GUEST BLOG: Pride & Prejudice: an Asian Muslim feminist on racism and queerness in NZ

By   /   February 10, 2014  /   18 Comments

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How long do we as Asian peoples have to succumb to, and sacrifice our right to express (or not express) our gender and sexuality, in an attempt to feel like we can belong and be included somewhere (ANYWHERE!) in New Zealand?

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An Asian gay man speaks out, at the expense of his parents discovering through the media. A Muslim teenager is exposed for hiding injuries behind a burka inflicted by her father for “kissing a girl in school”. Thai couples wanting to get married here draw suspicions from Immigration authorities of their true “intentions” in New Zealand.

You simply love these stories, don’t you, ‘mainstream’ New Zealand? Hell, even ‘gaystream’ New Zealand laps it up!

While the Herald profits, I wonder if anyone realises the sacrificial costs spent of not just these individuals, but the extent of its impact on the diverse ethnic communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Today marks the beginning of PrideFest, an annual gayloria calendar of events that supposedly aims to celebrate the fabulousness of Auckland’s LBGTQI community.

This time last year, I performed as part of Melting Pot Massacre at Big Gay Out. It was our first time publicly identifying ourselves as a queer & genderqueer entity to a mainstream audience, many of whom were friends, friends of friends, and families of friends of our families in our ethnic communities. We were 15-second rockstars with 15 minutes to express our stories as youth of Asian immigrant descent. For us, it was an effort to amplify the unseen, unheard or under-represented voices of others such as us. It was an unforgettable experience. Many young people approached us afterwards for autographs, and told us how much our music spoke to them.

However this year we decided not to perform at any event at PrideFest. There was some kerfuffle on their transgender policies at Heroes Out West who invited us to perform initially, and then of course Auckland Pride Parade had not considered that Asian cultures exist, in the text of their event description on Facebook (which on January 15th, I had posted “WOW NO ASIAN?” on their wall. They have, am sure, assured themselves of ractifying the situation by way of inserting the word “Asian”, in between “European” and “Pacific” cultures). Loving also the creative yet tokenist wording of how the rainbow communities are “the coloured threads”, whose “remembering our histories” will enable us to “weave through our future”.

What’s new?, sighed a group of takaatapui, fafaafiine and queer Asian feminists who resorted to ranting online and supporting ourselves amongst ourselves over this. I mean, we are only but part of the 40% of Auckland’s population according to the latest Census report.

But for how long?

How long do we, as people of ethnic minorities have to put our energies into calling out within predominantly white gay-centred societies on the racism that has existed due to its failure to recognise the history of colonisation of this land and the lands that many of us have come from?

How long do we have to tolerate the ‘unintentional’ political ‘incorrectness’ of the mainstream media in churning racial stereotypes of us, the immigrant “Others” in New Zealand as exploiters of lovely New Zealand marriage equality policies, barbaric child-bashers and homophobic families?

How long do we as Asian peoples have to succumb to, and sacrifice our right to express (or not express) our gender and sexuality, in an attempt to feel like we can belong and be included somewhere (ANYWHERE!) in New Zealand?

How long do we have to hear stories of young people predominantly girls and young women, of Asian, Middle Eastern and African minorities at risk of suicide, honour-based violence, losing their lives and sense of dignity, growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand?

How long before we can truly celebrate the amazingness of a united, connected and inclusive community, that acknowledges and respects the existence of people bringing our faith and spiritual differences into the mix, rainbow and beyond?

How long before all people in Aotearoa New Zealand can actually say we are living in a society that raises all our children with the pride that our ancestors left behind and none of the prejudices they had to endure?

Until then and only then, will I and am sure many others like myself can say, we are ALL finally home here in New Zealand.

Shasha Ali, activist and vocalist of defunct all-Asian punk band Melting Pot Massacre writes on the price of challenging racism, homophobia and transphobia in New Zealand, and the non-existent benefits of such contributions.

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18 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing with us, Shasha. There’s not much I can say, as my knowledge/experience is limited on these issues.

    I look forward to a new music band arising from the ‘ashes’ of “Melting Pot Massacre”, as sometimes art and music is a great way to spread the message of acceptance and inclusiveness.

