A lot of the hype surrounding Avatar stems primarily from two divergent schools of thought. The first puts the emphasis on the technology that rendered the diegetic world of Pandora come to life, while recognizing that the storyline itself had many of the stock characters and tropes that are abundant in adventure films. The other school of thought does exactly the opposite. While identifying the unique nature of the cinematography, it dwells on the plot and its components, sometimes blowing things out of proportion to an extent to suggest that Avatar is a “racist” film. All the reviews of the film Avatar that I have been exposed to fall in one of these two camps and it seems a comprehensive cinematic analysis for a general audience is yet to be done. So here I go, taking you through my utter apathy for the Avatar franchise.
When movies are made, there are a lot of different influences that affect the finished product. Unlike a lot of books, paintings and music, films generally don’t have a real auteur. This makes it quite complicated to attribute all parts of a film to a single entity, or the meaning that is derived from it. However, the average audience does not care about the politics of representation in a film or at least pretends not to, but being oblivious to it does not enable them to escape the cognitive biases through the images portrayed onscreen, as they passively sit in the darkness of a movie theatre. Similar to the climate, trends in culture don’t just arise due to spontaneous generation, and this is the reason for it.
I’m more interested in what the commotion about Avatar means for us as a society. In North America, we often like to think of ourselves as a generally tolerant and fairly liberal society that has moved on from the baggage of racism, slavery, colonialism and sexism. Despite this, individual groups of people are still very much affected by these things in terms of how they perceive others. So, when films like Avatar cause an audience to become very much polarized in their opinions, all of the closeted biases of people come to light, and others, like me who were generally unenthused by both the cinematography and the general performance can distantiate themselves to understand what it all means.
The Na’avi are characterized as these apparently idealistic and harmonious group of humanoids that live symbiotically with the environment around them; led by an unquestioned benevolent chief who maintains peace. This is apparently all fine and dandy by us, although the idea of cults promising utopia is not foreign to us. That’s only because it is juxtaposed against this is the seemingly corrupt human society with purely materialistic goals. This is the sort of dualism that engages the audience, setting up expectations so you immediately know which group you want to side with. It doesn’t really matter anymore that that Na’avi are actually pretty darn superstitious and primitive by our standards, and that in reality, they would be the proverbial others for our concretely civilized world. We simply choose not to look at that because blue tree-worshipping humanoids are much more exciting than anything that is more moderate and less-idealized. Idealization of anything has a broad appeal and titillates the yearning for the simplistic in the hearts and minds of a generally lackadaisical audience.
A romantic plotline is always a plus for any potential blockbuster. It baffles me how after years of supposed breakthrough in the way people think about relationships (i.e. through the feminist and sexual revolutions), a good old fashioned romp in the forest readily turns into true love, even when it’s quasi-bestial. Time and time again, it reaffirms the traditional hierarchy and paradigm about relationships that is prevalent as if the aforementioned social movements might as well have not happened.
The special effects of Avatar is likely to be the most salient feature to be remembered for years to come, when the socio-cultural underpinnings of the film have been analyzed to death. The concept of having the actors perform the movements of the animated figures is definitely a remarkable breakthrough, though not enough to salvage Avatar from a generally overrated movie.
I wasn’t exactly disappointed by Avatar overall. It just didn’t keep its promise of an escape, which posing as a regular moviegoer, I sought. It didn’t show me escape. It took me on a roundabout trip around the regular power play between groups of people and a heternormatively driven subplot. Simply nothing awesome to be shaken up by.
Crossposted at: http://thylacinereports.wordpress.com
A 25-year-old Mohawk Women, Tiffany Morrison, went missing since June 18, 2006 and has never been seen since. The tragic story of not only Morrison but other Native women indicates the degradation of the status of Native women in their community and the continuing violence that are inflicted upon them. Authorities fail to take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of Native women which, calls into question whether the Canadian government is really committed in ending its history of violence, and oppression.
