometimes other players who have signed up for a fight against me. But what I really love is the player-versus-player aspect of the game. That part is all about teamwork, communication, and outsmarting other players. These are skills that help me in real life. That’s the part of the game that the media never really mentions.

When people speak badly about gaming, and the gaming community, I have a tendency to get defensive and take it personally. Because to me, it is personal. There’s a person I have played with in WoW almost daily for the last 4 or 5 years. His character’s name is Wilsons and he is a deathknight. He has helped me level all my characters to max level, helped me get items in the game. There are others who have helped me along the way too. Hawtsoss, a druid, helped me get better at player-vs-environment stuff (like killing the game-generated monsters). Evarella, a paladin, helped me get better at the player-vs-player stuff. These people are my friends. When you say bad things about the gaming community, you are speaking badly about these people who help me, and that I enjoy playing and speaking with. You are speaking badly about my friends.

You’re not usually speaking about me though, because I’m probably not what you would think of as an average player. I’m not some dude living in his mom’s basement; I’m a woman. Which is where the greatest failing in my community is. Women. People treat me differently because I am a woman. I have been kicked from groups requiring voice chat when they hear me and realize they’ve been playing with a woman. I have been told to get back to the kitchen. I’ve had people ask me for nudes. The list goes on I’m sure. But I just ignore those players. Literally, there’s an ignore button, and I use it. It’s not a perfect fix, and I know that there’s a lot to be done to improve how women are viewed in the gaming world, but it’s how I get by. I ignore the woman-haters, and then I prove them wrong by being really awesome at what I do.

At the end of the day, I love video games, especially World of Watrcraft. I have over 100 days of time spent playing the game. There are more good players then bad, and the good ones make it worth it every time. The ones who explain stuff, who help you out. They are the ones I consider a part of the gaming community. Communities help people. Communities are accepting and inclusive.

The problem isn’t video games; it’s the vocal minority of people who use death threats and bomb threats to scare off women in video games. These are the guys who tell you that you can’t be a nerd of a gamer because you’re a girl. These are the guys who tell you that you must be bad at gaming just because you’re a girl. These are the guys who think girls are only useful if they’re sending them nudes. But these people are not a part of my community. They are a cancer, making things bad for all of us who aren’t like them. Please fight this cancer and not my community. They may be sexist, racist, cruel. Fight the sexism, fight the racism, fight the cruelty and the bullying. But don’t say that “all gamers are ___”. They aren’t. Yes, some of them are terrible. But they’re people like me, who turned to gaming as an escape from the exhausting cycle of ADD thoughts and through that found a place where I felt like I belonged. They’re people like my boyfriend, who shares my passion for WoW and will spend hours talking about stupid little details in the games with me. They’re people like my friends, who have helped me and been there for me and who feel like part of my family. That’s who gamers are, too.

Catherine Thériault, right, with sister Anne Thériault

Catherine Thériault, right, with sister Anne Thériault

On Ferguson – The System Isn’t Broken, It Was Built This Way

25 Nov

I have an uncle who was a cop.

His kids, my cousins, were around my age and when we visited our family in Québec every summer I practically lived at their house. As soon as we got to my grandmother’s house, all rumpled and grumpy from our eight hour drive, I would start dialling my cousins’ number on her beige rotary phone. I spent the whole damn school year waiting for summer, and my time with my cousins, to come; we wrote each other letters all through the dreary winter, hatching plans for new summer exploits. Life with my cousins – swimming in their pool, family barbecues, playing hide-and-seek in my grandmother’s mammoth hedge at twilight – was lightyears better than my boring life in Ontario.

Pretty much every summer my uncle would, at some point, take us to visit the police station. He would pretend that we were criminals and take our fingerprints, maybe a pretend mugshot. He would let us explore the holding cells they had at the station; I remember being utterly fascinated by them – bare blank rooms in miniature, each with its own personal toilet and sink. One time I lingered so long that he threatened to lock me in if I didn’t come out soon. I said that was fine, and asked what the prisoners were going to have for dinner. I wasn’t afraid. I had no reason to be afraid.

