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observations – observaciones – observations

/ˌɒbzəˈveɪʃnz/ – /oβseɾβa'θjones/ – /oβseɾβa'θjones/

Reactions to Mizzou and racism within my country

Since the events at Mizzou‬ and the posts that have been popping up on my facebook, I have been struggling with whether and how to speak publicly about this event. I have been reminded by my friends that to be silent on an issue is to perpetuate it, which reminded me that when Ferguson‬ occurred I was silent because I didn’t really understand the issue; I thought it was better to be silent and observe before making a judgment call. But when I finally came to understand the significance of those events and others surrounding the threats black people face around our country, I realized I was catching up to the movement too late. I don’t want to repeat the same mistake; I want to be proactive about speaking and acting on the side of justice. At the same time, however, I realized that just copying the facebook posts of my friends would be more to make myself look like I was not complicit, like I was on the “right side” of history, but it would not really require anything of me nor would it make any difference, so perhaps it would be better not to say anything but rather try to continue working to combat racism when I see it in my own personal life.

However, this post spoke to me and I want to share it, because it captures some of the feelings I have been coming to have over this past year. I am shocked by many of the blatantly racist events that have been happening at universities across our country. But more moving to me is I am sad to begin to realize the danger that some of my close friends are in, the caution they must take and the fear they must feel, because of the color of their skin. Earlier this year I was driving with a Hispanic male friend and he mentioned that he doesn’t keep his car’s documents in his glove compartment, and when I asked why, he said because it could be dangerous for him to reach in his glove compartment if he were stopped by a police officer. That kind of woke me up because I realized that the people I heard about on the news being shot by police officers could just as easily be one of my friends. And I have thought about another of my close friends, who is a large, muscular black male. He is one of the sweetest, kindest, most fun people I know; no one who knows him would ever think of him as dangerous. But I realized that a person, maybe a police officer, who saw him walking down the street at night, would probably see him as suspicious and potentially dangerous. And so, realizing this, I fear for their lives, and I feel saddened that they must live with a fear I will never have because I am a white, upper-middle class, female college student and if I were ever in a bad situation, I would be given the benefit of the doubt. And I was made to think about this again when working as a field canvasser this summer and realized that I was able to make more money than a black individual could in the same job, even if they had the same or better skills, because people are less likely to be suspicious of a white female who comes to their door.

So, to my black friends and also to my other friends of color whose lives are threatened, I am sad for you. I am sad that you must live with this and I am sad that you cannot feel the same sense of safety and security that I do because of my skin color. I empathize with your fear because I have felt fear for my safety due to my gender, though I recognize that the fear I have faced is not the same as yours and that I can never truly know what it is to live in a black body.
I am far from the US right now and so I cannot be as fully present in the discussions and actions surrounding these events as I would like to be, but I am here for you if you need someone to listen or if there is anything else you need of me, and I pledge to continue educating myself and working to combat racism when I encounter it within myself and within my life.

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“Tu devrais aller voir une psychologue” – Being mansplained by a Frenchman in Argentina

Here is a story about something that happened to me while I was in Buenos Aires. I submitted it to the Tumblr “Academic Men Explain Things to Me,” but it looks like the Tumblr isn’t being monitored anymore because the last post was in 2013. So here it is for your enjoyment, anger, amusement, frustration, whatever emotion it evokes in you 🙂 :

I’m currently studying abroad in Buenos Aires, and last night my host mother took me to dinner at her friend’s house. There was a French man also there, and over dinner, I brought up that I was happy the US had just legalized gay marriage. When they asked me about what dorms are like at American colleges, I mentioned that some colleges are trying to become more progressive by having gender neutral housing options. He then proceeded to talk about how much it annoys him that governments try to seem progressive by doing things for gay rights but not actually addressing what he thinks is the most important social justice issue, the discrepancy between the rich and the poor, and how gay rights affects a much smaller portion of the population so isn’t as important as combatting poverty. The other women and I jumped in to say that certainly poverty is an important issue, but gay rights are also very important and there’s no reason we can’t fight for both.