Before European contact, women were treated as equal to men in their societies. In Iroquoian and West Coast Longhouse Societies there were always both men and women leaders. They often took on leadership roles and had full voice when making decisions for the community. However, the forced assimilating of Native societies into the colonial hierarchical and patriarchal societies’ culture created gender inequity within Native communities.
Colonization has affected the way Native communities viewed women. Women face both racism and sexism. They also face high level of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. More importantly, they are underrepresented in political spectrums which results in male bias. One of the most influential Acts contributing to female- male inequality is the Indian Act of1876. In the Indian Act, all Native women lost access to their original communities as well as the right to participate in the leadership of the communities. Native women marrying non-status men or white men lose their status and their children’s status as Indians. This puts Native women in difficult situations since even if separated from her husband she will not gain back her Indian status and will not be able to go back home to her reservation. Native women marrying into another band will loses membership in her original band and gain membership into her husband’s band. However, gaining membership into her husband’s band does not mean that she also gains power, voice, and influence. Originally, men moved to the women’s community and the women were the head of the Clan. The Indian Act forces women to move to her husband’s band which means that she is no longer the head of the Community. Among many of her loss were her voice, her influence, her power, her family, her community, her dignity, her respect, and overall her Identity. It stops annuity and interest money for any women who had no children and who left her husband to live with another man. Only unmarried women could apply to be enfranchised. Married women were automatically enfranchised when their husbands apply and are qualified. These policies and programs are a way of controlling as well as assimilating Native societies into the colonial hierarchical, patriarchal societies’ culture. For example, children were placed in residential schools, away from their traditional learning and parents to teach them western culture. The “sixties scoop” placed Native children into non-Native homes, which was another attempt to integrate them into western society. These laws that were formed by the colonial and patriarchal mind set limit the ability for Aboriginal self- government to achieve success.
In traditional Native government women and men had an equal role to play in decision making. Political decisions were never made without the presence of both women and men. This type of government was the most successful in achieving community needs. The combinations of colonial and patriarchal bias resulted in the insensitivity to gender, culture, community well-being, and disrupted the relationship between women and men. Policy makers function in a colonial and patriarchal mind set, which ignores women’s needs. Hence, it is clear that colonialism has greatly created inequality among men and women in the Native community. The European way of life and legislature striped the status of women.
“There are intensely wound layers of sexism and racism that are at the root of countless acts of violence against Aboriginal women and at the root of inaction to protect and advocate for Aboriginal women.” (Tantoo Cardinal)
Today the realities of many Native women are similar to that of Tiffany Morrison. Indigenous women are more likely than other women to be victims of violence. Racist and sexist stereotyping of Native women encourage some men, predominately from non-Native communities with acts of hatred towards them. Government policies that broke apart Indigenous family put Native women and girls into vulnerable situations. Many police fail to put into effect the necessary measures to ensure their right to safety.
Not only white middle class men but other migrants to Canada must realize that very fact that we are living on stolen land and contributing to colonization gives us the responsibility to recognize our privilege that originates from the subordination of Native communities
There are no excuses for denial of justice and there are no excuses for the silence.
I remember walking out of my first year Introduction to Women and Gender Studies class, mesmerized after a passionate reenactment by a fellow student of Sojouner Truth’s ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ speech. Truth, an ex-slave, African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist is best known for her speech, ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Truth’s speech was a direct indication of the racist and class bias that existed in the Early Women’s Movement. The repetitions of the words ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ in the speech exposed the fact that all women in the Early Women’s Movement did not include Native Women, Women of Colour, and Women of the lower class.
The origin of European feminist thinking involved comparing the ‘savage’ society to that of western ‘development’. British white middle class women compared themselves to ‘primitive’ women and saw themselves as ‘progressive’ and ‘superior’. The idea that British women were progressive depended upon the belief that oriental women were in a primitive sate. Western feminist argued that non-western societies were in a savage stage of human development and that the women in those societies were helpless victims of male dominance and violence. This created a division of hierarchy within women themselves, the savage and the progressive, the colonized and the colonizers, western women and oriental women, Christian women and non-Christian women. The hierarchy within women roots from the notion that Christianity and the enlightenment raised humans from the Primitive stage of development to a more enlightened stage.
