Engaging the Future in Dreams: Race and the Failure of Fandom

By: Angela Stanley (Theme 3)

A teen mother gives birth to a baby. “Congratulations, it’s a girl!” the doctor says. A family comes together to raise the child. Their collective goal is to give that child the best future they can. The family hopes that this little baby can realize dreams beyond her circumstance. Dreams of gaining an education beyond that of her parents’ and close family. Dreams of entering into a lifelong career and not just a job to make ends meet. Dreams of following her passion. Dreams of a white wedding and children. Dreams of grandchildren and a life fully lived, experienced and seized. Dreams of ‘a passing’ on to the great beyond with no regrets, surrounded by love. These were the dreams that birthed me into being.

A being that has embraced some of those dreams while repudiating others much to the chagrin of those dreamers. This is the trouble with passing on dreams to another. There is always the possibility that the one for whom we have dreams and expectations of, will fall short of them. However, is it that we have fallen short of the incorporation of those dreams or that we have birthed dreams for ourselves? The future is a diaphanous concept, one that exists as something that we believe to be true but is so hazy that it can easily slip through our fingertips. However, we put an enormous amount of energy, time and resources into it.

What do I imagine when I think of the future? As a recent convert to the trekkie life. I’ve been fascinated by the hints of today that I see in the future depicted on the show. I’m currently on the final season of The Next Generation and I am surprised, although I am not sure why, by the fact that I very rarely see myself on this show embodied within the main cast. Even the most uncomplicated representation of black womanhood, i.e. the physical presence of a black woman, only makes a guest appearance. In fact, the only representations of blackness are men (Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge and Lt. Cmdr. Worf, and the only representation of women are overwhelmingly white. This echoes the sentiments of black feminists of the 1960s, which undergirded the 2016 twitter hashtags #alltheblacksaremen #allthewomenarewhite, that confronts the erasure of black women and their involvements in civil rights movements and mainstream society and representation.

The main cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Copied from: http://www.startrek.com/database_article/star-trek-the-next-generation-synopsis

Perhaps, I am picking on Star Trek a bit. Perhaps I am expecting too much from a show that premiered in 1987. This show was meant to be a depiction of a time lightyears into the future, but I found myself thinking a lot about the stereotypes that seemed to overwhelm the narrative. If we take the example of Lt. Cmdr. Worf, it was curious to me that he happens to be from the Klingon warrior race as opposed to the Vulcan race. Being Klingon comes with a fascinating array of weapons, impressive fighting skills and its own specific language. However, I cannot help but parallel this to the way that black people are thought of within a north American context. In particular, black males are thought to be practically always reaching for a weapon, sometimes that weapon is a toy truck or their very bodies. They are believed to be just so much stronger than the average (read: white) male or female. That is to say they have innate strength and fighting skills. And they have their own ‘language’ although to be fair, among mainstream society Klingon is more legitimate than African American Vernacular English (AAVE), patois, or creole. The latter two are spoken by people within the Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora. It is fascinating to me how people can find words like ‘bae’, ‘turnt’, or ‘gyal’ totally unintelligible but will launch into entire rhapsodies about the sentence structure of Klingon and Elvish, without even thinking of the racist implications that underpin what they perceive to be intelligible.

I think what is forgotten when we discuss the future is that the future on television requires the belief of the viewing public of today. In this regard, the future is really not about people and personal relations, it is actually about the language, the technology even the clothing that we can conceive of. In a future represented on television, creators do not dream of a cast equally represented without a heavy turn to stereotype. It cannot. The North American mainstream viewing public is not ready to see that. If they were, we would not have so many movies and TV shows where the saviours of ‘the future’ are all white, and where the idea of a black stormtrooper causes shockwaves and negative backlash.  

For many of us, the future can be something that exists days or years ahead while for others it exists alongside the current time period. It exists in alternate societies that house mutant families or individuals with extra sensory and fantastical abilities. It requires a special letter for admittance and a knack for hiding within the normal to create space for the fantastic. But how can we plan for a future when very few of the futuristic examples reflect who we are? Whose future are we cheering on when we watch the latest mutant, post apocalyptic, magical future?

Even in the area of fantasy and dreams where one can be anything they want, and do anything they want, I am forced to scavenge to find someone that looks like me. I remember reading the first Harry Potter book and imagining myself in Hermione Granger. She had my black hair struggles, she was just like my friends and I who were smart and had lofty scholarly ambitions. It was a disappointment when the role was played by a young white girl whose hair could only be described as mildly teased in the movies. Then the stage play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child cast a black woman as the adult Hermione Granger, and I thought to myself, ‘perhaps she was me after all’. Nonetheless, without that casting I am forced to make do with imagining myself within the character’s body that matches some my personality traits, if nothing else. I am told that to believe in this future presented to me I must imagine myself not existing, I must suspend belief in my existence except to show up as an older wiser alien being whose mothering instinct comes with a full bar rail.