He then brought up the example of women’s rights, basically saying that in today’s day and age we’ve already achieved equal rights so women’s rights are getting too much attention. I tried to list many examples of sexism that still exist in the world, mentioning the large number of femicides that had occurred in Argentina recently. He repeatedly asked me if I could give him the statistics (which obviously, as I was not writing a research paper on this, I did not know off the top of my head), and then told me that the majority of suicides and homicides are of men and therefore men’s issues were much more important (while it’s possible that the number of suicides and homicides among men are higher than among women, I don’t believe that makes femicide any less important of an issue; rather it indicates we need to address what is causing this violence in the first place). He also said that just that day he had seen two women sitting comfortably in a café talking freely, and extrapolated from this example that therefore women are free and have equal rights to men. I mentioned that although I am privileged in many ways because of my race, nationality, and socioeconomic status, I do not feel that I am as free as men, because I cannot walk alone at night without fear of getting raped. To this, he said if you’re afraid of getting raped, you can go see a psychologist, basically insinuating that I was a crazy feminist and that rape does not in fact continue to be a very real danger for many women.

At this point, the other people at the table told him enough, and I also told him he had crossed a line. I like debating with people who have different views than me, but for a white, cis-gender, heterosexual man to patronize me in such a way and dismiss my personal experience was very upsetting and made me pretty angry. I didn’t talk to him the rest of the night.

“Ça m’a fait plaisir de te voir”

Today as I was sitting under a tree at the Cité Universitaire (the student residence campus where I live in Paris), working on my computer, a man approached me. He asked me how I was doing, and I responded a bit hesitantly but politely, and he asked me if I lived at the Cité and what I was studying. When I told him “politiques publiques et études des femmes,” he asked, like everyone does here, “études des femmes?” Yes, études des femmes, I always repeat, and brace myself for the next response. “Alors tu est une femme très femme,” he said. You’re a very woman woman.

Ha ha, you’re so clever.

He told me he had just finished his doctorate. So you’re clearly too old for me, I thought, why are you creeping on me? I responded with polite interest and wished him une bonne journée, turning back to my computer. A friend of his passed by and he talked to him for a few minutes, then turned back to me to try to engage me in conversation again. “En tous cas,” he said, “ça m’a fait plaisir de te voir,” it gave me pleasure to see you, “j’espère qu’on se reverra,” I hope we’ll see each other again.

God, I hope not.

Here’s the thing. I want people to randomly approach me when I’m sitting outside and say hello. I want to get to know new people, and make friends with strangers. But when they’re male, I can never know if they’re just being friendly or if they’re hitting on me (and generally, I assume the latter, because it’s often the case). The same when I go out latin dancing, and a man I’ve been dancing with wants to keep dancing or talk to me for a while or asks for my number; I don’t know if they just want to get to know me because they enjoy dancing with me or if they want something more. And it’s because this “more” is often the motivation of men who choose to interact with me that I have to be on my guard, and I act cold; I want to be friendly, but I have to be suspicious. And I wish I didn’t have to be.

Men, when you talk to a woman just trying to be friendly and she isn’t friendly back, don’t assume she’s a bitch. She’s probably just been approached by too many men telling her that she’s pretty, asking for her number, or telling her that it gave them great pleasure to see her. She feels like a sex object much of the time, when sometimes she just wants to be seen as a regular human being.

Women, I’d love to hear if you’ve had similar experiences. Do you ever feel this way in public or in your interactions with men?

“Je ne suis pas raciste”

When I got off the metro the first day in Paris, expecting that I would see lots of white French people, I was pleasantly surprised to see more diversity than I even see in the states – many African immigrants in traditional African fabrics, Muslim women in hijabs, people of many different races who I wouldn’t have thought of as the stereotypical Parisian. I’ve even seen quite a bit of racial diversity within advertisements here (unlike in Buenos Aires, where the strong idealization of Europeanness/whiteness is clear in the lack of representation of non-white Latinos in the media).

Paris, I have discovered, is incredibly multicultural. I live not far from Chinatown, where I can buy everything from Taiwanese Boba Tea to Vietnamese pho to frozen shrimp gyoza (which here are amusingly called raviolis). I probably hear at least four different languages spoken everyday on the metro.

So many cultures in one place, however, especially one with a strong national identity, is bound to lead to tension. I had read a bit previously about racial conflict in France due to the large number of migrants entering the country, most of whom are non-white. And I expected to encounter racism, as I’ve encountered significant xenophobia, particularly Islamophobia, in my previous travels in Europe.

Up until today, I hadn’t encountered as much racism as I expected. Only one questionable incident had occurred; the first few days, a black girl in our program mentioned that a man she wanted to buy a metro pass from told her he didn’t sell them, when she had definitely seen him sell them to other people in our program earlier. The only explanation we could come up with was that it was because of her race, but we couldn’t be sure.

Today, however, I witnessed a quite definite instance of racism. I was talking to this guy I met recently, a French guy who’s half Brazilian, let’s call him Rafael. He started telling me about the car he bought this year, and how it turned out to have a bunch of mechanical problems and he lost 2000 euros. “C’était un noir qu’il me l’a vendé,” he said. “It was a black guy who sold it to me. I’m never going to buy a car from a black guy again,” he said.