We must question the very notion of a single united women’s movement. The women’s liberation movement did not consist of one homogeneous group. The generalization in politics of essential gender identity and not acknowledging the differences that exist among women puts women of colour and Native women in difficult social and economic situations. It is important to consider the intersectional identities of these women based on race, class, ability, sexual orientation, and more, before creating and enforcing social programs and services.
The Marriage Fraud act of 1990 in the United States requires a person who immigrated to USA to marry a US citizen or permanent resident to remain properly married for two years before applying to become permanent resident. Under these conditions many immigrant women of colour were reluctant to leave an abusive marriage. Later this act was amended to include an exception in the case of domestic violence. However, the limited access to resources and the cultural barriers make it difficult for women of colour to gather enough evidence of domestic violence.
The double subordination of immigrant women of colour comes from the language barrier which makes it difficult to access resources without them depending on their spouses. Another problem maybe the isolation faced by many new comers in their new environment. In these cases women depend on their spouses to provide links to the outside world. Women of colour are the product of both racism and sexism which are the bases of marginalization.
This is how I will go, at the St. George and Bloor crosswalk, standing in front of cars by my bicycle, gesticulating and refusing to let them pass.
There was a man today. I rode behind him, and maybe four other bicycles, for two blocks. He was clearly getting agitated at the cars – I can understand that. I get that way sometimes, being cut off and squeezed to the side of the road so often that every passing car makes me more angry and resentful of how much of the road they own, how pampered they must be in their new model cars living in the downtown area of a city where driving a car is very much a personal individual choice, and not a necessity.
He lost it at St. George and Bloor. “Why aren’t you taking the TTC, you rich fuck? What are you doing in there, killing the rest of us?” I wanted to stop and try to lead him away, “Hey there, brother. It’s ok. Let us live another day.” But what if that’s all that keeps him going, this hard little pit of anger. And he rides all the major arteries of the city, with his outdoor gear and backpack, chasing down packs of bicycles and riding slowly behind them to widen the space they have, keep up how close the cars and willing to cut them off by. He is performing a civic service riding in all weather conditions. keeping butts in seats because we abide by herd behaviour, riding because there are others doing it. (non high-strung angry people help too, more)
I hate that book I read in elementary school, where a character who cared so much of seabirds freezing in oil that he joined the sea shepherds is portrayed as a social/mental deviant.
Someone showed me the new google earth that has high enough resolution for my hometown in China. There are ticky radio box things that links user-uploaded photos with locations on the map. Everything looked horrid. There were so few people, just cars. I could barely navigate my way from one set of grandparents to the other. There are 20 story condos now. I hated everything. Shenzhen is my nightmare.
Another added to the list of projects: A People’s History of Bicycles.
The founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 was a turning point for the bicycle industry. The Party decided to promote the bicycle as the people’s vehicle and started a massive production drive. Bicycles were taken into account in city planning and those who used bicycles to travel to and from work were given benefits. The lack of a public transport system was solved! China’s first Five-Year Plan included the growth of the bicycle industry by 60 percent, and by 1958, China was producing more than a million bicycles annually. [emphasis added] – source
Dear Members of the Faculty of Arts & Science Council,
How do you trade 40 years of history for a promise? A promise that offers no solutions. A promise that consists of drastic changes to fundamental components of a program without consideration for the implications of said changes or the opinions of those who would be most affected.
Decisions at the Transitional Year Programme (TYP) are made on a consensus basis, as mentioned on the first page of the Transfer Proposal from the administration. Where is the consensus for the recommendations in this document? There is no consensus – and how could there be – faculty, staff and students found out about this document on Wednesday October 14, after it was posted on the Arts & Science website. In fact, the overwhelming majority of faculty, staff and students are opposed to the recommendations in this document, so of course the section on consultation neglects to mention how people responded to consultations (pg. 5 of proposal). TYP’s internal decision-making process has been subverted to push through a proposal that would otherwise be rejected by those it would affect the most.
