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I’m a big X-Men fan.  Given its parallels between discrimination against mutants and prejudices faced by marginalized groups and Charles’s and Erik’s philosophical differences and both nonviolent and violent resistance against discrimination, it’s pretty easy to see the draw for someone working in the peace and human-rights space.

So, despite the repeated disappointment I’ve felt toward a majority of the X-Men movies, the blatant and unironically racist The Wolverine flick and the less-than-stellar reviews Apocalypse has received, I spent the 20 bucks and saw the latest installment in 3D.

At first glance, it seemed a better X-Men movie than most that came before.  The story line is engaging, with enough character development to draw in an uninitiated audience, and the set designs, costumes and special effects were superb.  Still, First Class, to me, remains the best of the bunch, especially since Erik’s tragic backstory was better explored in that film, as it gradually drove him toward increasing violence, whereas in Apocalypse, its speedy unraveling made it seem manipulative and a convenient excuse for Magneto to return to his erroneous ways.  (At the same time, the pace of Apocalypse is understandable given the already lengthy film and vastness of it story line.  Perhaps Bryant Singer should have taken a cue from Quentin Tarantino and his Kill Bill series to release Apocalypse in smaller, more fleshed-out segments.)

By contrast, despite being a much better character than in The Last Stand and coming into her own while the Xavier-et-al leadership team was whisked away separately by Apocalypse and Colonel Stryker, Jean Grey became a bit useless during the big fight scene, until the very end.  While her passivity served as an understandable plot device to build up toward her big scene, the writers could have made Jean much more active without taking away from her dramatic entrance as the Phoenix.

Overall, although the fact that women play a major role in this movie is encouraging to see (when so few strong female characters are presented on the big screen), the story line made them seem lacking in agency and reliant on men to realize their full potential.  This is manifested either directly through the gift of more power (Storm and Psylocke from Apocalypse) or indirectly through coaxing (Raven from Hank McCoy), coaching (Jean from Charles) or the return of something that was firstly taken without permission (Moira from Charles).

Additionally, while this movie features more minority speaking and minor roles than many Hollywood blockbusters, it made me feel extremely uncomfortable to see a blonde & blue-eyed actress as the mouthpiece against prejudice in a movie with few minority principal actors, especially as one realizes the apparently propagandist message delivered by this movie.

Given the X-Men’s inherent parallels to the real world, what emerges from Apocalypse is a disturbing premise wherein an ancient Middle-Eastern false god leads a team of minorities (African, Asian and Jewish) and a fallen angel (whose character represented the LGBTQ community in The Last Stand) toward apocalypse, only to be defeated by a team of mall-loving lily-white Americans, a Christian German (rescued by an American) and, in the end, a reformed Jew (who, incidentally, when the X-Men are not facing greater threats, is mostly an outcast, if not an outright enemy), all led by a Brit, a CIA agent and a white male weapons-developing hawkish geek.

Apocalypse paints a not-so-subtle image of a heroic and benevolent white, hetero and Christian Anglo-American-German alliance against the misguided and villainous rest of the world.  This not only runs counter to the ethos of X-Men, it reinforces white-supremacist ideology and harmful stereotypes about marginalized groups.  Much like the relationship dynamic between the female and male characters in this movie, it is paternalistic and patronizing, recalling an ethnocentrism worthy of colonialism.

Given the worldwide growth of right-wing, nationalistic extremism and its ability to gain political foothold in multiple governments globally, the clawing back of minority and women’s rights, the rekindling of Islamophobia and the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and violence since 9/11 and throughout the Syrian refugee crisis and the continual under- and misrepresentation of non-white, non-Christian peoples in media that’s disseminated throughout the world, this twisted messaging of an all-out war brought about by non-whites and marginalized whites against white Christians only serves to spread the ignorance that already undergird and bolster the prejudices we have and continue to experience.

The fact that this propaganda is delivered under the guise of a summer-blockbuster, specifically, a popular franchise expressly associated with the civil-rights movement and the fight against discrimination of marginalized groups is especially damnable.  I can’t help but wonder if this is an outcrop of deliberate planning or the subconscious manifestation of deep-seated prejudices.

