Korean migrant mothers on giving birth in Aotearoa New Zealand

Cite as: DeSouza, Ruth. (2014). One woman’s empowerment is another’s oppression: Korean migrant mothers on giving birth in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Transcultural Nursing. doi: 10.1177/1043659614523472

Great to see my paper published online before print on February 28, 2014.

Abstract

Purpose: To critically analyze the power relations underpinning New Zealand maternity, through analysis of discourses used by Korean migrant mothers. Design: Data from a focus group with Korean new mothers was subjected to a secondary analysis using a discourse analysis drawing on postcolonial feminist and Foucauldian theoretical ideas. Results: Korean mothers in the study framed the maternal body as an at-risk body, which meant that they struggled to fit into the local discursive landscape of maternity as empowering. They described feeling silenced, unrecognized, and uncared for. Discussion and Conclusions: The Korean mothers’ culturally different beliefs and practices were not incorporated into their care. They were interpellated into understanding themselves as problematic and othered, evidenced in their take up of marginalized discourses. Implications for practice: Providing culturally safe services in maternity requires considering their affects on culturally different women and expanding the discourses that are available.

Keywords: focus group interview, cultural safety, Korean women, maternal, postcolonial, Foucault.

Introduction

A feature of contemporary maternity is the notion that birth can be empowering for women if they take charge of the experience by being informed consumers. However, maternity is not necessarily empowering for all mothers. In this article, I suggest that the discourses of the Pākehā maternity system discipline and normalize culturally different women by rendering their mothering practices as deviant and patho- logical. Using the example of Korean migrant mothers, I begin the article by contextualizing maternity care in New Zealand and outlining Korean migration to New Zealand. The research project is then detailed, followed by the findings, which show the ways in which Korean mothers are interpellated as others in maternity services in New Zealand. I conclude the article with a brief discussion on the implications for nursing and midwifery with a particular focus on cultural safety.

You can read the rest at: Journal of Transcultural Nursing or download DeSouza TCN proof.

I wish we cared about every new baby, the way we care about the Royal baby.

Sleeping beauty fairies

As a child I was enchanted by the idea of princesses and fairy godmothers and obsessed with the story of Sleeping Beauty. I even directed classmates in a play version of it in the playground of my Nairobi primary school. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, three good fairies arrive to bless the infant princess. Using their magic wands, one gives her the gift of beauty and the second the gift of song, but before the third can give her blessing, an evil fairy appears and curses the princess because she wasn’t invited to the christening ceremony. The curse is that the princess will die when she touches a spinning wheel’s spindle before sunset on her sixteenth birthday. Luckily the third fairy who was interrupted from her wish making uses her blessing to weaken the curse so that instead of death, the princess will fall into a deep sleep until she is awakened by a kiss.

Since the Royal baby was born, there has been a lot of fanfare with landmarks in London and all over the world lit up to celebrate the birth of the Royal baby. Many in both red and blue leading up to the birth and then blue upon confirmation of the baby’s gender. Former colonies have also got in on the act with almost 40 buildings in New Zealand partaking in the lighting frenzy. This baby has certainly had the Royal treatment in the media:

Daily mail Royal delivery

Daily mail Royal delivery

Led to creative gestures like this one from the crew of the HMS Lancaster based in the Caribbean:

Crew of HMS Lancaster

Crew of HMS Lancaster

I’ve loved the idea of being able to bestow wishes, fancying myself as a fairy godmother even if I haven’t had a magic wand. Working on a postnatal ward in the 90s, I would wish every infant and their family a wonderful new life. The birth of the Royal baby has rekindled my desire for godmothership, so this is what I wish for every infant, mother,  and family:

  • I wish the arrival of every infant in the world was greeted with the same sense of anticipation and enthusiasm as the Royal arrival.
  • I wish every mother, infant and family could receive the same “care” as the Royals will.
  • I wish “we” cared as much about maternal and infant mortality around the world.
  • I wish “we” cared as much about “other” mothers who aren’t supported in their mothering and against whom active measures are taken to regulate and surveil their bodies merely because of the accident of their own circumstances.
  • I wish we could remember the resources that have been extracted globally to maintain the Royal Family in the lifestyle they are accustomed to and that these could be redistributed.