The Transfer Proposal refers to the fact that TYP was reorganized in 1976-77 as a separate teaching division with a direct reporting relationship to the Provost, but neglects to mention the reasons for this reorganization. From 1970-76 TYP was administratively and physically housed within a college where it ran into frequent challenges in delivering its mandate to support historically excluded students. TYP was closed for a year in 1976-77. The 1977 Kelly Report, which re-opened TYP made several important recommendations including TYP’s establishment as an independent academic unit with autonomy to serve its students, a direct reporting relationship to the Provost and its own distinct space. This has allowed TYP to excel in its mission to make excellence accessible for 40 years and graduate so many students.
The challenges that TYP faces are clear: funding and prioritization. Access and equity has not been made a priority by the central administration. Un-replaced faculty retirements combined with budget cuts have endangered the program. The proposal in front of you does not contain any solutions to these real and immediate challenges. What is being proposed is an administrative move, not a solution to these problems. In fact, we see more problems on the horizon if this proposal were to pass. These include:
1. Autonomy:Under the proposal, the TYP director will report to the Principal of Woodsworth College, who reports to the Dean of Arts & Science, who reports to the Provost. This new reporting relationship will put TYP in an increasingly marginal position where it will be subject to greater interference and competition for scarce resources. Moreover, as per the proposal, the Woodsworth College Council will be the authority on all decisions relating to curriculum and the program, eroding the democratic, self-governing nature TYP.
2. Space:Administrators have made disconcerting statements about sharing space already in use at Woodsworth and better “integrating” TYP students. TYP is housed at 49 St. George. When you talk to TYP students, they talk about 49 St. George as a place that makes them feel safe and at home. It is a place on campus where we can go to share our experiences with people who have a shared history, and get the dedicated academic and personal support we need. We call 49 St. George home and taking away our dedicated space compromises the delivery of the program.
3. Teaching Staff:By not addressing the issue of replacing retired faculty, the situation will only grow more dire. From 2008-09 to 2009-10 there has been a dramatic shift towards reliance on stipendiary instructors (see pg. 3 of the proposal). Part-time lecturers are simply not given the compensation or hours to support TYP students’ complex intersecting challenges in and out of the classroom.
4. Budget:Like the issue of replacing retired faculty, TYP’s eroding budget is not addressed in the proposal either. Despite its unique function as a special access program, TYP’s operating budget has been halved due to cuts last year. By adding two levels of budgetary competition to defend itself from (in Woodsworth College and Arts & Science), the proposed administrative move is no kind gesture towards TYP or its ability to function in the future.
5. Student Body:One does not need to formally change the admission criteria for TYP or dictate changes to the curriculum to substantially affect the type of students that will be able to access the program. To allow the level of support to drop in the ways outlined above will mean that the program will be unable to fulfill its mandate and that the face of the TYP student body will inevitably change. The program will have to cater to students who face fewer barriers to accessing education. TYP may continue to exist in name but not in practice.
TYP services the most marginalized communities in Toronto. It provides access to a high quality university education to members of these communities. The changes TYP alumni have made to this city are immeasurable. Many minority educators, business owners, social workers and many other marginalized professionals got their start at TYP.
The proposal before you is procedurally out of order. It has not received the consensus support of faculty and staff nor does it offer solutions to very real problems. We ask that the members of the Arts & Science Council not to trade in 40 years of history for an empty promise.
Transitional Year Programme Preservation Alliance
by Edward F. Wong
Recent events in Urumqi have been very disconcerting for me, especially considering how close to home the initial spark for the unrest was. On June 25, in Shaoguan, Guangdong (I am from Hong Kong, which is geographically part of the same province), violence occurred after rumours that some of the 800 Uyghur workers who had recently arrived to work at a toy factory raped two Han women. These rumours were later found to have been fabricated by a disgruntled Han worker who was recently laid off. But because of the racist stereotyping of Uyghur men as sexual predators (ironically, the identical stereotype was made of early Chinese migrants to North America), no questions were asked and the legitimacy of such claims were assumed. Almost 1000 Han workers from the factory approached the Uyghur dorms and assaulted Uyghur workers with pipes and machetes. In the aftermath of the brawl, 2 workers had died and over a hundred injured. There were reports that the police stood by watching, choosing to intervene only at a very late stage.