His Favorite Poem

I asked a homeless man if he wanted the two tangerines hiding in my backpack.  He said yes and thanked me, then asked me if I would like to have one of his poems.  At first I thought to refuse, because I tend to lose papers in the bottomless pit that is my backpack until accidentally finding them one day, unrecognizable and disintegrated.  Then I thought about how generous this man was being, offering me his poem, his favorite poem, so I said “sure.”

From underneath the crate he sat on, he took out a large, white plastic bag filled with pieces of paper: a pile of white papers interspersed with blue papers.  After fingering through them for a while, he took out this poem:

“The Faith or the Confidence”

Perhaps everything that lives needs some faith?
The owl that sits with serious eye,
The eel that flashes in the water,
The maple that yields its branches to the sky
Perhaps all that lives needs some faith?

But this, I think is certain:
Man does — each man, each woman
That comes here
Must have some degree of faith.

To approach a day requires faith,
Enough thought or feeling to stay on.
Perhaps it can be viewed as the work of a mightier force?
God or something fateful?

But, whatever, we say, to be here in this-
Danger of life requires faith.

After he gave me this poem, he told me I can find him on YouTube.  He wrote in capital letters on the blank piece of paper stapled to the poem: “ON YOUTUBE, TYPE IN DONALD GREEN.”  He also wrote: “Columbia University” and “google: upTown radio, Donald Green It’s Free.”

So I did, and here’s a little about this New York Times published poet and a clip of him reciting another wonderful poem.

Since the 2008 economic collapse, I’ve noticed more and more homeless people wandering the streets of New York or trying to catch a few minutes of rest, away from our brutal winter nights, in places like Penn Station.

I can fill a book with short stories from my encounters with them, like the man who showed me his toothless gums when explaining his refusal to my offer of a bag of granola to the woman who ordered me to move from my seat on the subway platform, called me a bitch for refusing, asked me to dance with her, apologized while crying after I said “you called me a bitch and now you want me to boogie with you?!” and showed me the lesions on her arms from scratching too much, because she hadn’t been able to shower for over 40 days.

Unfortunately, I can also fill a book with stories of actions this city has taken to make these human beings invisible, from cops periodically checking passenger tickets in Penn Station’s waiting room and throwing out those without them, even though they were just trying to catch some much-needed sleep, to installing a gatekeeper at the entrance so that now only people with tickets can go in.

From the news stories I’ve read, like this The Guardian piece, our city is not the only one trying to sweep these human beings under the proverbial rug.  Yet, in a city that hails itself as a world financial capital, I wonder why we can’t do as Salt Lake City, San Francisco or Vancouver has done: give homes to the homeless to help them back on their feet, offer them a place to shower and clean themselves or at the very least, make public spaces more accessible to them, so these fellow human beings can find some comfort in a place to rest.

Given the scientific literature available and definition of deliberate sleep deprivation as a form of torture, UN’s recognition that access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human right and the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger as the first of its eight Millennium Development Goals, the way we are treating our city’s homeless population is simply criminal!

We all can and must do better to help our fellow human beings regain their basic human rights.  Our actions don’t have to be grandiose.  They can range from simple, everyday gestures, like offering food to those who want it, to volunteering activities, such as working in soup-kitchens or shelters, to coordinating larger projects, such as asking your place of work to distribute their extra food (i.e., restaurants, catering venues), clothing (fashion brands that destroy extra stock at the end of the season), or groceries to shelters or charity organizations whose mission is to help the homeless.  If you’re more ambitious and have the resource and time to devote to it, you can also start a nonprofit of your own, such as Lava Mae with their mobile buses that provide showers or From the Sole, which offers free shoes and other needed items to the homeless.

There’s been countless articles written about the loneliness this city engenders.  Maybe if we resolve to be kinder toward each other, to help each other instead of just helping ourselves, we would not only benefit society at large, but also form more connections with one another and feel less lonely as a result.

