Square Dancing and Racism

So, here’s the thing. I am about as white as it gets, with my Dutch and Scottish heritage in a Canadian package. Under normal conditions, I would not ever experience racism, so it might be hard for me to really understand what it means, and how it feels, to be judged based on the colour of my skin.

Fortunately for me, though, I have lived in Japan for around 20 years and this has put my lily white skin in the position of being judged. AND IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. Let me assure you that it would drive you nuts too. You would be vocal about it and want to change it. You would not make excuses for it or tell people that they are being over-sensitive.

Let me give you an example. It is an entirely harmless example, but it illustrates the point that even a little bit of judgement can be really annoying.

I have been square dancing since 2007 (so nine years now, for those of you who are reading this in the future). I have learned how to dance to the choreography in three different programmes (basic, mainstream, and plus), and I have danced in Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and as of this past week, Canada. I am not a perfect dancer, and I certainly do make mistakes, especially because I sometimes have trouble distinguishing my left from my right quickly enough, but under normal conditions, I don’t usually make “square-breaking mistakes” that completely mess everything up.

Some people do make square-breaking mistakes. Beginners will do it all the time because they are not used to hearing the calls and performing them fast enough to keep up with the music. People who have no rhythm, or who are not musically inclined will sometimes break squares. And older people who might have hearing problems, or who are just not fast enough to keep up can often break a square. This happens, and when it does, you just get into a certain formation (facing lines) and wait for the caller to call something that you can do from the formation. It’s no big deal.

Anyway, the point that I am making is that breaking a square is not that big a deal. It is fixable. However, when I dance in Japan, sometimes I get into a square that has some weak dancers. I hate it when this happens because the other people in the square will often make it clear that they think I was the one who broke the square. You can usually tell when someone thinks that you are a square breaker because they will handle you a bit more forcefully, by leading you with their hands to the correct positioning after every call, or by repeating the call loudly to you. Sometimes I do make mistakes, but as I said, I am not usually the reason that a whole square breaks down. However, if I am in a square that has broken down with dancers who do not know me, I will almost always be seen as the “culprit” and be “kindly” guided for the rest of the song even if I have danced perfectly the entire time.

THIS DRIVES ME CRAZY! Just because the square broke down and I am in it (one white person with seven Japanese people), it is assumed that it is my fault. There isn’t anything I can do to stop this from happening when it does. It is a natural prejudice that some people have and stopping the square to talk about sociological issues is not going to make me a more popular dancer. There isn’t anything I can do about it, other than tell people about it after the fact.

This is a small example, a small annoyance, and it does not affect my personal safety. However, it is a clear example of prejudice, and it illustrates to me exactly how it feels to be judged (and judged incorrectly) based on nothing other than the colour of my skin.

Because of this (and other examples that I am certainly willing to share if anyone is interested), I do have a small understanding of how people who are black/brown in Canada/US feel. If you have not ever felt that way, then you may not understand, and you may think that people who point out this particular kind of unfairness are over-reacting. Trust me, they are not over-reacting. It is annoying and unfair to be judged based on your physical appearance.

Prejudice and bias exist in all of us, and many of us are not aware of the fact that these themes infect our thinking. I do not consider myself to be racist, and I hope that my words and actions reflect that, but I admit to myself that I have prejudices and that I am susceptible to bias. I don’t want those to be my defining features, though, so I work hard to try to fight them. If you think you are a person entirely free of prejudice and bias, I would invite you to take the following test.

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

I would wager a large amount of money that the test revealed that you are biased.

When one person is biased against you, it can be annoying and frustrating. If that one person is someone who has power over other people, like a police officer, it can be dangerous. And if an entire system is biased against you, it will impact on every part of your life, on a regular basis, in ways that cannot even be imagined by the people who are not affected by the bias.

Have you ever been in this situation? Someone you have never met before starts treating you in a certain way that doesn’t match with how you see yourself. That person takes a look at you and makes decisions about you, and starts treating you according to what they believe about you. They might be treating you like you are stupid, or like you are older or younger, or richer or poorer, than you are. It can even happen when someone asks you for directions when you are in a place that is unfamiliar, or someone thinks you work at a store that you are shopping in. Or when you are in a foreign country and someone speaks to you in a different language, assuming that you can speak it fluently. You can tell when you are not being treated right (according to what you know about yourself) and it is weird and uncomfortable.

That is a brief taste of what it feels like to be a person in a minority. Imagine if that happened ALL THE TIME. Imagine what it would feel life if people ALWAYS assumed that you were aggressive. Or that you were poor. Or that you were up to no good. Or even that you can or cannot dance. It would certainly start to become annoying after the first few times.

What I am trying to say, in my rambling way, is that you should not dismiss racism, prejudice, or bias as not real, or not relevant, or not important. People who face it on a daily basis are not making it up. Just because you don’t get it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It does. You just don’t know what you don’t know.

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My Understanding of the Black Lives Matter Movement

One of my Facebook friends asked some questions about the Black Lives Matter movement. Here are my answers.


Is Black Lives Matter (BLM) any different from the KKK or Neo Nazi groups — racist hate groups?

BLM is not a hate group, nor is it racist. It is a group that is trying to get people to understand how systemic prejudice affects the lives of black people. They are not trying to pit black against white. It is possible to understand what they are saying and not feel like they trying to put white people down. They are commenting about the system, not about individuals.

Why are the police being targeted?

Police are part of the system. There are many parts of the system that favour the majority. If you are not part of that majority, your experience of the system is very different.

