The Week's Conversations: Diversity in Canadian Media, Women's March, Punching Nazis, Trump Protest Songs, Nature of Time
A weekly conversation between friends.
Voices of Culture
Canadians are proud of their diversity. This country is home to people from diverse cultural and identity backgrounds, making us unique from much of the world. However, our media doesn’t do a good job of capturing that diversity. It leaves out many untold stories of how those of us from diverse communities live and interact in this multicultural experiment called Canada. Stories that I have personally witnessed, like the daily potluck lunch hosted by the Filipino staff at the hospital I work at, where they share food and gossip with anyone willing to join. Or this touching reunion of Chinese immigrants at T & T Supermarket with their families.
The lack of diversity in Canadian media has been highlighted before. I grew up watching television shows dominated by the stories of white characters and families. The more diverse stories that I did see drew on cultural tropes of people’s understanding of what it might mean to be ethnic.
Last week we heard Q’s interview with @Hatecopy. Canada has had a string of social media stars with a strong following. @JusReign and @Superwoman are household names for millions of Canadians. Lily Singh (Superwoman) is now a top-earning YouTube star. These successes draw on themes of identity conflicts, and the tension of trying to live between two different worlds: while mainstream success remains elusive, public taste does seem to be evolving.
HBO’s Insecure offers one example of a successful example of this. Centering on the “black female friendship,” Issa Rae offers a candid look of the day to day lives of her friends living in South Los Angeles. It may not be that different for an average 29-year-old millennial navigating work, relationships, and life. It offers normal experiences people of colour facing their day to day issues, rather than being played for their cultural troupes. Instead, the white hipster teacher with the Buddy Holly glasses is relegated to that role in the show.
This week Aziz Ansari hosted SNL. Being the first South Asian to do so created a lot of buzz and excitement. And he delivered. Check out his monologue, or the skit on “La La Land” if you haven’t yet.
Offering diverse stories that resonate with the experiences and realities of diverse communities is important. It provides a greater sense of recognition and belonging to those of us from diverse communities, and challenges those who don’t to better understand the country they live in. But more than that, it makes us all active participants in the stories that define what it means to be Canadian, which, for a country as proudly diverse as Canada, should encompass us all.
They Marched for Inclusion
“As if this contentious dialogue in the women’s movement is by accident,” [Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American Muslim activist who is one of four national co-chairs] laughed. “Contentious dialogue is by design.”
It is extremely heartening to see the hundreds of thousands of women who turned out en masse to protest and stand up for their rights. All last week there was article after article published about the difficulties of the Women’s March - the agenda was too broad, too exclusive, too inclusive, too sensitive, too petty, too race-oriented - it was the exact fucking same as the media coverage of Hillary’s campaign pre- and especially post- election. I had no patience for any of those pieces, except this one.
As I was sitting, watching a livestream of Tamika Mallory give an impassioned speech welcoming White women to the world of feeling explicitly excluded, and essentially telling them to check their privilege without saying the word privilege, all I could think of is, well, welcome to identity politics in all its glory.
It is not easy because it is inclusive, it is not simple because it is inclusive, it is not for any one thing because it is inclusive. If you can’t deal with the discomfort and empathy this requires, then you’re probably closer to Trump on the spectrum than you think.
Women are a hugely diverse group. We are not aligned on any one issue. But the patriarchy affects us all every day; the misogyny and sexism of Trump’s campaign, which seized the media and public’s attention for months, will go on to affect us every day, and this is true even if we don’t live in the US.
These majority movements are never going to be perfect, there will always be people that say something insulting to another group of people or make it feel exclusive. But, for the most part, the hope is that we all manage to act with dignity and respect, and rise above “to push feminism toward a transformational step,” which acknowledges race and class as well as gender.
I am so impressed by the organizers of the Women’s March. Their speeches on Saturday were powerful and motivating. And the demonstrations that have rippled out from the DC protest are bringing women together around the world. It’s been decades since we’ve seen an unapologetically women-centric protest on this scale and I welcome it. I hope that women take home that empowerment and engage in all aspects of their life with renewed vigour and energy. Everyone, literally everyone, will benefit, because ultimately this is a movement built on inclusion.
What Will You Risk to Protest?
Now is as good a time as any to also contemplate violent protests, since people are cheering on the guy who punched a Nazi, Richard Spencer. A nice, White, liberal guy wrote a boring article in Macleans about “going high,” and how we should all denounce this action.
Wait, let me change topics for a second.
I’m White. Lately, I’ve been feeling uncomfortable when I attach White as a descriptor, because I’ve never really done it before, and maybe if you’re White, you’re feeling aggravated having to read the word White as well, as if I’m implicating us all in this one guy’s opinion! And why did I have to bring race into it anyways! Well, I propose that you join me in looking at that feeling and biting it back just as you would any outright racist statement.
Maybe you’ve also been frustrated by people of colour who have spoken out against the Women’s March or asked where all these white women have been for years and years. In Canada, did we rally and protest for MMIW? In the States, have we been to any Black Lives Matter protests? They are making fair critiques, and it’s something that we need to sit back and listen to.