To quote this publication’s theme, “credibility has a lineage…it requires power to maintain its credibility” (Cheuk, 2017). The future on earth as per the lineage of the imaginaries of the 1960s to the 21st century seems to occlude me. It is for this reason that I find myself drawn to Jose Munoz’s work on dis-identification (Munoz, 1997). In particular, I am interested in his theory that one must dis-identify with the mainstream in order to accrue the parts of the self that get lost when one is forced to assimilate to mainstream culture, or in this case mainstream futurity. And I am bolstered in my hope for the future in part due to the versions of myself that are increasingly available outside of mainstream television viewing.

My future is imagined in these moments. These moments of futurity that are embodied within the lives of those within my chosen community point to their own lineage. The credibility of its existence is visualized as it is lived by those who exist outside of the mainstream media, whose stories are too messy, too fantastical, or even too ordinary for this medium. This futurity also finds a home in those ancestral dreams. For me, rewriting futurity requires imagining myself outside the mainstream within the realm of dreams. Dreams that encompass the far-flung future or the future as captured within someone else’s present. Dreams that have to exist outside of the mainstream since even the best depiction of my future within it, centers my oppression, not me.

References

Muñoz, J. (1997). "The White to Be Angry": Vaginal Davis's Terrorist Drag. Social Text, (52/53), 81-103. doi:10.2307/466735

Bio: Angela Stanley is a first year PhD student in the Gender, Feminist and Women's Studies Program at York University. She holds an MA in Critical Disability Studies, also from York University. Her research pays attention to the intersection of race/culture, queerness and disability in order to understand how people make sense of their intimate and sexual lives. Her work so far has centered on the perceptions of beauty, sexuality and desirability that inform how young queer and disabled  people create intimate and/ or sexual partnerships.  

 

Normalizing Dystopia

By: *Margot Bergman (Theme 2 & 3: Land & Place/Re-writing Futurities )

This month marks the one year anniversary of the Fort McMurray Wildfire. Another dystopia made real. I feel for the people of Fort McMurray and the hardship they endured during the fire, and in the recovery. My love for the community and the place of Fort McMurray exists in tension with my critiques of the industrial mega projects for oil extraction that sustain this city. I write, think, and research from this place of contradiction.  

Environmental movements have drawn upon the fantasy universe of J.R.R. Tolkien's Mordor to describe the landscapes of the oil extraction found north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Oil sands, bituminous sands, tar sands – this oil deposit has many names. Deep open pit mines and large tailings ponds, filled with toxic byproducts of the oil production create the visuals of Sauron's kingdom in real life. 

 

(image credit: Alex MacLean, https://www.desmog.ca/2014/07/02/photos-famed-photographer-alex-maclean-s-new-photos-canada-s-oilsands-are-shocking)

This land is also Treaty 8 land. Home to Cree, Dene and Metis people who have taken care of this land for millenia. The 'discovery' of oil in the tarry sands of the Athabasca River banks, and the subsequent technological 'advancements' that made extracting this oil profitable have radically transformed the landscape of these territories and the ability to sustain life on them.

My family has had a hand in these transformations, both in Fort McMurray, but also in the projects to 'settle' the West more generally. As white, protestant and European my ancestors were given free land under the Homestead Act of 1862. Mirroring their migration West for economic opportunity, my own immediate family migrated to Fort McMurray for the opportunities and economic prosperity possible in the oil industry. Opportunity and prosperity that come as a result of Indigenous displacement and environmental destruction.

Yet, however industrial and destructive, this landscape is not hidden from view for those who live and work here. The summer I worked at one of the mines, the bus that dropped me off and picked me up each day drove past the tailings ponds every single day. Like any industrial space, it is dusty and utilitarian. Located in the vast boreal forests of Northern Alberta, the work site is a stark shift from the dense forests that line the highway north. Yet, it was also normal.

Even as I child I drove by these ponds with my parents for company 'take your kid to work day' events or out to site after the buses stopped running to take my Mom home after she worked late. There are also tourist attractions just outside the sites. 'Giants of Mining' features the massive machinery used to mine the oil out of the ground. As well there are walking trails in the reclaimed areas -  a place where there used to be mines but have now been turned into a nature reserve, on which one oil company manages a herd of Wood Bison. School trips to these attractions and family outings with visiting relatives made these landscapes familiar. It is easy to dismiss the significance of the resistance against the tar sands when you know the place so intimately that you become desensitized to its most striking and destructive views. The normalization of the landscape proved to be the basis for this fiction.

