In Canada, health care is not universal.

Sometimes objective criticism of your government can only come from a foreign news outlet. Jessica Yee, a Chinese-Mohawk woman from Toronto, has published an article in The Guardian, a British newspaper, about Canada’s deep-rooted discrimination against indigenous communities.

Last week, on June 23, 2009—during a swine flu outbreak that disproportionately affects impoverished First Nations reserves—Health Canada delayed shipping hand sanitizers to First Nations reserves, because they contained alcohol. The Canadian government was concerned that the hand sanitizers would fuel alcohol addiction among reserve communities. (That’s racist.)

Jessica Yee, in Canada’s swine flu shame (The Guardian), writes:

Let’s review the facts. In the two and a half weeks that the government deliberated over whether to send hand sanitiser to reserve communities, this is what happened:

• More swine flu cases developed

• Chiefs, community leaders, nurses and community health representatives scrambled to deal with the escalating outbreak without help from a non-responsive government

• Families, children, elders and community members in these areas had no choice but to wait and see if they were going to get any type of diagnosis or care as conditions worsened

• The wider Canadian population heard occasional reports of the virus developing more in First Nations communities but not enough to warrant a national outpouring of support.

Access to necessary healthcare services is an ongoing problem for many indigenous people around the world, and Canada is no exception. But universal healthcare and non-insured health benefits (which First Nations and Inuit individuals receive in Canada) don’t mean anything if you live somewhere you still cannot get household plumbing, let alone a visit to the doctor.

Read the rest of Canada’s swine flu shame at The Guardian.

Eastern societies are not more sexually liberated than Western societies.

To perceive Eastern societies as more sexually liberated than Western societies is to perceive the world from a position of extreme white Western male egocentricity. This alleged sexual “liberation” is extracted by filtering the world through both the white Western lens and the male lens.

When white Western men participate in sex tourism in Asia, this so-called sexual “freedom” is purchased through the colonization of the bodies of Asian women. White Western men gain sexual choices they would not have had otherwise, because the sexual choices of economically-disadvantaged Asian women are being severely limited.

In other words, white Western male egocentricity—not the imagined licentiousness of Asian culture and Asian women—is the source of the West’s Orientalist perception that the East is sexually liberated.

In White male seeking sexy Asian women: What is the deal with Western men’s erotic obsession with the East? (Salon), Laura Miller writes:

Bernstein is, as I mentioned, no fool, and so of course he knows and acknowledges this, but there is a sense in which it’s not entirely real to him; he is constantly asking the reader to temporarily set aside any objections regarding the utter powerlessness of the female participants in this “freedom” so that we can contemplate for a moment how liberating it must have been for the men. And he sets great store by the exceptions. Yes, it’s possible that genuinely warm feelings and even love sometimes arose between men and women in these situations, just as it’s possible that African-American slaves and their masters’ families sometimes felt fondness and loyalty toward each other, or that soldiers from an occupying army might befriend local residents. It’s in the nature of humanity that we can occasionally connect in spite of harsh circumstances. But that doesn’t really ameliorate the fundamental injustice of those circumstances.

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The Lion Defeats the Tiger: The past and future of Sri Lanka

Democracy Now! reports the latest news from Sri Lanka, and interviews Ahilan Kadirgamar, a Sri Lankan Tamil activist and a spokesperson of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum.

In the latter part of the video (3:06), Kadirgamar explains the history of the Sri Lankan government and the creation of the LTTE, and offers his opinion on the future of Tamils and other minorities in Sri Lanka.

I have excerpted his answers to common questions below, but the full transcript of the video is available at Democracy Now!

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White people like writing as ‘experts’ on non-white cultures.

Stuff White People Like’s #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture is about pretentious white liberals and leftists who consider themselves “experts” on non-white cultures. Unfortunately, whites who self-identify as “antiracist” may still write as “experts” on non-white cultures, and believe that such writings are “antiracist”. At least one white antiracist believes that he has direct access to the mental states of non-white people, as well as unique insights about non-white cultures.

How psychologists accessed the thoughts of others

One problem within the history of psychology has been the problem of how a psychologist can access the mental processes of other individuals. Originally, psychologists used introspection, i.e., they asked subjects to self-report their own mental processes. However, during the behavioral revolution in psychology, introspection as a method of psychological investigation was considered unreliable and unscientific.* During the behavioral revolution in psychology, mainstream psychologists studied only human behaviour and considered the concept of “mental processes” as extraneous and irrelevant. After the behavioral revolution in psychology was the cognitive revolution, however, and now psychologists are interested in mental processes again, in addition to behaviour. However, psychologists use more advanced experimental methods to investigate mental processes, and they generally consider introspection unreliable as “direct access” to human thought.