Oxfam babyHowever, all babies are not created equal and neither are all mothers. Regulating the reproduction of those considered to be a burden on society has been a way to secure and control the well-being of the population, leading to the surveillance and management of women’s bodies. The quality and quantity of the populations been an enduring concern of governments, a concern which has seen two kinds of policies, the ones that encourage some mothers to procreate (pronatalist) and others that discourage or even coerce other mothers from reproducing.

Our recent colonial history is emblematic of these concerns, reflecting a shift from Malthusian anxiety about over-population and the inability of the environment to support growth to a concern with the quality of the population. In white settler nations pronatalist movements often had nationalist overtones, equating international prominence with demographic strength, requiring both productive and reproductive capacity. For example in the United States, Republican motherhood was a site of civic virtue, demonstrated through bearing arms if you were a man and producing and rearing sons if you were a woman. These sons would embody republican virtues, even if as a woman you were excluded from citizenship.

1789 Charles Willson Peale 1741-1827 Mary Gibson (Mrs. Richard Tilghman) & sons. Maryland Historical Society.

18th-Century American Mothers & Their Children By Charles Willson Peale

Fears of ‘race suicide’ arose in early 20th Century Australia, New Zealand and the United States and made motherhood a political duty for white women in the interests of the nation and the health of the race. Reproducing white citizens in the colonies was a patriotic duty for women superseding involvement in public affairs. The concern about ‘race suicide’ was attributed to middle class women neglecting their duties by not having children while ‘other’ women (migrant, indigenous or working class) had too many in white settler societies. Anglo-Saxon middle class’ individualised mothering contrasted with shared child rearing that was more common in other societies. This resulted in women from those communities, for example immigrant and indigenous women, being labelled as bad mothers. Evolutionary theory played a role in demarcating good and bad mothering: Anglo-Saxon and Northern European women were positioned on the top of the hierarchy of the ‘races’ and were the only women capable of being good mothers irrespective of what other mothers did. Such women bore the responsibility for ensuring the well-being of their families, the future of the nation and the progress of the race. Anglo-Saxon mothers were thus both exalted and pressured.

Market Court, Kensington High Street, London

Market Court, Kensington High Street, London

It has always been easier to focus on the management of mothers rather than politically challenging public health issues. Schemes to address maternal malpractice such as health visitors (whose job it was to keep surveillance and intervene to educate women) were initiated to ensure that the British working class mother was subjected to the imperatives of the infant welfare movement and became a ‘responsible’ mother. A proliferation of organisations to promote public health and domestic hygiene among the working class thrived, assisted by upper or middle class women. This class-based maternalism in Europe and North America reflected a race-based maternalism in the colonies, where Europeans challenged and transformed indigenous mothering in the name of “civilisation, modernity and scientific medicine” (Jolly, 1998, p.1). Similarly, in colonised countries the ‘cleaning up’ of birth was achieved through both surveillance and improved hygiene and sanitation. Sadly, interventions have involved the removal of children, most notably in the Stolen Generation in Australia, where Aboriginal – and some Torres Strait Islander – children were forcibly removed from their families by Australian Federal, State and Territory government agencies, and church missions, from the late 1800s to the 1970s and children sent either to institutions or adopted by non-Indigenous families.

Slightly late..

Slightly late..

A grassroots campaign calling for a national apology led to the first national Sorry Day on 26 May 1998 marked by ceremonies, rallies and meetings. Sadly, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown’s move to amend the sorry motion by offering “just compensation to all those who suffered loss” – was voted out by all the non-Green Australian Senators.

Australia Day 2008. The ‘Sorry’ writing was commissioned by a private person. Photo: Michael Davies, Flickr

Australia Day 2008. The ‘Sorry’ writing was commissioned by a private person. Photo: Michael Davies, Flickr

Forced sterilisations without consent occurred as recently as between 2006 and 2010 where prison doctors sterilized 150 California women. The targets of Golden State prisons were people with a mental illness or who were poor. The practice was eventually banned in 1979, but even by 1933, California had subjected more people to  forceful sterilization than all other U.S. states combined. This eugenic programme spread to Nazi Germany where extreme anti-natal racial hygiene doctrines were implemented against ‘unfit mothers’. Anti-natalist ideologies have often occurred concurrently with pronatalist ones. Women with mental or physical impairments or ethnically ‘other’ women such as Jews, Gypsies and Slavs were forcibly sterilised and abortions conducted, while Hitler simultaneously supported initiatives for the growth of a strong German Nazi Volk through a virtuous German motherhood. Breastfeeding in Nazi Germany was obligatory and women were awarded the Mutterkreuz medal (Honour of the German Mother (Ehrenkreuz der deutschen Mutter) for rearing four or more children.