(image credit: Alex McLean, https://www.desmog.ca/2014/07/02/photos-famed-photographer-alex-maclean-s-new-photos-canada-s-oilsands-are-shocking)

Instead of Mordor-like moonscapes, you see “overburden” being removed to access the oil. Instead of tailings ponds as threat to wildlife and groundwater, you see scientific advancement, experiments testing the latest innovations in cleaning up the ponds, and eventually a new area to be reclaimed for bison grazing land. Why all the fuss, it’s not like they're hiding it?

When I returned to Fort McMurray and the tailings ponds for the 2014 Healing Walk, led by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation to draw attention to the impacts of the oil industry in the region, I realized just how desensitized I had become. Walking the loop that passes the Syncrude and Suncor sites, elders led ceremonies in the four directions to heal the toxic waters. Walking the 16km loop took hours in the hot sun. I watched as people around me stood next to the ponds and wept. Those who didn't shed tears still fell solemn, and their unease made me question why I was calm and unaffected by the sights. Across the highway from the grassy meadow filled with wildflowers where we stopped for lunch you could hear the air cannons booming, the sound carrying across the tailings ponds to scare birds from landing on the deadly waters.

(image credit: Michael Stewart, http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/michael-stewart/2014/07/healing-boomtown-final-healing-walk-offers-hope-breaking-tar-#.U7wiykHmgOc.twitter)

As the tailings ponds evaporate sand is left behind; leaving wide stretches of land next to the highway looking like a desert, dunes rippled by the wind where once a dense forest stood. It is these sandy stretches and the deep open pit mines that people have described this place as a moonscape, Hiroshima, and Mordor. Visiting celebrities often coin these terms. Many do the flyover tour, to lend their fame to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation or to make an example of the region in the fight against climate change.

The tar sands are at the heart of so many struggles. At the Healing Walk were land defenders, water protectors, and activists from all corners of Turtle Island. People fighting the pipelines needed to move tar sands oil, that threatened their communities. Projects named Keystone XL, and Kinder Morgan's Transmountain and the Northern Gateway pipeline. People who lived next to the refineries that processed this oil told us how their air and water was polluted with impunity. The impacts that tar sands oil had on communities far and wide connected struggles and drew me into the ways in which I had understood this place, and had normalized what the consequences actually were.

What happens to a dystopian landscape when you become used to it? What work is required to re-sensitize you? What futures can be imagined?

Re-encountering my hometown and the industry that sustains it in 2014 shaped how I understood dystopian. It wasn't a near future wasteland devastated by climate change or nuclear war of the novels and movies we all know, but the reality of what is already being destroyed, and more troubling, what is acceptable to be destroyed.

My friends and family back home, who have worked in mining and oil and gas for decades, think I'm too pessimistic. Or more accurately – too unrealistic. When I fail to produce solutions or alternate energy sources out of thin air, I am charged with not 'living in reality'. I am denying the reality of how to fill a gas tank, how to heat a home in the middle of a Northern Albertan winter, or more damning, not being real about how to pay for either of these things.

Not living in the real world is an interesting accusation. The insistence to be realistic references a reality that has a credibility, and to quote the prompt from this theme on dystopia, “credibility has a lineage. It has an epistemology. It has a historicity. And most of all, it requires power to maintain its credibility.” (Cheuk 2017). In essence, we deny some facts to maintain our own fictions. Fictions that keep oil flowing, and as a result have the power of the state and all of its violence behind it. But denying the experiences and realities of those who suffer the consequences of these industries and economies, is to live in another kind of fiction.

Dystopian fiction and films are meant to shock us, meant to forewarn us about the path we have been on for centuries and the destruction it will lead us to. But they also offer futures that can still be re-imagined, futures where the failures of our most vicious systems and structures provide the wisdom and food for building a new, just world. The Healing Walk gave us a glimpse at this future, and a fiction worth fighting for.

 

What’s in a Name? Navigating Colonial Intimacies Across Disparate Lands and Time

By: Fiona Cheuk (University of Toronto)       Theme 1

I’m a person with many names. One name is in English, one name is in Chinese that morphs across three dialects: Cantonese, Mandarin, and my paternal language Hokkien. There are literally worlds of meaning contained in my multiple names. They are layered and bleed, between linguistic, cultural, territorialized worlds and temporalities. In this paper, I use autoethnographic tools to reflect on the different uses of my names as grounded sites for theorizing colonial connections across disparate lands. By using my names as a starting point, the relationships of my layered names and the meanings they gain when contextualized to the place I was born in that is currently entangled in the “after”-maths of decolonization; the lands my ancestors traveled from; and the Canadian settler-colonized lands that I currently reside in.