    All the best for your struggles, and for what it’s worth, I support you 101%.

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  2. lani says:

    Please keep your presence known to mainstream New Zealand. The more minorities speak out the less likely ‘we’ are to be marginalised. Agreed music and art are extremely good ways to get your message through. Keep it up.

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  3. Gosman says:

    “How long do we, as people of ethnic minorities have to put our energies into calling out within predominantly white gay-centred societies on the racism that has existed due to its failure to recognise the history of colonisation of this land and the lands that many of us have come from?”

    Why do you feel the need to do this?

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    • My god, Gosman, do you have any empathy, any shred of feeling, for your fellow human being at all?! Anything?

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    • Shasha says:

      Because being silent about injustice and oppression caused by white supremacist systems, attitudes and values is not an option?

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      • Gosman says:

        Would you please explain how the system you are going to spend so much time opposing is somehow white supremacist? The system is practiced in many different cultures and societies around the world. The system in Japan for example is similar to other western nations but can hardly be called White supremacist.

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        • @ Gosman – Probably because Japan is mostly a homogenous society and NZ is not?!

          But then again, Gosman you aren’t even remotely interested in other peoples’ experiences and the discrimination they face. You’re only interested in playing your peculiar game of pedantry.

          Just be honest with yourself; you don’t give a rats about what Sasha and others have experienced. You certainly haven’t referred once to any of her shared experiences with us.

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  4. raegun says:

    You haven’t spotted that there is prejudice against all gays, regardless of race/culture? I believe this is a problem of an aging population and is representative more of older, male views.
    Your best bet is on the younger generations who will be far more tolerant, although the thing that gets you through is that by and large Europeans are not particularly religious and therefore not as homophobic.
    Can I question where some of that attitude comes from, maybe more likely from your own culture.
    As an atheist I am going to suggest that the demise of religion over all cultures would save a lot of problems, especially some of those you mentioned
    All the best, put your music out there, if it appeals to ears, they will listen, just I don’t think, in these times that too radicalised music will go down that well, a bit like all the syrupy stuff that seems to prevail at other times of adversity e.g. wars

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    • Shasha says:

      I don’t have the sense of entitlement to comment on behalf of “all gays” which in itself is a diverse range of experiences. Furthermore I do not identify as one. My article is specifically looking to touch on some of the commonalities and complicities in gender and racial discrimination, experienced by, I quote myself, “an Asian Muslim feminist”.

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      • raegun says:

        I guess I read it wrong, sorry. It isn’t easy anywhere different cultures being side by side and it is only when there is some assimilation that people relax a bit. I guess there is an element of human nature in there, not at all sure what people, on the whole can do about it, in the interim.

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        • Shasha says:

          Assimilation ensures that a superficial level of “peace” can exist as long as the marginalised find ways to adopt/adapt the hegemonic cultural values and systems. That to me is like brushing things under the carpet so people can start walking all over it, uncomfortable as it may be. But that stuff will get built up and one day people are going to see that the carpet wasn’t flat all that while. The root question we need to find solutions to is, how do we develop a framework of social inclusivist equality which will then guide decision-making processes, distribution of resources, which draws people to practise awareness and having a role in undoing various social injustices intersectionally (ie. recognising the various oppressions according to historicity of race, gender, class, ability and more)? I believe it stems from the continuous resistance from the Left, but with the key drivers comprising of people of all backgrounds going forward and the main “culprits” with “power” (ie. white cis male able-bodied middle class of the world), supporting various marginalised groups’ relentlessly and unconditionally, through listening unquestionably to the oppressed across all our resistances, educating themselves and undoing on white privilege and supremacist institutions and unpacking/dismantling systems by firstly being honest about the amount of resources that should be surrendered/returned to the oppressed. And it needs to happen on all levels and all points of time simultanously, from colonisation to patriarchisms to capitalism to corporatisation to environmental destruction.

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  5. The overall trend for New Zealand society does seem to be gradually more tolerant and inclusive, despite reactionaries like the so-called “Family First”, right-wing Maxim Institute, et al.