Like most white people, I grew up with the idea that the cops are on my side. Over and over again, I was told that the police were here to protect me. As a little kid, I was told that if I was ever lost or in danger, the first person I should try to find was a police officer. I was taught that this is the system; I was taught that the system was here to take care of me.

What I was never taught was that the system takes care of white people like me first, and everyone else second. If at all.

I’ve been trying to figure out over the past few months how white people can be so blindly outraged over the events that have unfolded in Ferguson. It’s honestly baffling that they can argue that it’s fine for a police officer to fire six shots at an unarmed man because he maybe stole some cigars and also wasn’t walking on the sidewalk. I’m in awe at the vast mental gymnastics required to believe that there’s nothing wrong with a cop shooting an unarmed man six times in “self-defence.” The same goes for white reactions to the cases of Trayvon Martin, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, and countless other young Black men who have been murdered for no reason. I’ve lived a privileged enough life that the white responses to these crimes still shock me; I know that for Black folks, these responses are just par for the course. I can’t even wrap my head around what it would feel like for this spew of racist hate to just be part of another average day – and that’s my privilege showing right there.

White people have been taught for their entire lives to believe in the system. The system is civilization; the system is democracy, the courts of law, the way the state cares for and supports us. We’ve been told over and over that the system is what allows us to live safely, free from fear. But every time something like Ferguson happens, we white folks see glimpses of how completely fucked the system is. And those glimpses terrify the shit out of us, because they shake the foundation of every bit of patriotic jingoism that’s been crammed down our throats since day one.

A popular belief among progressive white people is that the system is broken, but it’s absolutely not. It was built this way; it was built to prioritize the safety and security of white people over everyone else. The way the system works is by oppressing Black people and other people of colour. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said at a recent talk that I attended, “the machine is running as intended.” The very foundations of the American economy are based on the enslavement of Black people. Throughout American (and Canadian) history, there are so many examples of state-sponsored marginalization and oppression of people of colour. These examples continue today – just look at the overrepresentation of Black men in prisons. This is the fucking system – this is how it is meant to run. We don’t need to “fix” the system, because it’s operating exactly the way it should be. What we need is to completely overthrow it and start again from scratch.

I have friends who have Black sons, and today, as they struggle through grief and pain and fear, they are trying to figure out how to make sure that their son isn’t the next Mike Brown or Trayon Martin. They want to know what they have to tell their kids in order to keep them safe. I wish I had some kind of answer for them, but of course I don’t – both because I’m white and this is so far outside of my realm of personal experience that I am absolutely not in a place to give advice, and also because there are no answers. The only way to ensure these boys’ safety would be for them to be white – and that’s both an impossible and terrible response. There is nothing about this situation that doesn’t feel impossible and terrible – and, again, that’s me as a white person saying that, and I can’t even imagine the depth of horror Black communities are experiencing right now.

We – and by “we”, I mean white people who want to be allies – need to take action. We need to de-centre ourselves, and start promoting Black voices. We need to, in the parlance of social justice circles, take a fucking seat. We need to take a whole goddamn chair factory’s worth of seats. We need to listen, and then we need to turn around and share what we’ve learned with other white people. We need to let Black people lead, and we need to learn to be good followers. We created this broken  system, and now we need to humbly help build a better, fairer system.

Because maybe even right now my friend is sitting her three year old son down and telling him that he can’t always trust the police. Meanwhile, some white kid with a cop for an uncle is being taught that a police station is a neat place to visit and a fun place to play. The only difference between those two kids is the colour of their skin. And that is both incredibly fucked up and also exactly how this machine was designed to run.

Below are some excellent pieces by Black writers. If you are white, please take some time to go through it and educate yourself. That is our job right now. If you have any other articles (or blog posts, or videos, or whatever) by Black writers or activists, please share the links in the comments and I will include them in this list.