I was watching last-night’s Nightly Show and I was especially shocked and disheartened to hear that Christina Greer (an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Fordham University) would choose wage equality for black people over that for ALL women if given the choice.  It’s like hearing someone say: “discrimination is okay, as long as it’s not toward people in my group.”  This is the same sort of faulty logic that Reggie Love employed two nights before when he said that “Islamophobia is welcome” since it might take the focus of people’s prejudice off of Blacks.
Prejudice is not a zero-sum game.  Unfortunately, there’s plenty to go around.  A person is capable of being prejudiced against multiple groups at the same time (and often are) because it is the result of faulty logic.  I wish prejudice or discrimination was a “disease” that afflicts only certain groups, because that would make it easy to diagnose and deal with.  Unfortunately, the fact is, we’re all vulnerable to it because, as human beings, we all make assumptions and racism, bigotry or prejudice is just assumptions taken to their hyperbolic extremes and discrimination the actions resulting from them.
So, there shouldn’t be any special dispensations for people who exhibit prejudice simply because they belong to a non-White group.  If we don’t want to experience prejudice, then we need to get rid of it PERIOD, instead of cherry-picking which flavor of it is acceptable because “it’s to my advantage.”

Good Cops, Bad Cops

I stand with good cops who are kindhearted. Those who serve the people are real heroes. Those, on the other hand, who bully and hide behind their badge and gun need to be gotten rid of from the police force.  They not only put public safety and the life of good cops’ at risk, but also cost us economically.

We, as tax payers, should not have to take on the responsibility of repairing damages done by those bad cops, who, instead of serving the public and upholding the law, are hurting that very public and breaking the law instead. If nothing else, to minimize the brunt of that responsibility falling onto the public, police departments should take away the public-facing responsibilities of police officers who risk the safety of the public and their brethren and burden tax payers instead of shielding them as if the police force is some private members-only club.

Perhaps it comes down to better recruitment targets, better training, shorter rotations, making police personnel realize and feel like they ARE, in fact, a part of the community they serve, etc. Whatever it may be, police departments where incidents like beating up an 84yo jaywalker, the Michael Brown shooting, Eric Garner’s homicide and similar use of excessive force take place need to conduct some deep and serious introspection and make changes that facilitate increasing trust between the police force and the public. Without that trust, society will surely break down into chaos.  We only have to look at communities or nations that are rife with corruption to see that chaos taking place.  Since joining a race to the bottom will only benefit society’s worst elements, let’s stop our participation in this right now!

#WeWantABetterSociety! #GetRidOfBadCops!

So, this happened to me on Saturday:
I bought soup at a supermarket as a quick dinner, saw an empty stool next to a guy in the dining area and asked if I could take it.
Him: Sure, it’s empty. Chinese?
Me: American.
Him: Chinese American?
Me: (Sighed.  Waited, then said) And what is your ethnicity?
Him: (After pausing to think) African American.
Me: Africa is a continent and China is a country.
Him: That’s true….(starts to speak to me in Chinese)
Me: (Trying really hard to make him understand just how racist he was being without being nasty) You didn’t even ask me if I spoke Chinese.
Him: I got Rosetta Stone….(continues to speak to me in Chinese)
Me: How would you like it if I started speaking to you in Swahili and assumed that you would understand me?
Him: Do you know what language that is?
Me: (Exasperated and decided to give up and went back to eating my soup)
Him: (Continued muttering Chinese to me, after which, he finally fell silent for about 5 minutes.  Then, he made a call on his cell phone, got up to leave, and spoke more Chinese to me before turning around and walking out.)
Me: You’re an asshole! (I was so angry and frustrated, not to mention depressed, at this point that I started to tear up.)

For those who want to appear less racist (and moronic) in a similar future situation, here are some (non-exhaustive) tips:

1) Just because someone is ethnically Asian (or any other race for that matters),

  • s/he can still be American.  (Ask yourself why you might think otherwise and please remember that ANYONE can be a racist.  It only takes the assumption that anyone who look like they belong to group (x) will do/act like (y).)
    More generally, a person can be ethnically one thing and culturally something else–ah, the wonders of human migration (really nothing new here)!
  • s/he may NOT have the ability to speak the language(s) that you happen to know
  • even if s/he does speak/understand what you’re saying, s/he is NOT obligated to be happy by you speaking that language with her/him, even less to practice it with you

So, instead of just launching into whatever language you assume s/he speaks, ask (1) “Are you _____?” (insert ethnicity) (2) “Do you happen to speak _____?” (Note that some languages have dialects whose speakers might not understand each other, such as Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese.) and (3) “I learned _____ (insert language and background story here) and really want to practice it.  Do you mind if I speak it with you?”  (Just as in a dating scenario or sexual encounter, if the person you’re asking tells you “no” here, stop bothering them, period!)