“Ça c’est vraiment raciste!” I protested. “What does the color of his skin have to do with it?”

He responded, “No, no, it’s not racist, it’s just like, you know, the African guys come here and sell things and they try to rip you off. You know, like there are stereotypes about Arabs, even about French people too.”

“But that’s racist,” I said. “That one guy shouldn’t represent all black guys just because he ripped you off.”

“And you see, yeah, he gave me a bad impression of black people!” Rafael said. As if to say, this black man has the responsibility of representing his entire race in all of his actions, because if he behaves badly, it makes black people look bad.

“No, that’s wrong,” I told him. “Why should he represent his entire race? If I do something wrong, no one is going to say all white people are bad. But if a black person does something wrong, it’s reflective of all black people? That’s racist.”

“No, don’t think I’m racist!” he said. “I’m not racist; I have lots of black friends.” At that I started laughing because of how incredibly cliché a response it was. “I even had a black girlfriend. How can I be racist? I’m not even French; my mom is Brazilian and my dad has Algerian ancestry, so how can I be racist?”

“Everyone is racist,” I said. “I’m racist sometimes too. I think we have a different definition of what racism is.” He added some comments about how the U.S. is more racist than France, and how our police are killing black people (true, though perhaps a bit oversimplified), which doesn’t happen in France (I don’t know about killings, but France certainly does have a problem with police brutality, see here and here).

I found striking how his words fit so closely the same things Americans say when they want to deny their own racism: “But I have black friends!” or “But I’m half-Mexican!” I don’t encounter such people very often, however; I’m lucky to be surrounded by lots of people who are very educated on racial issues and often teach me new things and reveal to me flaws in my own thinking about race. So it’s strange for me to encounter someone who still has such a narrow-minded idea of what racism is.

Has anyone had similar encounters in the US or elsewhere? For those who have traveled in Europe, and France specifically, what has been your experience of the difference between attitudes towards race there versus in the US? I’ll post some articles soon with more detailed discussion about racism in France.

New blog!

So, I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while. Perhaps starting with the lovely Kimberly McCrae at the Duke Women’s Center encouraging me to start one, to which I kind of said “yeah, that’s a good idea…” without thinking that I’d ever actually get around to doing it. Then, my good friend Monica started an awesome feminist blog that I love and you should all follow (https://chronicallymonica.wordpress.com/). Throughout this time, I started noticing more how many Third Wave feminists and womanists have utilized social media as a medium for discussion, for venting, and for education about issues they notice in society. Then, this summer, I read Americanahby Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (which you should all read), in which the main character writes a successful blog about her experiences with race as a non-American black person in the U.S. That got me thinking more about blogging as a means of personal expression and way of sharing one’s examinations of and observations about the world.

Meanwhile, I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and struck by various aspects I observed about Argentine culture – specifically racial dynamics there – and the similarities and differences from the U.S. I felt a sudden strong urge, as I connected things I learned about Argentine history in class with cultural phenomena I noticed around me, to write a blog post about it. I promised myself I would, but, alas, I kept myself so busy there that I kept putting it off until I found myself back in the U.S, still blogless. Perhaps I’ll finally get around to writing that post as a past reflection.

Now I’m in Paris, France, and I’ve decided to be proactive: I’m creating this site so that when I have some sudden inspiration, I’ll have somewhere to put it. I’m calling it observations because it will consist of my observations – of French culture, Argentine culture, and my own culture. Oh, and I also might tie in some comparisons with my experience in Nairobi, Kenya last summer (see my previous blog). It will probably mostly surround topics of gender, race, sexuality, class, inequality, and social justice, though I’ll also write about anything else I’m feeling like. How often I’ll actually get around to writing something is another question, but hey, here it is!

Rules for my blog:

  1. Please comment! I would love to spark discussions and hear others’ opinions and experiences.
  2. I am trying to become a better intersectional feminist and ally on race and sexual orientation/gender identity issues, but I will definitely make mistakes. While I’m writing about my own experiences, I will also probably at times misjudge things about cultures that aren’t mine. Please kindly call me out when I do.
  3. That said, while I welcome differing opinions and people challenging my views, my time is limited and I will not always respond to every comment. I will also promptly delete any comment that is aggressive, insulting, or otherwise unkind. This blog is meant to be a positive experience for me and anyone else who chooses to engage with it, so please be respectful and remember we are all here to learn from each other.

Thanks!

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