MothersCross

So how will the other children born in the UK on 22 July 2013 fare? Emily Harle in The new Prince and his 2,000 birthday buddies paints a bleak picture. To summarise, 226 children of the 2,000 will live in overcrowded, temporary or run down housing, 11 will be homeless. 540 children will live in poverty. 8 children will die before their first birthdays and poor housing and low quality healthcare will be contributing factors.13  children will be taken into care during their childhood and have around five different sets of carers and nine of them will leave school with no qualifications. 120 will have a disability and 40 will have difficulty accessing services, support and activities that their able-bodied friends can. 25 of the 2,000 will be young carers who look after ill or disabled family members. Eleven of the children born on the same day will suffer from severe depression during their childhood, and 500 will experience mental illness during their lives, half of whom will have reported that the problem began before they were 18.

State handouts

Seumas Milne contends that the monarchy embodies inequality and fosters a “phonily apolitical conservatism”. The hypocrisy at the heart of the celebration of the monarchy is seen in the British government’s preaching of democracy globally, whilst supporting an undemocratic system at home through an unelected head of state and an appointed second chamber giving the monarchy significant unaccountable powers and influence aside from the more visible deferential culture and invented traditions.

The festivities to mark the Royal baby’s arrival are likely to continue for some time but let’s not forget the ‘other’ mothers, infants and families for whom there are no celebrations and for whom there will never be. Let us not forget that not all lives are equal, there are those whose lives are valued and those who aren’t. Most of all, let’s do something about it.

Niagara lit blue

Niagara Falls turns blue to celebrate the arrival of the royal baby.

Regulating migrant maternity: Nursing and midwifery’s emancipatory aims and assimilatory practices

I’ve just had the first paper from my PhD published: DeSouza, R. (2013), Regulating migrant maternity: Nursing and midwifery’s emancipatory aims and assimilatory practices. Nursing Inquiry. doi: 10.1111/nin.12020

In contemporary Western societies, birthing is framed as transformative for mothers; however, it is also a site for the regulation of women and the exercise of power relations by health professionals. Nursing scholarship often frames migrant mothers as a problem, yet nurses are imbricated within systems of scrutiny and regulation that are unevenly imposed on ‘other’ mothers. Discourses deployed by New Zealand Plunket nurses (who provide a universal ‘well child’ health service) to frame their understandings of migrant mothers were analysed using discourse analysis and concepts of power drawn from the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, read through a postcolonial feminist perspective. This research shows how Plunket nurses draw on liberal feminist discourses, which have emancipatory aims but reflect assimilatory practices, paradoxically disempowering women who do not subscribe to ideals of individual autonomy. Consequently, the migrant mother, her family and new baby are brought into a neoliberal project of maternal improvement through surveillance. This project – enacted differentially but consistently among nurses – attempts to alter maternal and familial relationships by ‘improving’ mothering. Feminist critiques of patriarchy in maternity must be supplemented by a critique of the implicitly western subject of maternity to make empowerment a possibility for all mothers.

 

 

How can we better support new mothers to sing?

I am a member of the Perinatal Mental Health New Zealand Trust (PMHNZ) whose vision is to : “improve outcomes for families and whanau affected by mental illness related to pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood”. They produce a quarterly newsletter that includes information about research, training, workshops and courses, innovative projects and services, topics for discussion and stories. It was a privilege to share my research with other members in the February newsletter (pdf) and on this Women’s day it seems apt to share it with a broader audience.

One of my favourite stories that I would tell when we ran workshops in the nineties about postnatal depression was by Jack Kornfield. I would share this story and half the room would be in tears.

“There is a tribe in East Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.” A Path with Heart (1993, p. 334).

For me the message in this story reflects the importance of love, being loved by a community and the importance of acknowledgement. Painfully, however, it highlights the ways in which women’s experiences of maternity can be just the opposite. That is, they can feel isolated, disrespected and invisible. As a clinician, I’ve learned that there are ways in which we, and the system that we work in can make this most magnificent, sacred and profound time in a woman and her family’s life also one that is painful, one that leaves long lasting scars. Health professionals can cause harm even especially when we think we are doing good. As an academic for 13 years prior to which I worked as a clinician for 10 years, I am deeply interested in the issue of power and how professional frameworks of care can undermine women’s personal experiences.