    Post-1986 Homosexual Law Reform; the prostitution law reform; civil unions and then marriage equality, there is a steady progress for more and more equality and acceptance. New Zealand can be proud in the fact that we were the first not only as a sovereiegn state (Texas was before us, I believe) to give women the vote, but we had the first trans-gendered person elected into public offices.

    Ok, I’m writing this as a hetero-white-middle-class-baby boomer-male – but my sympathies are with the LGBT community. Always.

    With you in solidarity, Shasha!

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    • Gosman says:

      New Zealand was not a sovereign state in 1893. It is arguable that this was not achieved until 1947 when we adopted the Statute of Westminster Act. Colarado, (not Texas) therefore has more claim in this area than we do.

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  6. Marc says:

    New Zealand statisticians, government bureaucrats, certainly the mainstream media and also many of the public are just plain simplistic, irrational and unscientific, and thus totally misguided, when continually going on about “Asians”.

    Who is an “Asian” then? The continent called Asia reaches from the Bosporus in Turkey and the Urals in Russia to the far eastern Siberian island of Sakhalin, to Japan, Korea and down to Sri Lanka and Indonesia in South and South East Asia. So any inhabitant, or person originating from there can be called “Asian”.

    What diversity is there though, it includes “Caucasians” or “white” persons, same as “Indians” of various ethnic and cultural diversity, Turks, Iranians, Arabs, Mongols, Han and other Chinese, Tibetans, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, various smaller ethnic groups in many countries, Malays and so forth, not forgetting those of mixed race.

    Is “Asian” a “unifying” ethnic or cultural concept, I ask? No it is not really, given the wide diversity there is. Also are all major religions represented in Asia, same as many cultures of whatever types.

    It may help to perhaps talk of East Asians, South East Asians, South Asians and so forth, to get some common groupings that identify persons, but what is so far done is completely bizarre and misleading.

    While Europe is also diverse, it is possibly more appropriate to talk of “Europeans” tending to be “white” people, but even that is nowadays changing fast.

    As for the discrimination of persons from Asia, as individuals and groups, it is unacceptable, whatever cultural or sexual orientation. Some of it is of course New Zealand made, but I have witnessed enough discrimination within and between “Asian” communities themselves also.

    There are teen brides brought here from India for arranged marriages to New Zealand resident or citizen Indians, because they prefer to adhere to certain “customs”. I know this, because I lived next door to Indians for years, and witnessed this happening in at least one case.

    So there are many issues here, and what is being raised here just covers parts of these.

    Good luck and best wishes though, to the writer and the affected.

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    • Shasha says:

      Re “As for the discrimination of persons from Asia, as individuals and groups, it is unacceptable, whatever cultural or sexual orientation. Some of it is of course New Zealand made, but I have witnessed enough discrimination within and between “Asian” communities themselves also.”

      and

      “There are teen brides brought here from India for arranged marriages to New Zealand resident or citizen Indians, because they prefer to adhere to certain “customs”. I know this, because I lived next door to Indians for years, and witnessed this happening in at least one case.”

      No disagreement there. Please know that there is a culturally-specialist nationwide service called Shakti (0800SHAKTI) that can assist with such cases.

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      • Marc says:

        Shasha

        Re: “No disagreement there. Please know that there is a culturally-specialist nationwide service called Shakti (0800SHAKTI) that can assist with such cases.”

        Thanks for posting that info here!

        Yes, I know about that service, and they seem to be doing a good job! It is important to make people aware of this, so they can find help, if they need it!

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  7. Psycho Milt says:

    How long do we have to hear stories of young people predominantly girls and young women, of Asian, Middle Eastern and African minorities at risk of suicide, honour-based violence, losing their lives and sense of dignity, growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand?

    I’d say, at least as long as we allow people from those cultures to immigrate here, because immigrants bring their culture with them. Should we stop allowing it?

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    • Ovicula says:

      Given that 100% of current ACT MPs are responding to criminal charges, I suggest we ban ACT and see if criminality decreases. As for immigrants from “those cultures”, I say Haere Mai. Welcome. Let us help you as we let you help us. We are all human. Well, mostly at least.

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