But it should not stop or discourage you from acting. This is all part of the process.
Anyways, back to violent protesting. People have been jubilant about the peacefulness of the marches. I think this reflects the explicitly non-violent nature of the Women’s March, and the fact that there was nothing to actively resist (the inauguration was done, Trump was in church somewhere, etc.). However, there was also nothing to resist because police did not show up with cannons and tear gas. This is in contrast to Black Lives Matter protests which are regarded as public safety hazards before they even happen. It’s something to think about.
What are you willing to put on the line for rights? What will you be asked to put on the line for rights? What force [against the reigning power] will it take to get rights you are owed?
Non-White Guy: Punching Nazis is Wrong
I am not White, and the sense of satisfaction that some derive from Richard Spencer being sucker-punched in the face is disturbing.
Spencer is a White supremacist who has promoted the genocide of black and brown people in the United States. Spencer is also one of the most visible faces of the Alt-Right movement and considers Donald Trump’s victory to be progress in terms of his vision of American society. Spencer promotes dangerous ideas that could have serious consequences for racialized people in the United States, where an unapologetic and aggressive form of White supremacy has taken hold.
But Spencer’s views do not justify violence being directed against him or others.
I am concerned with justice, and there is no justice in physically assaulting someone for having views that differ from your own, even if it denies the legitimacy of your existence. The beating of Spencer only satisfies the base desires of those of us who oppose the likes of Spencer; it does not build that just and inclusive world we ultimately seek.
The beating of Spencer, and the support it received, also undermines the democratic value of dissent. For minorities and those holding minority views, the ability to dissent has sustained our communities as we resist oppressive acts of the state and majority. Foundational aspects of our liberal democracy today, particularly in relation to the treatment and rights of disenfranchised communities, were once fringe ideas, that subjected those who espoused them to the threat of vigilante violence. But our system protected and supported these dissenting views (though, not always), allowing them to eventually gain a following, and result in a more just and equitable society.
Admittedly, there is a difference between calling for greater acceptance and inclusion of black and brown communities, and calling for their eradication. These statements are not morally equivalent. But I am uncomfortable with the private regulation of expression that includes violence being used against those we disagree with. In Canada, we have hate speech laws and reasonable limits on expression that ensures that uncomfortable expression is protected, while expression that can cause a diminishment of human value or violence is not. This system, though not perfect, recognizes the balance between allowing and limiting expression in a democracy, and that there are serious stakes on all sides.
Protest Music in the Age of Trump
What makes a good protest song? Subversive lyrics? A chant-ready chorus? A predominance of bongos? We asked some friends to share their thoughts on a few of the biggest Trump-era protest songs:
Amanda: The vibe of this is so menacing. There’s just this seething, of trust betrayed that has felt really palpable lately – not just that someone would so blatantly use a position of power for their own gain, but a sense of betrayal at fellow citizens for getting him there in the first place. I think this song really harnesses that feeling, but as a protest, I don’t know how effective it is. It’s a threat, a snarl, sure, but it’s not about action yet.
Aliya: Menacing is SO the right word and I think it’s really powerful that the Arcade Fire released this, especially as a standalone. Arcade Fire was one of the bands to put Montréal and Canada on the musical map, after years of somewhat of a “cultural drought”, at least on the international stage. To hear them come out and speak of something across the border tells the fans that the impact of a Trump presidency will be worldwide and will permeate the north and Justin Trudeau’s supposed progressive utopia.
Richie: I dig this song. Who knew that Mavis Staples would sound so natural on an Arcade Fire track? It’s got an appropriate sense of urgency to it — that looping bass synth, Win Butler’s signature yelp. More importantly, it is a song written from a perspective of the people — the multitude, the mob: “I give you power/ Watch me take it away.” In the wake of a brutal campaign, built largely on threats — threats to build a wall, to deport illegal immigrants, to ban Muslims from entering the country, to undermine reproductive rights — it feels good to threaten back.
Rakhee: Somewhere out there a twelve-year old genius girl is listening to this song in her parent’s basement while she hacks into Mr. Trump’s computer mainframe. I can’t wait to see what she finds
Richie: I’m not sure if anything will top this song. It’s visceral, it’s angry, and most importantly, it’s cathartic. As Trump’s outrages and pile higher and higher, as his threats to the dignity and safety of marginalized communities grow more violent and pointed, nothing less than an all-out rejection, a resonant ‘Fuck Donald Trump!’, seems appropriate. Plus, everyone loves G-Funk
Amanda: I love how this song uses the harshest language against Trump in this casual, almost breezy way. It’s so natural, it captures this feeling of, “he’s so obviously terrible, how could you come to any conclusion other than ‘fuck this guy’?” As a protest song, I think it’s pretty much perfect – direct in purpose, simple in language.
Rakhee: Pardon me while I empty my savings account, purchase a red low-rider and drive to Washington while blasting this song…topless? I don’t know, it is winter…But then again, Fuck Donald Trump.