This song has been the background soundtrack to my recently completed PhD. I used data from a study funded by the Families Commission and assisted by Plunket, where I talked to 40 migrant women about their experiences of becoming mothers in New Zealand. I also talked to Plunket nurses about their experiences of caring for women from ethnic migrant backgrounds.

My motivation for doing research was prompted by my clinical experiences. Several years ago I decided to make a move from working in mental health to working in maternity. As someone who had worked as a community mental health nurse I took a lot of concepts about my work in mental health into this new setting, for example, I believed that care should be client centred and driven, that services should fit around consumers of services and that taking time to be with people was important. What I found in the institutionalised setting of hospital maternity care and later community care was that some of the routine procedures that are administered in hospitals and in the community with good intentions had negative impacts and were oppressive especially for women who did not tidily fit into the mould for the factory style model that was in place then. The conveyor belt metaphor is apt given that women who were the wrong fit were viewed as a problem, as only a single way of becoming a mother was acceptable. I saw that staff were frustrated at the extra demands or complexity of working with ‘diverse’ women, they lacked resources like time and knowledge. In turn, I could see that women who valued particular kinds of social support, acknowledgement and rituals were not getting their needs met. It seemed like a situation where no one was a winner.

What I found out in my research was that there was a big gap in satisfaction among women who were familiar with the structure of maternity services in the west and women whose lives had been shaped by growing up in other cultural contexts. Fundamentally there was a schism in the ways in which birth was understood. To be simplistic, western modes of being a mother valued independence, autonomy, taking up expert knowledge and using it and being an active consumer. By that I mean the individualising of responsibility for maternity on the mother, to take up scientific knowledge through reading self help books and for the role of the partner to be a birth coach and the goal of birth to be “natural”.

This dominant Pakeha middle class model of being a mother clashed with other understandings of motherhood, where responsibility was more collectivised, so that embodied knowledge from cultural authority figures (mother and mothers in law) protected mothers and where a range of rituals and supports were available for the mother (including some which were also not necessarily helpful). Women who became mothers in New Zealand had to negotiate these two different models of maternity and come to terms with what they negotiated. However, in the context of an assimilatory maternal health system it was very difficult for women to maintain traditions that were important to them. For example many women were not supported if they wanted to bring in traditional foods with them or have support from grandmothers. Many of these encounters left migrant mothers feeling disempowered. Another important clash was the different philosophies and roles of professionals and mother in the context of midwifery models and medical models. Some women viewed birth as a risky process and wanted the reassurance of visualising technologies. The view of birth as a risky process clashed with midwifery models of birth as a natural process that women are physically prepared for but need encouragement and support with.

Conclusion How can we support all kinds of women with different values, beliefs and rituals around birth, to feel loved, nurtured, safe and supported? How can we give women who might be separated from their loved ones, support to access those values, beliefs and that will allow them to manage the transition into motherhood? Returning to the metaphor of singing, and the power of connection it engenders, how can we connect and support people who are singing different kinds of songs? Can we adjust our tone so that we can harmonise? Can new songs and rhythms infuse the songs we already know with new energy and possibility?

Having a baby in New Zealand without your support base http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/kaixinxingdong/page/486- resources+dragon-babies+parents-stories 

Migrant support for Idle No More

When my parents were considering migrating from East Africa, their focus was on the white settler contexts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. For a bunch of reasons I won’t go into here, they settled on Aotearoa New Zealand. A part of me always felt like my life would have been better if we’d moved to Canada or the United States, because there would have been a bigger Goan community and more support for my family. I reasoned I might have felt more culturally confident, more capable at speaking Konkani. My visit to Canada in October helped me accept the gift that my parents had given me in migrating to Aotearoa New Zealand. By not being wrapped in the comforting cocoon of an insular diasporic community, I had to figure out my own relationship with my personal and cultural history but also what Ghassan Hage terms, an ethical relationship with colonisation and living on colonised land. Visiting Canada and meeting terrific indigenous people and migrant scholars allowed me to see the contrast between Canada’s genocidal history and its self-representation as a benign, civilised and benevolent nation. The parallels between Aotearoa and Canada of a colonial history supplemented by exploited migrant labour to meet settler ends mirrored the clearly unfair outcomes in measures of health, well-being and prosperity for indigenous peoples that I see in Aotearoa New Zealand as a health professional. For the first time I began to see how the issues I’d been grappling with as a migrant were replicated across seemingly disparate white settler contexts.