There is an inherent problem with the system: in our current society, everyone is inherently prejudiced against black people, including black people. Even if you think that you are not prejudiced, or rather, especially if you think you are not prejudiced, you are. This means that police officers tend to perceive more of a threat from black people, which means that the fear that they feel makes them more likely to act more aggressively to a black person, even if that person is not acting in a way that would be perceived as threatening if he/she was white.

The main issue is, therefore, that there is a lower threshold for police to show aggressive behaviour towards black people, but there is a secondary issue of police using too much force in general. The way our societies are set up is that the government makes the laws, the police enforce the laws, and the judicial system decides whether laws have been broken or not and issue the consequences if the laws have been broken. The police are invested with the power to apprehend people who are perceived to be not following laws, but they do not have the right to mete out judgement on those people, nor are they given the right to summarily execute them. There are many examples of police officers killing people these days. With a heavily armed populace, this may be inevitable, but it still seems problematic to have so many deaths at the hands of the police.

I am not saying that I sympathize with the Dallas shooter, nor am I saying that the job of a police officer isn’t one of the hardest jobs to have. (It is possible to have this conversation without being anti-police.) What I am saying is that the system is currently set up in a way that police officers are authorized to use lethal force, and that that lethal force is sometimes applied too liberally in cases where it wasn’t necessarily warranted, especially when the person being apprehended is black.

The final piece of the puzzle is that the police system and the judicial system are predominantly set up to favour the majority, so if a black person (or the family of a black person) wants to question the actions of a police officer, or take a case to the courts, they feel that their chances of receiving a fair judgement are very low.

Taken as a whole, this makes black people feel like the system is set up in a way that ends up with black people killed in cases where white people would not be killed, and that they have no recourse to say that this is unfair. That is what is meant by “black lives matter”. It is not saying that black lives are more important than white lives. It is not saying that the police are bad, or that they are they enemy. It is saying that the system needs to be examined and changes need to be made so that black people do not have to live in fear of being killed by police officers, and so they do not have to live with the understanding that if their loved ones do get killed, there is no process for them to question it.

Yes, there are many cases where both white people and black people are interacting with law enforcement officers in a way that would be expected to get them subdued aggressively. We are not talking about those cases. We are not talking about cases where the person is acting aggressively towards the police, and the police officers have no other choice but to act aggressively back. We are talking about cases where the person is not a threat, or is no longer a threat, and they still end up getting shot. Why is that happening? That is the question at the crux of this matter. All other matters should not be confounded with this one. Yes, there are more black people in prison than should statistically be the case. Yes, there is a lot of black on black violence. Yes, white people also get shot by the police. These are all problematic, but they cannot be used to explain why black people who are objectively — based on undoctored video evidence — not acting in a threatening way are getting shot by police.

One reason we can’t all agree on this issue and try to find answer is that we can’t come to an agreement on whether the black people in the video are acting in a threatening way. When you watch the videos of the two black men who were killed by police recently, do you feel that their deaths were justified? Do you feel like the police had no choice but to kill them? Do you think the police were acting within their rights to kill these men? If you feel that the police were justified in killing these two men, then we need to dial the conversation back to the role of police in society and the rights and responsibilities given to them in our society, without even talking about the race of the people they are interacting with.

Why is there so much hate in the world?

In my opinion, hate comes from misunderstanding and ignorance. And we are all guilty of both. We don’t listen to each other. We stand on our pedestals and shout things to each other, but we don’t engage in healthy debate and really listen to what we are trying to say to each other.

If we can’t wrestle with the hate that we perpetuate ourselves by shutting down and not listening, then we can’t be surprised to see it reflected back to us in our society.

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Q: Why Can’t I Find Facebook Messages That People Sent Me? A: Probably Because They’ve Been Filtered

There are three possible places your Facebook messages might show up.

1. Your “recent” inbox.
2. Your “message requests” inbox
3. Your “filtered” inbox.

filtered

If you are waiting for a message from someone (in particular if that person is not a “friend”), be sure to check all three places.

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Connected to Public Wifi, No Internet Access (Hotel)

I was able to connect my phone to my hotel wifi, but not my computer. The computer connected to the network, but it said that I had “no internet access”. I looked online for some solutions and here are some of the things that I tried.

  • Turning my computer off and on.
  • Turning my wifi off and on.
  • Flushing my DNS (command prompt — ipconfig /flushdns)
  • Releasing my IP address and renewing it (command prompt — ipconfig /release, then ipconfig /renew)
  • Opening different browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer)

None of these worked. Here is what did.

  • Network settings for the network in question
  • Go to “properties”
  • Internet protocol version 4
  • Go to “properties”
  • “Choose DNS server automatically” (mine was set to the Google DNS servers)

Hope this helps!

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Pondering the American System of Government in February 2016

One problem is that intelligent people, who could lead fairly and justly, don’t often go into politics.

Another problem is that very few people know what the job of “governing” actually entails. It is not the same as running a business, even a very big business.

Furthermore, the premise that all the thinking in the world can be divided into two diametrically opposed streams is fundamentally, and tragically, flawed.

… … … … …

It’s 1:00am and the American system of government is keeping me up past my bedtime writing thesis statements for political science papers I wish someone would write and everyone would read and agree on so we could get tucked into the business of fixing things rather than watching members of the 1% spend millions of dollars over the course of more than a year preening for the camera and trying to convince everyone that they are intelligent enough to run the country, that they know how best to do so, and that one of those diametrically opposed streams of thought is fundamentally more righteous than the other.

Posted in Random Diversions | Leave a comment