Outer-layer

My English name is Fiona. It is the name I use most often. It is a name I chose when I was five years old and had only been in Canada for two years, without any attention to the meaning of that name. It was a name I chose to replace the name my sister gave to me, in honour of her beloved cabbage patch kid doll. A doll she still has, with thick curly cinnamon brown hair, big blue eyes, and fair skin. Despite being on all my identity cards, my passport, my student ID, my bank card, my credit card: it is a name absent from my birth certificate. It is a name in the language of the British colonizers of Hong Kong, the place in which I was born. It is a name that ironically enough, literally bears the semiotics of Whiteness as it apparently means fair and white. Just like the doll whose namesake I originally held, before being overwritten with Fiona.

Scratching the Surface

The other first name “寧” pronounced phonetically as “Ling” in Cantonese, “Nung” in Mandarin, is colloquially referred to as my “Chinese” name in my experiences growing up in Canada. I don’t know the sound of my name in my father’s language. It was given to me at birth and lovingly chosen by my parents to mean roughly calm, tranquility, and peace. My knowledge is limited, but I do know that traditional Chinese characters work differently than English characters. A single word is often a composite of other words that contain meaning on its own and is used to signify the categories to which the word belongs. For example, “口” which means mouth on its own, is used to signify a word that has to do with speaking. “寧” can be broken down to mean a roof, a solitary man, heart, and a bowl. Couple with my family name “卓”, pronounced Cheuk (Churk soft k) in Cantonese and Zhuo (Dwuaw) in Mandarin, which means greatness, can be broken down to “up”, “day”, and “ten,” can create a vivid image of a man standing under a roof holding a bowl with his heart watching the sun rise up and the day begin.

The fact that I only have two characters to my name is uncommon to Hong Kong people who typically have 3-4 characters and is much more common in mainland China.  While I know the pronunciation of my name in both Cantonese (my mother’s tongue) and Mandarin I don’t use the latter. Not just because I grew up in a Cantonese speaking household, but there was always a sense of inappropriateness to using Mandarin pronunciations of my name.  From an early age, I learnt through my name uses about how the tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China play out in everyday life. However, it has only been recently that I began to recognize the colonial tensions underlying these different valuations of my multiple names. Particularly why it was always acceptable to use my English name everywhere I went, but not my Chinese names. Why it was acceptable to use my Cantonese Chinese name, and English name, but not my mandarin one in Hong Kong when it was a British colony. Through my name experiences, I wonder about how a century plus of education and government systems designed by Anglo speaking colonial powers does make a difference in norms around name use and respectability. I have yet to hear my name in my father’s tongue.

Thus, my two character name that I know by three separate dialects marks the division in my heritage between lands in the Fujian province within China from which my father’s family fled; lands that my maternal grandparents fled from in the Canton province which had witnessed the first Opium War and had been under Japanese occupation when they fled; and Hong Kong as a territory (and people) that had been part of China but then was made a British colony under unequal treaties.

Bleeding through Layers of my Names

The political significance behind my English name as something that is acquired to fit into Canadian white settler society and as my main name within the spaces that I travel through, reflects my embodied relationship to both Hong Kong which was a British colony at the time of my birth, and Canada as a current settler-colonial territory to which I reside as an immigrant.

For the former, it both reflects the dominance of British colonial power over my subjectivity as a Chinese Hong Kong citizen in that it is effectively a palimpsest, a process that overwrites my original Chinese name and identity alongside the nation to which my body was rooted to. Its nature as a name acquired in addition to my birth name also reflects my position as a person of Chinese ancestry, who was born within the same lands of my ancestors but is marked as a “British Special Territory Citizen.” The presence of my Chinese name on that identity card that marks me as such, also signifies the continuous process of overwriting my embodied identity and the nations to whom my body belongs to.

For the latter, Fiona as a ‘normal’ sounding name in the language of the colonizers in Canada rather than my birth name, signifies my position as someone whose body is always recognized as a “foreign” immigrant despite holding a Canadian citizenship. This has been perhaps an underlying thread of the many transformations that my English name has gone through. Morphs that were not of my own choice. In my elementary school classrooms located in the in-between-spaces of Markham-Stouffville, at a time where I was one of the only two non-white students, my classmates arbitrarily added a “J” in the middle of my name to Fi-jona. Perhaps the name “Fiona,” as an ordinary name in Western societies was far too plain for my visibly non-white embodiment amidst a sea of white student and teaching bodies who could trace their genealogical lineages to Europe. Read this way, perhaps the “j” was necessary for a disruption of my embodied identity being too close to North American-Eurocentric norms for comfort in that classroom space.