Idle No More. Immigrants support Indigenous rights. Les immigrantes appuient les droits des peuples autochtones. Los inmigrantes apoyan los derechose de los pueblos indigenas. Via Harsha Walia
Image courtesy: Aaron Paquette

The Idle No More movement which began on Great Turtle Island on December 10, 2012 was initiated by four women Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean in response to legislation (Bill C-45) affecting First Nations people and gained momentum with the hunger strike by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence. Impressively the United Church of Canada has acknowledged it’s complicity in colonization, inequality and abuse, through being one of the bodies that ran Indian Residential Schools. In 1986 they apologized to Aboriginal peoples for confusing “Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.” Apologizing to former residential schools students in 1998. Their response to the Idle No More movement has been to fully support Chief Spence’s statement that “Canada is violating the right of Aboriginal peoples to be self-determining and continues to ignore (their) constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights in their lands, waters, and resources.”

Other activists have also taken note of the commonalities of the struggle, noting how how what is particular, has universal relevance. Naomi Klein notes that

During this season of light and magic, something truly magical is spreading. There are round dances by the dollar stores. There are drums drowning out muzak in shopping malls. There are eagle feathers upstaging the fake Santas. The people whose land our founders stole and whose culture they tried to stamp out are rising up, hungry for justice. Canada’s roots are showing. And these roots will make us all stand stronger.

International support has come from the occupied lands of Palestine and indigenous communities around the globe. In Aotearoa New Zealand a Facebook page has been developed called Aotearoa in Support of Idle No More: Maori women’s group Te Wharepora Hou, a collective of wāhine based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland  with a commitment to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine have also pledged support. As a migrant occupying a disquieting position in a country working through issues of biculturalism and mutliculturalism in a monocultural context. Diasporic migrant communities and organisations have also backed the Idle No More movement, with South Asian activists and BAYAN-Canada, an alliance of progressive Filipino organizations noting the similarities between migrant experiences and indigenous struggles.

Immigrants in Support of Indigenous Rights via Harsha WaliaPhoto credit: Cameron Bode

Immigrants in Support of Indigenous Rights via Harsha Walia
Photo credit: Cameron Bode

How do we do engage with an indigenous struggle when we do and don’t belong at the same time? Himani Bannerji notes in a Canadian context (but one that readily resonates through various white settler contexts):

So if we problematize the notion of ‘Canada’ through the introjection of the idea of belonging, we are left with the paradox of belonging and non-belonging simultaneously. As a population, we non-whites and women (in particular, non-white women) are living in a specific territory. We are part of its economy, subject to its laws, and members of its civil society. Yet we are not part of its self-definition as ‘Canada’ because we are not ‘Canadians.’ We are pasted over with labels that give us identities that are extraneous to us. And these labels originate in the ideology of the nation, in the Canadian state apparatus, in the media, in the education system, and in the commonsense world of common parlance. We ourselves use them. They are familiar, naturalized names: minorities, immigrants, newcomers, refugees, aliens, illegals, people of color, multicultural communities, and so on. We are sexed into immigrant women, women of color, visible minority women, black/South Asian/Chinese women, ESL (English as a second language) speakers, and many more. The names keep proliferating, as though there were a seething reality, unmanageable and uncontainable in any one name. Concomitant with this mania for naming of ‘others’ is one for the naming of that which is ‘Canadian.’ This ‘Canadian’ core community is defined through the same process that others us. We, with our named and ascribed otherness, face an undifferentiated notion of the ‘Canadian’ as the unwavering beacon of our assimilation.

The experiences of marginalisation that Bannerji elucidates can guide our responses to the Idle No More movement. Gurpreet Singh from Vancouver, notes that South Asian seniors have always referred to the indigenous peoples as Taae Ke (family of elderly uncle). If we see a familiar connection between what we ourselves experience as migrants and extend that empathy to the struggles of indigenous people who have experienced an inter-generational slow genocide, we might be able to see beyond our own oppression and our view that we are too far outside the structures of power to claim a space. Privileged in some ways, disadvantaged in others, our futures are tightly imbricated in this indigenous struggle. Our presence has sometimes diffused indigenous claims and we must consider our complicity in the continuing colonisation of indigenous people. We must put pressure on governments to recognise the rights of indigenous people and their unique place as guardians of the lands we stand upon, our futures depend on it.

