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Category Archives: Racism

~ “Movement never lies.” ~ Martha Graham

Her arm rose with bewitching ease. It was as if she were playfully tossing a brightly coloured ball to her lover … The instant she turned, smiled and waved … she was unaware of her age. The essence of her charm, independent of time, revealed itself for a second in that gesture and dazzled me. I was strangely moved. And then the word Agnes entered my mind. Agnes. I had never known a woman by that name.

And so begins Milan Kundera’s Immortality. A woman named Agnes and the impact of her gesture. I’ve always loved the word “gesture.” There’s a kind of elegance in the way it sounds and in the way it’s described, like this particularly poignant version: The thing to remember about gesture, whether you’re using it as a verb or a noun, is that not only is it a movement of the hands or body, but it’s also a movement that has some meaning, intention or emotion behind it. When you use gesture, you are entering into a whole history of human communication, because there is no language that exists entirely without gesture. People can’t communicate without gesture. It’s so connected to intention that there is a phrase “empty gesture,” used to mean an action or movement that is without genuine feeling.

My long career as a dance artist has revolved around gesture and intention. The foundation of my training, performing, teaching and directing is based on expressing and recognizing authentic gesture. Are your actions expressing what you want to convey? Are your actions belying what you want to convey?

You don’t need to be a dancer to understand gesture and intention. Over the course of our lives, we’ve learned to trust our instincts, our spidey senses. For the most part, we know when we’re witnessing acts of kindness or assholy-ness, when we’re buying something or calling bullshit. Of course, being wonderfully complex people, our perceptions are coloured by everything that makes us us. Our environment, age, sex, where we have/haven’t been, who we do/don’t interact with etc., all influence how we interpret and absorb gestures and intentions. But I’d like to believe, from a purely people-are-more-good-than-bad standpoint, we’re often on the same page.

Years ago, I saw a video of a young Japanese girl (she was around 3 years-old), trying to cross two concrete steps separated by a gap. Her older brother (around 5 years-old) had already crossed and was reaching out to help her. So afraid was his sister that he lay down, creating a bridge with his body, on which his sister crawled across. And… bawl! Brother, love, protection, sister. This little boy’s spontaneous gesture broke my heart.

Most of us would watch this video and be moved, to varying degrees perhaps, but in my mind, there’s simply no other way to respond. We witness all kinds of gestures each day. And, though they may not be quite as dramatic as this one, I think we learn a lot about people from these seemingly benign gestures, these momentary glimpses into their soul. Alright, now I’m being dramatic. But then again, not really. I mean, sometimes you get a pretty good snapshot of someone from a simple gesture. Like the gal who didn’t hold the elevator door open, knowing you were almost there; the guy who gave you his seat on the bus; the momentary eye contact and smile with a neighbor in the hallway, etc. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been that gal in the elevator before. I’m not proud of it and I certainly don’t make a habit of it, but I’m sure the person I didn’t wait for thought I was an asshole. And I mean who are we kidding? I totally was! I like to think that somewhere in the Karmic universe, my good gestures override my bad. That in the end, I’m more often a good person with good intentions. But I have bad moments, we all do. The good news is, we get plenty of chances to try again, to be better.

One of my favourite quotes, and one I’ve mentioned before in my blog, is by Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” Now, in the case of a negative first impression, I’m usually willing to give a person more than one chance to show me they’re better than that. But if a person continually shows a deficiency in their character, an absence of decency and empathy, then my ongoing engagement with them is just fucking stupid.

It may come as a surprise to some that at age 49, in 2017, in my beloved Toronto Canada, where I was born and raised, I still encounter racism. An ignorant or outright racist remark now and again always comes out of nowhere, like a sucker punch, and lands squarely on my heart. Yes folks, this happens.

Considering the escalating volatility in the world, and unimaginable displays of arrogance, deception and cruelty, I can’t help thinking, “Have we completely lost our fucking minds?! Is this really who we are? Is this really who we want to be?” Like our reaction to the Japanese brother and sister, how can we NOT be on the same page about this shit show?!

Some days, I’m completely  overwhelmed by all the noise and despicable gestures that show humanity at its very worst. It’s caused me to take a good look at myself, how I am in the world, how I want to be. My gestures and intentions matter, and so do yours.

We can all do better.

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~ Could I BE More Asian? ~

Sometimes, when I’m around a lot of white people, doing something really white, I can actually feel my eyes getting slantier.

Like attending a CFL football game or NASCAR. True, I’ve never been to NASCAR, but I have a hunch my eyes would feel slanty at a race.

To be clear, when I say “white people” I’m referring to a particular kind of white person who might attend these sorts of events, who’s also a little racist.

Truthfully, I’m never the only non-white person at an Argos football game (there’s usually at least one other Asian, and a few black people), and I’ve never been personally slighted by anyone. But once I was sitting near a particularly rowdy fan who, after one too many beers, lost his grip and his decency. Suddenly, his displeasure for a bad play became a belligerent tirade. And though he never lobbed racist comments my way, he did hurl racist insults at the players. This is the guy who could have gone fully ballistic on my ass, if he saw me looking at him sideways, like the dickhead he his.