Basically, accessing the thoughts of another individual, and drawing conclusions about what she is thinking and how she thinks, is a non-trivial task. Although it is already ignorant for a person to make psychological observations about another person without any background in psychology, it is both profoundly ignorant and oppressive for a person to make psychological observations about an entire race of people.

When this person is white, and this white person is making psychological observations about non-white people in general, it an instance of racism. Such a situation would be a continuation of the white-supremacist assumption that white people are more objective than non-white people, and know better about non-white people than non-white people know about themselves. That is, under this white-supremacist framework, the white person’s assessment of the non-white person’s mind is given higher priority and more validity than the non-white person’s assessment of her own mind or mental state. (Although a person’s introspection is still unreliable, a person interpreting another person’s introspection adds another layer of unreliability.) If a white person believes that he has obvious and direct access to the mind of a non-white person, he is under the assumption that he is objective, omniscient, and completely free of any cognitive biases that human beings have.

How anthropologists studied the cultures of others

The fields of cultural anthropology and social anthropology study human culture and human society, respectively. Socio-cultural anthropology has a history of racism, as it originated from European colonialism and the colonial project of managing and pacifying non-white societies (usually colonies or potential colonies).

In early socio-cultural anthropology, white intellectuals made generalizations about non-white cultures and societies using what is now referred to as “armchair anthropology”. Basically, these white people sat around in armchairs—literally or figuratively—and theorized about non-white people based on the personal anecdotes and travel diaries of white explorers, white traders, white Christian missionaries, and white colonial officials. The white intellectuals who “studied” non-white cultures and societies never visited the places or met the people that they studied, relying on the ostensibly “objective” reports of the white observers who did. When social anthropologist James George Frazer was asked if he had met any of the non-white people he had studied, he replied, “God forbid!”

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Oriental sex is white man’s fantasy.

The origin of white men’s sexualization of Asian women can be traced back to the 1800s, at the latest. The assumption of white supremacy combined with cultural sexual repression led white Western European men to hope and believe that sexual freedom was possible and promised in what they called the “Orient”.

Europe identified itself with masculinity, rationality, civilization, and superiority, in contrast with the perceived femininity, emotionality, primitivism, and inferiority of the Orient. As white Western European men both felt and thought themselves restrained compared to the more “primitive” Other, they reasoned that the Orient was, in comparison, both sexually liberating and sexually unrestrained.

In Orientalism, literary critic and post-colonial theorist Edward Said explains (p.190) this literary tradition that became ubiquitous starting from the 1800s in writings on the Orient by Europeans:

In all of his novels, Flaubert associates the Orient with the escapism of sexual fantasy. Emma Bovary and Frédéric Moreau pine for what in their drab (or harried) bourgeois lives they do not have, and what they realize they want comes easily to their daydreams packed inside Oriental clichés: harems, princesses, princes, slaves, veils, dancing girls and boys, sherbets, ointments, and so on. The repertoire is familiar, not so much because it reminds us of Flaubert’s own voyages in and obsession with the Orient, but because, once again, the association is made between the Orient and the freedom of licentious sex. We may as well recognize that for nineteenth-century Europe, with its increasing embourgeoisement, sex had been institutionalized to a very considerable degree. On the one hand, there was no such thing as “free” sex, and on the other, sex in society entailed a web of legal, moral, even political and economic obligations of a detailed and certainly encumbering sort. Just as the various colonial possessions—quite apart from their economic benefit to metropolitan Europe—were useful as places to send wayward sons, superfluous populations of delinquents, poor people, and other undesirables, so the Orient was a place where one could look for sexual experience unobtainable in Europe. Virtually no European writer who wrote on or traveled to the Orient in the period after 1800 exempted himself or herself from this quest: Flaubert, Nerval, “Dirty Dick” Burton, and Lane are only the most notable. In the twentieth century one thinks of Gide, Conrad, Maugham, and dozens of others. What they looked for often—correctly , I think—was a different type of sexuality, perhaps more libertine and less guilt-ridden; but even that quest, if repeated by enough people, could (and did) become as regulated and uniform as learning itself. In time “Oriental sex” was as standard a commodity as any other available in the mass culture, with the result that readers and writers could have it if they wished without necessarily going to the Orient.

Asia is not the promised land of sexual liberation, although wealthy white men who travel there may find what they are looking for by exploiting the vulnerable.

References:

  • Said, Edward W. 1994. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books