Two disparate places. Same colonial power that animates the recognition of my names within the White-Settler territories of Canada and the “post”-colonial territories of Hong Kong.

Short Bio: Fiona Cheuk is a PhD student in Social Justice Education at OISE, University of Toronto. She holds an MA in Critical Disability Studies from York University. Her research studies the connections between disability, access, and politics of evidence as contextualized in the settler-colonial structure of Canada. Her current political organizing involves disabled student advocacy and politics of access at UofT with Students for Barrier-Free Access (SBA) where she serves as this year’s co-chair. She also manages the Tumblr for Citation Practices Challenge Project.

Best Intentions (or why do they only hire white ladies to each Indigenous Ed?)

By: Marissa Munoz (University of British Columbia [Theme: Place and Land])

Imagine a class of 34 pre-service school teachers,

undergrads of various stripes, interests, and ages.

you are in the center of the room,

and they are happily "playing along" with a demonstration

of Agosto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed

theatre exercises,

this on is called Flocking

which you have done yourself

more than a few times.  It is all familiar.

You smile along, watching from the center of the room.

This is Indigenous Education, a required course,

one of the last requirements before these eager pre-service teachers

fledge the nest

and find their own classrooms to facilitate. 

 

You are Indigenous, but an immigrant to this land, to this country far from home.

You came back for the chance to teach

to teach at the big university

to teach a subject close to your heart

because back home, Indigenous Education isn't a thing

they do there.

 

you created a great syllabus.

Six weeks have flown by and

you have facilitated a lot of learning

called in some favors and personal connections

planned some fieldtrips

invited elders

agonized over hard conversations about racism

led rounds and rounds of check-ins

kept everyone safe.

 

You've picked just the right articles,

facilitated online discussions,

and given feedback on reflection after reflection after (not so critical) reflection

and patiently explained again to that one student

who tries to convince you every week

Indigenous Knowledge is not real.

 

This is the second to the last week,

and these are the final projects

and you are almost done, almost done, almost done.

 

And over to your left, you see it before you hear it

Students are laughing.

One throws an invisible ball to another

then falls on the floor.

And that student does the same movements, only it's not one ball

it's many small balls, like lint

she picks off her clothing and throws them on the next person

before falling to the floor

 

is she fake dying? 

she's fake dying.

 

And this is flocking, so others are imitating

 

And when there are only a few people left

still on their feet

yourself included

You hear it

 

"Catch! Now you have smallpox"

 

And it's so funny! What a great activity!

 

Only it's not.

Genocide is not funny. 

Ever.

 

Ever.

 

And you can't move

can't talk

can't think

and you are not sure when you stopped breathing.

Stunned, you let the group wrap up their demonstration

Classmates offer appreciations,

just the way you modeled to them.

 

You stand, and shut it down.

 

This is how racism happens without any racists in the room.

You ask for a 15 minute break and step out for fresh air

 

When you come back

They are talking, some are crying

All are shook.

You are wearing your armor

and for the next hour they talk

blaming, pep-talking, working through complicity

you offer care,

water

and sit with

them.

 

 

The course ends. 

You submit your grades

and move home.

 

The following week you get the call

"Everyone was supposed to have passed."

Even the student who doesn't believe in Indigenous Education?

Even the student who only showed up for 2 of 12 classes?

Even the student who didn't turn in one single assignment?

"What are you going to do to ensure that every student is successful?"

And, like magic, the next week all the grades are pass.

 

But your teaching evaluations are permanent. Students wrote

"I do not trust her professional judgment."

"Led a dangerous exercise..."

"...Not fit for university teaching"

 

And, like magic, I've never been invited to teach again.

Because this is how racism happens without any racists in the room.

 

BIO: Marissa Aki'Nene Muñoz is a Xicana Tejana, tracing her roots to Tlaxcalteca, Coahuilteca, and Wixarika communities of the present-day Texas/Mexico frontera.  Her current research focuses on critical storying, testimonio, and collective memory as the community strategies that have protected rich mesoAmerican intellectual traditions from colonization.  Building upon Indigenous scholarship and frontera-specific methodologies, Marissa’s research moves toward mobilizing Indigenous knowledge of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, in response to the ongoing military occupation, environmental racism, and cultural ethnocide that occurs along the U.S.-Mexico border.