At the asset sales March in Auckland in April 2012. Banner by YAFA-Young Asian Feminists Aotearoa.

At the asset sales March in Auckland in April 2012. Banner by YAFA-Young Asian Feminists Aotearoa. Photo by Sharon Hawke.

 

 

Xenoglossophobia: Speak English or die

So if you really want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself —Gloria Anzaldua.

Language maintenance and pluralism mean different things to different groups. Multilingualism is an act of survival for linguistic minorities, but read as a deviation, a threat, a sign of defiance and a rejection of fundamental nation-state values by the dominant culture in migrant receiving and white settler contexts. This interpretation of language pluralism is epitomised in the Stormtroopers of Death song Speak English Or Die (1985).

You come into this country
You can’t get real jobs
Boats and boats and boats of you
Go home you fuckin’ slobs
Selling hot dogs on the corner
Selling papers in the street
Pushing, pulling, digging, sweating
Where you come from must be beat[CHORUS]
You always make us wait
You’re the ones we hate
You can’t communicate
Speak English Or DieYou don’t know what I want
You don’t know what I need
Why must I repeat myself
Can’t you fuckin’ read?
Nice fuckin’ accents
Why can’t you speak like me
What’s that dot on you head,
Do you use it to see?

I was reminded of it with the news of a racist incident in Melbourne where a group of French-speaking women travelling on a bus were told by another woman to “speak English or die”. The verbal abuse captured on video shows a second man threatening to cut the woman with a knife. The knives remained in the kitchen in a New Zealand Herald report about the unfair dismissal of a chef who in addition to the sin of not knowing the difference between types of tofu “insisted on listening to Indian music and speaking Hindi” which  “affected” customers. This anxiety about the speaking of languages other than English extends to the policy sphere with many states in the US introducing legislative bills to make English the official state language, for example Minnesota in 2011. Even signs in languages in other languages provoke discomfort. Massey University researchers Robin Peace and Ian Goodwin found some New Zealanders responded with “annoyance” or “repugnance” when confronted with a space that did not make immediate, translatable sense.

What is with this monolingual sense of entitlement over public space and deep rage that is provoked by people speaking (or singing as the Frenchwomen were) in their own language?

I think it has a lot to do with how “we” might imagine “ourselves”. Language is a glue that coheres people, identities and values. Hearing a different language represents a threat to the power relations of the dominant group.

Immigrants are not supposed to be heard…. Immigrant culture and language—assumed to have little prestige or usefulness in comparison with the dominant American culture and the English language—are supposed to fade away quickly as assimilation runs its course—Castro, 1992.

The anxiety (Xenoglossophobia) generated in hearing a language that is out-of-place, reflects an anxiety about broader demographic changes that have resulted in the browning of our societies. Having a monoglot ideology though means that linguistic diversity is denied and prohibited. If English is the only language that can be heard, then this effectively silences other languages, cultures and ideas.

Assimilationist and genocidal approaches to linguistic plurality have been central to settler capitalist histories requiring the coercive adoption of majority languages in the interests of economic development. Monolingualism was fundamental to economic growth and supporting language minority rights was viewed as a threat to the nation-state because of having an unassimilated ‘other’ (Phillipson, Rannut, & Skutnabb-Kangas, 1994, p. 4). Colonisation and migration led many to abandon their own languages in order to access the social and political benefits of incorporation and assimilation or risk being stigmatised. My experience of trying to reclaim my own language is relevant here. The Portuguese colonisation of Goa led to the Konkani language being marginalised through the enforcement of Portuguese. This linguistic displacement made Konkani the lingua de criados (language of the servants) as Hindu and Catholic elites turned to Marathi and Portuguese respectively. Ironically Konkani is now the ‘cement’ that binds all Goans across caste, religion and class and in 1987 Konkani was made an official language of Goa. Ironically, contemporary iterations of [neo]colonial and [neo]liberal agendas require the appropriation of languages in the interests of global capital, as seen by the push for Chinese language learning in Australia, with monolinguists questioning the global relevance of indigenous languages. Setting up a familiar dynamic of competing indigenous and migrant others. Interestingly the National Statement on Language Policy published by The Human Rights Commission reflects these tensions:

Human Rights and Responsibilities

The right to learn and use one’s own language is an internationally recognised human right. Human rights treaties and declarations specifically refer to rights and responsibilities in relation to indigenous languages, minority languages, learning and using one’s mother tongue, the value of learning international languages, and access to interpretation and translation services. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that ‘a person who belongs to an ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority in New Zealand shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of that minority, to enjoy the culture, to profess and practise the religion, or to use the language of that minority’.