Such incidents, while unsettling, cannot in itself spark the sort of mass uprising we see today in Urumqi and the rest of Uyghurstan (I will refrain from using the official Chinese name for the region ‘XinJiang’ (New Frontier), given its colonial roots and connotations – ‘frontier? Frontier for Han expansion??). Instead, the Shaoguan incident served as a poignant reminder of the broader structures and history of subjugation faced by the Uyghur people. Probably the biggest benefactors of such ethnic unrest and inequalities are the Chinese capitalists and state officials. Just as capitalists in Canada like Onderdonk had spread racist propaganda to white workers to discourage labour solidarity in the railroad construction, the divide-and-conquer logic can be inferred with the circumstances in China. With the very real inequalities between Han and Uyghur workers, obfuscated is the common enemy of these two groups – the bosses. For example, while the Han workers of the toy factory in Shaoguan may hold certain privileges over the Uyghur workers, they too are victims of exploitation, many of them migrant workers, driven out of their rural homes by poverty.
I feel that it is by a similar logic that the state latches on to incidents of violence against Han workers during the riots. I condemn such acts of violence against Han workers, though I do recognize that the root cause is subjugation and the privileging of Han people. Alarmingly, such acts have been used by certain interests to stoke Han chauvanist fervour. The Chinese state had learned an important lesson from the Tibetan uprising and have switched to a more Western-style of media warfare. Instead of the media blackout, which occurred in Tibet, there was extensive coverage of the riots – with a strong disproportionate emphasis on Han injuries and deaths. Chauvanist fervour has manifested itself in retaliatory attacks by Han people1. Uyghur neighbourhoods and mosques were targeted with an arsenal of meat cleavers, clubs, and rocks. A participant commented, “They attacked us. Now it’s our turn to attack them.”
As stated earlier, the Shaoguan incident alone could not have sparked such mobilization. The Chinese government has time and time again deflected criticism by blaming ‘outside exile subversives’. These claims are laughable and out of touch with reality. If Uyghur workers had truly benefited from the current structures in place, no amounts of persuasion from outside groups could bring them to the streets.
I am aware that the region fell under Chinese control throughout history; likewise, the region has experienced a number of periods of independence, whether de jure or de facto. The historical argument is often been brought up by apologists for the government. In my view, this point is completely irrelevant, let alone important. During a number of historical periods, the Mongolians had ruled over China. Would this historical fact justify the invasion of China and the subjugation of the Han people by Mongolians assuming they had the military strength today? The question instead should simply be: does oppression exist?
Considering the irrelevancy of that specific historical argument, I will begin my analysis with the modern conception of this region as a part of China, the modern conception beginning with the PLA invasion in 1949. Were the PLA greeted as liberators/allies? As with the case of Tibet, there have been reports of such. Are they true? Maybe, I don’t know. It’s certainly plausible; in Tibet, many were opposed to the exploitative feudal social relations in place. Nevertheless, the image of the PLA as liberators would certainly have faded away given the experiences and policies in these regions for the last 60 years, policies which can only be described as colonialism.
Economic development is regularly cited as a counter to claims of oppression. However, economic development figures only tell a part of the story. The more important question is economic development for who? North America has certainly undergone mass industrialization and ‘development’, but to say that this has been to the benefit of Aboriginal people would be ignorant at best. Likewise, the benefits of economic development in Uyghurstan have been unequal.