Richie: I’m not sure what I think of this. On the one hand, it makes absolute sense to focus directly on the very disturbing fact that the President of the United States was caught on tape admitting to and encouraging sexual assault, especially in the context of the Women’s March. On the other hand, it sounds more like a ringtone, than anything else. I’d venture that this one will quietly slip into oblivion.
Aliya: This song is a really surreal experience because it feels like the experience of being at the protest itself, something very few "fight" or "protest" tracks can really capture. It riles you up, the staccato beat makes you feel like you're actually walking, marching even, with purpose, and it's layered to resemble the kind of organized chaos that make up most protests.
Rakhee: This is the opposite of a protest song. There’s no optimism in it, nothing that makes you want to get up and act. Don’t listen to it unless you want to be reminded of that time you broke up with your terrible boyfriend in grade 8 and then had to see him in high school for another excruciating four years.
Aliya: I don't know how to react. The tune is so earnest and so quintessentially Death Cab, that it almost seems like a mockery. It also makes me feel like I need a beer and a window to really contemplate our new reality. Maybe that's the point.
Richie: Can emo save the world? No, certainly not. But I agree, this is quintessential Death Cab. And yeah, a beer, a window, and a mini-existential crisis would go along real nicely with this tune. But is it a protest song? Has it galvanized the indie rockers into action? In other words, is it effective? Or simply timely?
Richie: If last Saturday was any indication, women will be at the forefront of the movement against Trump. Led by CocoRosie — a duo of ‘freak folk feminists’ — and ANOHNI — a transgender artist whose recent album was a blistering critique of the Obama Administration — this terrific track manages to capture the excitement and energy of the Women’s March on Washington — it’s an angry song, but it’s somehow fun, and filled with optimism. Like the top comment for this song says: “The future is female.”
Aliya: This is such a jam! Just on the surface, it’s so enjoyable and loud that it makes you feel like you need to get out and get to work. On that level itself it feels like protest. I agree with what you’ve said above, by merely existing and speaking up ANONHI and CocoRosie inherently resist. Add their other work, and Drone Bomb Me to the mix, and they’re the voice we need to lay the foundation for the next four years.
Time is Trippy
Alan Burdick’s recent essay in The New Yorker is a profound meditation on the nature of time. “Can we perceive a pure moment—a budding, blank duration?” he asks. “Does it flow like a river or is it granular, proceeding in small bits, like sand trickling through an hourglass?”
There are no simple answers to these question, of course. Philosophers have for millennia contemplated these mysteries, which have proven a bountiful source of both frustration and inspiration.
"The instant, this strange nature, is something inserted between motion and rest, and it is in no time at all," Plato remarked in the fourth century B.C.E. "But into it and from it what is moved changes to being at rest, and what is at rest to being moved."
Burdick focuses on two thinkers in particular. The first is St. Augustine, who tackles time and consciousness in his Confessions, written in 397 AD. To Augustine, a moment is defined by tension inherent in our mind’s duel effort to recall what came before and to determine what happens next. It is the simultaneous consciousness of both the past and future, and the ceaseless tension between these things. “'Time is nothing other than tension,'” Augustine wrote, 'and I would be very surprised if it is not tension of consciousness itself.'”
The second thinker Burdick focuses on is the psychologist William James, whose major works were released in the late 19th century. One of James’s major insights, according to Burdick, is that perhaps time is not something that is experienced at all, but, rather, something that is created by our consciousness:
Time seems to flow in discrete units—it seems somehow independent and self-contained—not because we perceive units of empty time but because each of our acts of perception (or, more likely, our memories of those perceptions) is discrete. 'Now' arises again and again only because we say 'now' again and again. The present moment, James contended, is 'a synthetic datum,' not experienced as much as manufactured. The present isn’t something we stumble through; it’s something we create for ourselves over and over, moment by moment.
Ours is a ‘disenchanted age’, characterized by a widely shared assumption that all things can be explained by science and reason. Burdick’s essay is a nice reminder of the existence of those perennial questions that cannot be tackled seriously without the support of philosophy.
Links from the Week's Thread
The opioid crisis is forcing the Trudeau government to consider prescription heroin and other unconventional therapies. This is consistent with what experts have been calling on the government to do, including Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, who argues that prescription heroin programs can help stem the devastation the crisis is causing across Canada.
The Grassy Narrows First Nations has been subject to mercury poisoning for decades, and no one in power seems to care.
Leitch vs O’Leary: who deserves to be called “Canada’s Trump”?
The state of freedom of press in Canada: "The year and a half since Trudeau’s election has seen a cascading series of scandals and press freedom violations which undermine Canada’s claim to respect media rights."
For the audiophiles and music nerds: Pitchfork has put together a list of The 50 Best IDM Albums of All Time.
From The Guardian: “Israel has announced plans to build almost 600 new settlement homes in occupied east Jerusalem, just two days after Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president, with officials stating the “rules of the game have changed.””
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 2017 will see an indie rock renaissance. Here is a new track from the awkward dudes of Real Estate. You should also check out this excellent profile on Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, whose upcoming album is one of the most anticipated of the year.
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963): “First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate… who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”