2) Similarly, just because someone is of a certain ethnicity, it does not automatically mean that s/he is an expert of that culture.  Being of a certain ethnicity does NOT give the person Matrix-style download rights to an encyclopedia of that culture’s factoids.  So, STOP

  • asking for recommendations to that ethnicity’s restaurant.  (Ask instead if that person likes the particular ethnic food, followed by whether s/he has visited the neighborhood/country where you plan to visit, then ask if s/he has eaten at those ethnic restaurants in that neighborhood/country, if the answer to all of them is yes, then ask for a recommendation.  Remember that every country has its regional foods, so just because a person of a certain ethnicity likes that country’s food does NOT mean that they know everything about every type of that country’s food.)
  • assuming the person knows about the current news about the ethnicity you think s/he belongs. (Ask instead if s/he follows news about that ethnicity/country.)
  • thinking that just because another person from the same ethnicity likes all things from that ethnicity, that the current INDIVIDUAL you’re talking with will be the same.  (Instead, press the mental reset button and treat the person in front of you as the individual human being that s/he is.)
  • requesting that the person work on a project about the person’s ethnicity or relocate to the country of the person’s ethnicity.  (Instead, ask the person if s/he might like to do that and remember that it can be a detrimental business decision to assume that s/he will be able to use her skin-deep appearance to win over a contract.)
  • introducing the person to another acquaintance of the same ethnicity just because you think they’d want to know each other since they belong to the same ethnicity. (Instead, try to remember how you also don’t get along with nor want to know every person of your ethnicity.  Also, try to only introduce people to each other if you think their personality might mesh well together.)
  • assuming the person, somehow by magic in-group telepathy, knows another person of the same ethnicity.  (Instead, as the point above, try to remember how you also don’t know every random person who share your ethnicity.)
  • believing the claim from someone belonging to an ethnic group that s/he is an expert of that group.  (Instead, keep your thinking cap on, remember that self-referencing racism, prejudice and bigotry exist and watch out for blanket statements, whether they form positive or negative stereotypes.)

I can’t emphasize enough how widespread, multilayered and multidirectional racism, prejudice and bigotry are.  The tips above are derived from a small fraction of what I’ve experienced personally (some of which I’ve committed myself).  These insidious forms of ignorance don’t go away on their own as people obtain higher education or travel outside of their familiar surroundings.  (The likes of bio-physicists, business leaders, TV news anchors, university professors from prestigious, internationally-renowned schools, even human-rights activists, commit these errors, just as anyone else!)  It takes persistent, conscientious effort and a willingness to look at your own actions with a critical eye and admit (if only to yourself) that your behavior might have been tinged with racism/prejudice/bigotry in order to be able to start relating to others as individual human beings, instead of representations of some group of people.  And if you happen to be new at self-reflection, try, at least to pay attention to the INDIVIDUAL you are conversing with.  Most likely, s/he will give you hints, if not obvious signs, of when you’ve crossed the line into bigotry.

1) Mentions of Africa (only counted for day 3):

Out of the 26 sessions, 11 referred to Africa (42.3%).  While 15 total speakers made reference to the continent, only four speakers referred to it as a whole and two others spoke about its regions, while all nine others made mention of specific African countries.  (A further study of all the segments in days 1 and 2 would be needed to see if the trend is consistent throughout all three days of the conference.)

FGCNP_SGS_D3_Africa mentions_Page_1 FGCNP_SGS_D3_Africa mentions_Page_2

2. Panelist Breakdown One:

Non-white speakers made up 1/3 of the total speakers of the 3rd day (and a total of 31.6% for all three days) and while 44% of the day’s speakers were female (and 47.9% for all three days).

FGCNP_SGS_D3_Panelists breakdown_Page_1 FGCNP_SGS_D3_Panelists breakdown_Page_2 FGCNP_SGS_D3_Panelists breakdown_Page_3 FGCNP_SGS_D3_Panelists breakdown_Page_4

3) Panelist Breakdown Two:

The numbers for the single-speaker sessions show that the disparity between male and female (26% for all three days) and white and non-white speakers (16%) are much more glaring.