Since 1949, the demographics of Uyghurstan have shifted from 90% Uyghur to just 45% Uyghur. The Chinese government has encouraged mass settlement of Han people through financial incentives. Most have chosen to stay in urban areas. Indeed, in Urumqi, the capital of Uyghurstan with a population of over 2.5 million, 75.3% are Han and only 12.8% are Uyghur. Most of the economic development have focused on urban regions, a policy consistent throughout the country, and thus, benefiting primarily Han people. In addition, such developments, as described in an article written by Louisa Lim, have sparked processes of gentrification. Open-air bazaars run by Uyghur small merchants selling cheaper goods have been replaced by new buildings, bringing rents up and leading to increased marginalization. Urumqi has become heavily segregated with Uyghurs confined to poor neighbourhoods. Another reason for unemployment and poverty is linguistic imperialism. Characteristic of linguistic imperialism is the privileging of the Chinese language. Many Uyghurs do not qualify for official jobs in the government or in Chinese companies as they lack the knowledge of the Chinese language. Ironically, this has been used as a justification for bringing in Han labour from the rest of the country.
One of the major incentives for the Chinese control of the region is its massive natural resource deposits. Oil refineries have sprung up throughout the area. However, employment and revenues have gone largely to Han people. Wang Lequan, a high ranking government official in the province, defended employment practices by claiming that, “one common problem of the western region is that the education and cultural level of the people here is quite low <…> In Xinjiang, we lack the talent needed for modernization and advanced technology”. In terms of revenue, almost RMB14.8b ($2.5 billion CAD) in taxes were collected from the petrochemical industries. However, only RMB240m ($41 million CAD) were allocated back to the local government. Wong Lixiong, a Chinese intellectual, had written extensively about the growing nepotism and corruption in the resource extraction industries in Uyghurstan. For example, a monopoly on mineral water in the region is held by the son-in-law of Wang Lequan. Resource extraction have not benefited the local people; instead, it has lined the pockets of state officials and Chinese capitalists. A Muslim resident commented, “the Chinese didn’t want to let Xinjiang be independent before, but after they built all the oilfields, it became absolutely impossible”.
Uyghurs who have left Uyghurstan and settled in major cities in the rest of the country have not fared much better. In a recent paper by Reza Hasmath, a professor at Cambridge, it appears that although Uyghur residents of Beijing tend to have attained higher education standards than the average, higher education standards do not correlate with higher wages or employment. Mirroring the experience of the Chinese community in Canada, university degrees have not resolved problems of above-average unemployment rates, and below-average wages. Thus, systemic racism is apparent.
The more important question is where do we go from here? Personally, I do not feel that the creation of a Uyghur nation-state (or a Tibetan one) would solve the root problems. The creation of a new state would only serve to replace Chinese oppressors with Uyghur ones. However, if that is the wish of the people, this must be respected. Instead of separation, I feel that the only answer, the only starting point to meaningfully addressing ethnic inequalities, is to democratize society, to put decision-making in the hands of the workers. And for that, there needs to be a united workers’ movement. To the Han workers: do not fall victim to these divide-and-conquer tactics. We must recognize our privileges within the system, but also recognize that we share with the Uyghur workers a common enemy and a common goal. Our enemy: the capitalist bosses and the state! Our goal: social justice and democracy!
還證於民! Power to the people!
Note: There are a great number of over concerns held by the Uyghur people, including cultural assimilation (book burnings, languages not taught in school) and religious persecution. Unfortunately, given limits in time and the consideration that economic gain has been the major means of justification for gov’t policy in Uyghurstan, I have chosen to focus on economic aspects
Note2: If anyone speaks Turkic, could they tell me what power to the people is in that language. It’s kind of ironic I guess to speak of linguistic imperialism and then not include it.
After pressure to ban the group Pride Toronto stood its ground and today Queers Against Israeli Apartheid took to the streets.
For more information about this march and some of the violence directed towards the group (missed by the video), click here.
Read about the initial controversy with B’Nai Brith and Pride Toronto, first featured on rabble.ca here.
In a recent Toronto Star review of “Iron Road”, the writer commented that “for Chinese railroad workers and early migrants to Canada, the new movie Iron Road rivals in significance to what The Pianist means to Jews living with memories after the persecutions during World War II – both dramas give a face to those nameless and voiceless who perished en masse in history.” Unfortunately, Chinese railroad workers and early migrants are more likely to be rolling in their graves, given Iron Road’s misrepresentation and whitewashing of history, whether intentional or not.