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates

About Ferguson, White Allies and Speaking Up When It Matters by Awesomely Luvvie 

America’s Not Here For Us by A’Driane Nieves

A Letter to My Unborn Black Son by George Johnson

Youth Are on the Frontlines in Ferguson, and They Refuse to Back Down by Muna Mire

If There Are Good Cops Out There, Prove It by Albert L. Butler

APTOPIX Police Shooting Missouri

Guest Post – On Orientalism

20 Nov

By Israa Nasir

It was around 10pm on a summer night, a few years ago. I was waiting on Queen West for a friend. We were going to head out to a party like any other twenty-something on a weekend. A man approached me and asked if I worked in the ‘entertainment industry’. When I said no, he told me that I had a “really good look for this stuff”. He introduced himself as a film-producer and continued to tell me that his next project was looking for exotic, middle-eastern-looking women and that the pay would be really good (side note: I’m not middle-eastern). As I began to walk away while refusing his offer, he shoved a card into my hand and told me to think about it. I turned the card in my hands and saw that he was indeed a film-producer; he produced pornography, specializing in ‘oriental and exotic girls’. Feeling confused, my thoughts ran something like this: Am I really ‘exotic’? What does that even mean? I’d never thought of myself that way before so should I accept his comment as a compliment? Wait, or does he mean that I’m different; like a zoo animal, an ostrich amongst the crowds of pale-skinned blondes?

The idea of ‘exotic other-ness’, especially for women, exists in all areas of society where sex and sexuality are concerned. In the world of pornography, it is most visible, most at display, most lucrative. If you walk into any adult entertainment store, videos are often categorized by race and then broken down by category. A quick search online will give you the same results. Women of colour or racialized backgrounds are shown as hyper-sexualized and promiscuous. There is a sense of stereotyped fantasy based on old ideas about what a woman of that ethnicity should be like: a black woman is ghetto and must have a “big booty”, a Latina is feisty, a South Asian must have memorized The Kama Sutra, and an East Asian is submissive yet kinky simultaneously. The plot lines, if present at all, revolve around racist imagery and situations. These fantasy generalizations also show women of colour as lusty and not having control over their desires. These are women who have to be liberated sexually and are willing to do anything. These are women who are different from the status quo, the majority of white women.

Many argue that this is just a venue for people to experience or live out their fantasies. The problem with that idea is that this is not the sexual reality of black, East Asian, South Asian, Latina or other women of colour. People who watch porn regularly argue that they recognize it is not reality, they recognize that real sex with real women is different, and that they can draw the line between sex and porn. As a woman of colour, I disagree with them. These ideas about racialized sexuality and the fantasy find their way into real-life conversations about sexuality and discussions with friends, causal hook-ups and even people you regularly have sex with. These race-specific genres of porn muddle expectations, the ones men hold of potential sexual partners as well as ethnic women themselves. It adds another layer of questioning to already present complexities women experience in asserting their sexualities. Besides thinking about what society will say about our sex lives and how our bodies look from various angles, now women of colour have to think about if they are ‘mysterious and different’ enough, if they are meeting the expectations set by porn. With so much going on, focusing on pleasure and what they want can potentially become secondary.

For the remainder of that night, I couldn’t help but wonder if every guy there saw me as ‘exotic’; that man’s thought had found its way into mine. In the years that followed, I came up against this perception more times than I appreciate. I find this frustrating because it is a fabricated element in my reality; it changes the way people experience me. Simply put, it creates an aura of objectification in every aspect of daily life. However, It’s hard to say which influences the other. Is it the seeping of porn-ideals into mainstream culture, or is it mainstream ideas finding their way into porn? I think they are two sides of the same coin. Mainstream media saturates us with objectified ideals and stereotypes of women of colour; but these ideas are limited to interpersonal, ‘regular’, or daily situations. Characters like Gloria from ‘Modern Family’, or Latika in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ speak to what life is supposed to look like for women of colour, but doesn’t really explore their sexualities. This gap is filled by the porn-industry, which provides a glimpse into what the sexual lives of these women of colour is supposed to be like. Combined, both these powerful mediums present a completely fantasized version of a woman of colour. The danger lies in the fact that when a fantasy is presented to you, already complete, it is hard to imagine it as existing otherwise.

Israa Nasir

Israa Nasir