FGCNP_SGS_Single-Speaker-Session breakdown

 

Today was a streaming marathon of talks featuring some 94 speakers!  Though the number of organizations represented jumped from yesterday’s 46 to 59, there was a significant drop in the number of big corporations present and a welcomed increase in good causes to champion, such as Neeraj Mistry’s Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, Sarah Ingersoll’s text4baby, Andre Banks’s All Out, Grace Akallo’s United Africans for Women and Children’s Right (UAWCR), Aldi Haryopratomo’s Ruma, Let Girls Lead, The Climate Reality Project, Help a Child Reach 5, Lenddo, Maria A. Ressa’s Rappler.com and Esther Agbarakwe’s Nigerian Youth Climate Coalition, just to name a few.

Today’s events also showcased the achievements of four teenagers (a 400% increase from yesterday), two of whom, including the now Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience, Malala Yousafzai, and Honduran Girl Advocate, Elba Velasquez Hernandez, were recognized for their fight for girls’ right to education.  By contrast, the other two teens, two boys, two white boys, two economically comfortable boys, explored the North Pole (Parker Liautaud) and invented an early detector for pancreatic cancer (Jack Andraka), respectively.

Adding to yesterday’s teen presenter, a sharp contrast appears between the work of the girls and that of the boys presented, namely, girls fight to be able to gain education or have equal opportunities in the work place while boys invent things that can save lives and set out on expeditions to explore the world.  Although this is likely an inadvertent message on the event organizers’ part, one can’t help but notice the wide gap dividing the world of the boys and that of the girls.  Yet, this doesn’t have be the case, because there are girl inventors and girl explorers out there in the world, and I think it’s equally important to highlight them in women’s fight for equal rights as it is to feature women’s rights activists, because while activists show grit and determination to strike outside of women’s sphere, women whose work are not gendered-defined show their ability to hold their own in the wider world.

The issue of diversity continued today, which manifested in 31 (33% or 1 in 3) non-white speakers out of a total of 94 (please see table at bottom for a detailed breakdown).  The global north taking care of the global south is still a running theme in the talks, with an emphasis on Africa being the north’s preferred beneficiary.  There were so many mentions of “Africa” as if it were one country, even by a few African speakers, that it felt like the mere fact of stepping onto the continent (with 54 countries, as I mentioned in yesterday’s summary) would be enough to give credibility to would-be social do-gooders.  I don’t know why those speakers feel like they must say Africa, instead of specifying a country, or even a region, within the second largest continent.  What I do know is mentioning a continent as if it were a country make those who say it sound ignorant and condescending.

During the segment with members of rock band Linoln Park, the short video about a social-advocacy game they developed featured what looked like yet another stock footage of some poor little African child in need of our heroes, who just happen to be portrayed as light-skinned avatars.  I’d like to see future social advocacy conferences put a stop to casting a race onto the face of poverty or disease, as well as that of the savior.  We need to be more aware of the subconscious perpetuation of racial and ethnic stereotypes in these power dynamics and combat the problem with more diversity in these industry conferences, especially in those who appear to hold the “power” roles.

Yesterday, Magatte Wade suggested that aid can be a crutch for those who receive it, who might never learn to walk on their own because of the comfort it brings.  I wonder if it’s not a crutch for those of us who need to help as well.  I’ve read abut the psychological benefit of altruism: One feels good to be able to affect someone else’s life in a positive way.  While there are certainly an increased number of people who desperately need help as a fallout from the global economic crisis, from political unrest, historical injustices and environmental degradation, is our perpetual portrayal of them as victims, as those who can’t help themselves healthy for either them or ourselves?

Coupled with that, if we continue to lump those who need aid into homogenous groups from this or that particular world region, are we not inadvertently, yet consistently, dismissing their humanity and individuality? In turn, are we not advertising the message that one can only play the role of savior if one fits a particular racial, ethnic, social or economic characteristic?  This message is further delineated when social-good conferences disproportionally feature nonprofits from the global north, or executives who are white and rich.  Aside from pulverizing the seeming link between economic status and skin color/ethnicity, for the world to truly become a better place, we have to break away from the obsolete concept that charity is a luxury best left to the well-to-do.  There is not enough wealth in the world if all we intend to do is to give people fish instead of encouraging them to develop the self belief to learn how to fish.

FGCNP_SGS_D2_Panelists breakdown_Page_1 FGCNP_SGS_D2_Panelists breakdown_Page_2 FGCNP_SGS_D2_Panelists breakdown_Page_3 FGCNP_SGS_D2_Panelists breakdown_Page_4 FGCNP_SGS_D2_Panelists breakdown_Page_5

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