That this film might lack in historical accuracy is clear from the start with Chinese workers speaking Mandarin; most migrant workers spoke Toisanese or Cantonese and not Mandarin. But frankly, this isn’t a big deal really, especially when compared to some of the other inaccuracies.
At the start of the film, James Nichol, the son of a railroad contractor, travels to China to recruit workers for the construction of the railway. Travelling up river to the protagonist Xiao Fu’s home village, he asks Xiao Fu about why they were going there to recruit workers. She explains that people there are in destitution after war against the Manchus (I assume they are speaking of the Taiping Rebellion*) and famines. While it is true that there were conflicts within China and other problems that caused great hardship to the Chinese people, it’s a glaring omission not to mention European and Japanese imperialism in China. The local economy of China was destroyed after the Opium Wars, with the carving up of the country into ’spheres of influence’ and the subsequent influx of Western commodities and capital. This in conjunction with massive indemnities forced on to the Chinese government left many Chinese workers and peasants in poverty. Thus, it could be argued that Chinese peasants were left with no choice but to take up work in North America because of the actions of Western capitalists. The Western capitalists should not be seen, as portrayed in the film, as benevolent individuals giving opportunities to the poor Chinese.
The portrayal of these individuals as benevolent can almost be seen as having undertones of ‘white man’s burden’. As stated above, Chinese workers were not being ’saved’ and given ‘honest work’, they were put in that position by these very people in the first place. Whether or not conditions in North America railway construction were shown as poor is besides the point.
Undertones of ‘white man’s burden’ would not be the only example of racist stereotyping. An early scene also alluded to a sort of despotic relationship between triads and the Chinese people, further substantiating the idea that White capitalists were saving Chinese people from destitution of their own making. This fits neatly into traditional Orientalist landscapes that portray Chinese communities, whether in North America or in Asia, as havens of crime. The quite frankly racist imagery is completed when another white contractor comments, “you will find that business is done quite differently here”, juxtaposing the West as the moral antithesis of the East. Ironically, at this time period, triads were not necessarily criminal gangs, and were instead, a major component of the Chinese revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. That said, to be fair to the screenwriters, the gang was not identified as triad.
The problematic representation of history did not end with scenes set in China. Upon arrival in British Columbia, Chinese workers were taunted with racial epithets. However, the lack of critical explanation of how these views emerged leads to assumptions that such behaviour was natural examples of simple xenophobia. In truth, race as a social construct requires institutional legitimization. In the case of discrimination against Chinese workers, a major cause was the dissemination of racist propaganda by Onderdonk, the chief contractor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, presumably to deter solidarity between white and Chinese workers. The movie appeared largely uncritical of the actions of the railroad company. The only wrongdoing apparently was that of bookkeepers committing fraud by continuing to collect the payrolls of deceased Chinese workers. Not much attention was given to how the railroad company contributed to poor work conditions or the differentiated pay between Chinese and white workers.
Lastly, there is a lack of critical perspectives on the Canadian Pacific Railway. This criticism is not only being directed towards this film, as this type of discourse is fairly common. The railway has often been celebrated by white Canadians and Chinese Canadians alike, as an engineering masterpiece that united the Canadian nation. Indeed, it is sometimes argued that discrimination against Chinese should be addressed for the Chinese played an important role in the construction of the railway – as if equity was something to be ‘earned’. What is not recognized though is that the Canadian Pacific Railway allowed for the dispossession of First Nation lands and the continued development of the Canadian colonial project. It is imperative that we are critical of the treatment of Chinese railroad workers; however, it is just as imperative that we, the Chinese community, recognize our role in the subjugation of other peoples – whether or not blame can be assigned.