It’s certainly not CFL or NASCAR-specific, but booze almost always plays a factor. Inebriation and hostility bring out the very worst in ignorant people. Zeroing in on what they see as an easy target – like race – is very schoolyard bully-ish, but that’s what you get when limited folk are without filters.

The Traffic Stop

Red light.

M and I were at a stop light, and two Blue Jays fans (a guy and a drunk gal), were having a smoke in front of a bar.

“I love Kawasaki!” guy says, referring to the Jays’ Japanese second baseman.

“What? Are you nuts?” drunk gal slurs.

Guy begins explaining the virtues of Kawasaki’s ball playing.

Drunk gal cuts him off, “HE’S JUST AN IMMIGRANT!”

Green light.

Wait a Second… You’re Asian?

I find it curious when people say, “I don’t notice a person’s race.” They claim to be “colour blind,” to only see the “person,” that their race isn’t a factor. When did it become wrong to notice someone’s race? Should I be offended that someone notices I’m, among other things, Asian? How far out of their way should the “politically correct” person go, when describing what I look like?

“You know, the gal with the long, dark hair… brown eyes… freckles…

I’M ALSO ASIAN! It’s okay to say so.

Of course, there are varying degrees of prejudice, ignorance and racism, and God knows we all have some amount of it running through our veins. Growing up in 70’s suburbia, if we didn’t know a neighbour’s name, my family would say something like, “Oh, the Chinese family got a new car,” or “the Indian family’s mom teaches piano,” etc. Were we being racist? Some may think we were.

Intention is a huge determining factor. Are you naïve, small-town, ignorant or full-on racist?

I grew up in a bizarre pocket of suburban Toronto that didn’t seem to exist anywhere else. When I compare my school photos to those of my friends the same age, from other parts of the country, and even those who grew up a few blocks away, mine are full of colourful kids and theirs aren’t. So when someone my age says something a bit off, I’m like, what the hell? YOU GREW UP DOWN THE STREET!

I subconsciously brace myself when I’m around drunk people, always sort of prepared for a sloppy, off-colour remark. But when I’m somewhere not known for its hostile clientele – say an art gallery – and someone says something sideways, it really catches me off-guard. These gems, so unexpected and flabbergasting, somehow sting a bit more.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art

I was walking around an exhibit of ancient China, and they had built a beautiful replica of a temple. After admiring its ornate detail and gorgeous architecture, I walked away and made eye contact with the security guard.

“It’s like going home, isn’t it?” she said, nodding towards the temple.

I paused, picked up my jaw and kept walking. How do you even respond to that? Plus, she was black, sorry, African-American. I’m always disheartened when anyone says anything racially inappropriate, but when a person of colour does I think, We ought to know better, shouldn’t we?

The Waiting Room

M had an appointment, and I was in the waiting room chatting with Sally, the receptionist. She knew that M and I had met on E-Harmony and are engaged, and decided to share a story about her brother and his fiancée.

“They met online too, she’s from the Philippines,” Sally said of her future sister-in-law.

“Had one heck of a time getting her papers in order,” she continued, referring to sis’ landed immigrant documents and such.

“Hmm…” I replied.

“Do you have all your papers in order?” She asked me?

“%*#??…” I managed to say. “Actually, I was born and raised in Toronto.”

“Oh… so all your papers are in order,” she continued, as if she didn’t hear a word I said.

Wow! She was as sweet as can be, and just making conversation, but WOW!

The Dance Class

In my professional, contemporary dance world, I rarely think a racial slight or epithet will be thrown my way, seeing as artists are generally a welcoming, touchy-feely, Kumbaya-ish sort. Even so, I’ve heard a few choice comments throughout my career. Like the time I was taking class and the teacher told me and three other dancers to open our eyes “more.” To anyone else, that comment might be perfectly valid, but since all four of us were Asian (and the only Asians in the class), it suddenly smelled suspiciously insulting.

Ah… So

When we were first dating, M once referred to me as Oriental. I told him he can call carpets Oriental, not me. That being said, my dad still says “Oriental.” It’s a generational thing. I’m old enough to remember when Oriental was the “politically correct” term. Then it transitioned to Asian. Now there are so many specifications – South-Asian, East-Asian, Central-Asian, South-East Asian – it’s impossible to keep track.

A lot depends on who’s saying “Oriental” and whom they’re saying it to. Are only Orientals allowed to call themselves and each other “Oriental” without getting dirty looks? If you say “Oriental” in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, is it still considered racist?

According to world population statistics, there are more Asians on this planet than any other race. Judging from the numbers riding the Toronto subway, that seems pretty accurate. Seriously, take a look around next time – 85% Asian!

Rumor has it that Asians are taking over the world.

I tell M he’s lucky to be with me. When the time comes, I’ll put in a good word for him.

As for the drunk Kawasaki hater? She may be shit out of luck.

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