Raymond Massey, a producer of the film, stated in an interview that “this is our way of saying sorry”. It is clear that this is completely consistent with the kinds of disingenuous apologies given by the Canadian state – whether it is regarding residential schools or the head tax. This film is, at best, well-intentioned but ignorant. At worst, it is a part of continued attempts to erase the history of oppression in this country, masquerading as an enlightened voice.
*Ironically, European powers gave military support to the Qing dynasty during the Taiping Rebellion. Considering how the Qing had hunted down Xiao Fu, it’s strange how receptive she is to these foreign contractors.
Note: This is a review of the two hour cinema version and not of the miniseries.
Access & Equity in the University edited by Keren Brathwaite
ACCESS & EQUITY UNDER ATTACK
COMMUNITY FORUM ON PRESERVING THE TRANSITIONAL YEAR PROGRAMME
March 21, 2009
Ahmed Ahmed, current TYP student
Keren Brathwaite, co-founder of TYP and Organization of Parents of Black Children
Zanana Akande, former provincial Minister of Education
Verne Ross, TYP alumni
Ashley Sanders, TYP alumni
Rod Michalko, Professor of Disability Studies, OISE/UT
Here’s the message I drafted up just now. You can read more about the proposal and send your own message with the contact info for members of the Faculty of Arts and Science Council (FASC) listed on the UTSU website.
Dear Dean Gertler (firstname.lastname@example.org),
Even though I should be writing papers right now, your mass-mailing inspired me to respond with this message and to include the members of the Faculty of Arts and Science Council. I served on FASC as a student representative in 2007-08 and the year before that on the Academic Appeals Board.
In my estimation, this is the single most regressive policy proposal I have seen since I began studying at UofT in 2005. One of the main themes in your message may be “not to worry, this change will not affect you”, but I cannot help but worry about the future of each and every Arts and Science student that would potentially be confronted with this severely inequitable fee structure. I believe that you have misjudged the impact that this change will have on student enrolment decisions, let alone on the “student experience” and access to UofT in general.
If you are under the impression, as indicated in your proposal, that for students with financial need “tuition fees are fully covered by government and/or University student aid”, you have been given the wrong impression and are shockingly out-of-touch with the lived reality of students. The average student leaves with a $24,000 debt sentence. Many students do not even qualify for OSAP: students from middle-income families, part-time students, students with prior debt, students without immigration status.
Further, if you believe that this change will not have a negative impact on students with financial need, you are once again mistaken. You must recognize that students take less than five courses because they lack the time and money to take a five course load. Students in this position would either be forced to pay exorbitantly more for less, be overburdened with an untenable amount of course work, or be pushed to drop down to part-time status, making themselves ineligible for OSAP. Each of these prospects serve to do irreperable harm to student engagement inside and outside of the classroom and to the accessibility of UofT.
Tuition fee increases are only stop-gap measures that take pressure off the government to fulfill its responsibility to adequately fund education, which we know has been chronically underfunded for years. Not only are tuition fee increases ineffective, but they are incredibly regressive as well – tuition fees are charged to all students regardless of their income.
I would like to end this message on a personal note. In my first year at UofT, I took five courses. I received an A- average, but the stress that I received as a result of this courseload was more than I could handle. I spent too much time shutting myself away from everyone in my life just to get assignments done. Since my first year, I have taken between 3.0 and 3.5 courses. It has meant that I will take five years, but it has also meant that I have been able to stay mentally healthy and get involved outside of classes, where most of my learning and development has taken place. For someone like me, a student on OSAP with a climbing debt load, this proposal serves only to cause undue stress or financial penalization, which in the end has the same impact.
If you can see me and my fellow students as students – as human beings with a right to access education – and not simply basic income units, I trust that you will vote down this proposal.
P.S. In case you have not heard, an incredible access program at UofT, the Transitional Year Programme is also being targeted for regressive changes. Rather than considering proposals that appear to penalize poor and marginalized students for being poor and marginalized, I submit that FASC’s time would be better utilized thinking about how to adopt principles of access and equity across the Faculty of Arts & Science. I would love for the next mass-mailing I receive from the Dean to be about the measures Arts and Science is taking towards advancing access and equity.