New Zealand has a particular responsibility under the Treaty of Waitangi and international law to protect and promote te reo Mäori as the indigenous language of New Zealand. It also has a special responsibility to protect and promote other languages that are indigenous to the New Zealand realm: Vagahau Niue, Gagana Tokelau, Cook Island Mäori, and New Zealand Sign Language. It has a regional responsibility as a Pacific nation to promote and protect other Pacific languages, particularly where significant proportions of their communities live in New Zealand.

Economic Development

A significant and growing proportion of New Zealand’s trade is with Asia and learning the languages of our key trading partners is an economic imperative.

Interestingly the New Zealand Settlement Strategy in its seven goals for successful settlement, aims for newcomers to New Zealand to:

  1. feel welcomed and connected
  2. get the right job and contribute to future prosperity
  3. speak and understand New Zealand English
  4. know how to access information and services
  5. feel proud and confident
  6. feel safe
  7. understand and contribute to New Zealand society.

But there is no emphasis on language maintenance.

Aotearoa New Zealand and linguistic pluralism

Aotearoa New Zealand has two official languages: Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). English is a de facto official language as it is widely used in Aotearoa, English is spoken by 95.9 percent of people, after which the most common language in which people are proficient in is Māori, spoken by 4.1 percent (157,110 people). 24,090 people report being able to use New Zealand Sign Language and 6,057 people can communicate in all three official languages. Between 2001 and 2006, the numbers of people in New Zealand who spoke Hindi almost doubled, from 22,749 to 44,589, the number of people able to speak Northern Chinese (Mandarin) increased from 26,514 to 41,391, the number of people able to speak Korean increased from 15,873 to 26,967, and the number of people able to speak Afrikaans increased from 12,783 to 21,123. The number of multilingual people increased by 19.5 percent between the 2001 and 2006 Censuses to reach 671,658 people, a 43.3 percent increase from 468,711 people in 1996. Where you were born has a big impact on whether you speak two or more languages, overseas-born residents are more likely than New Zealand-born usual residents to be able to speak two or more languages. 35 percent of overseas-born children (aged 0 to 14 years) speak two or more languages, compared with 11.5 percent of New Zealand-born children. As do working-age people aged between 15 to 64 years, of whom almost half 48.5 percent were multilingual, compared with 10.0 percent of New Zealand-born people. In 2006, 2.2 percent of people could not speak English. Of these, the majority were born overseas (80.3 percent).

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission views the promotion of language as a human right. Its 2005 vision for language was that “by the bicentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 2040 New Zealand is well established as a bilingual nation and communities are supported in the use of other languages”. It contributes to that vision in many ways including publishing a monthly e-newsletter, Te Waka Reo; a National Statement on Language Policy; supporting language weeks and other language promotion activities,and dealing with complaints about discrimination involving language (e.g. using languages other than English in the workplace).

Being fluent in three languages but not in Konkani when I arrived in New Zealand (and now not being able to speak at all in Maragoli and poorly in Swahili) has taught me that languages open up different ways of thinking and of understanding the world, but fluency isn’t passive. It must be nurtured in the context of a community. The last New Zealand Census identified that there were 588 Konkani speakers in Aotearoa, an increase from 210 in 2001. This rise gives me great heart and hope for the possibility that I might be able to reclaim my own language (amchi bas). Learning other languages has taught me to empathise and to advocate. Perhaps more than anything this is what learning another language or reclaiming our own language offers us, a chance to connect with ourselves and others in ways that are truly meaningful, but that too must be fostered.

If you talk to a [wo]man in a language [s]he understands, that goes to [her]/his head. If you talk to [her]/him in [her]/his language, that goes to [her]/his heart—Nelson Mandela

Sisters, friends or whānau?

This is a lengthier version of an editorial published in this month’s Kai Tiaki New Zealand Nursing Journal. It is based on an invited address I gave at the 10th Annual Conference of the Women’s Health Section:’Divine Secrets of the Sisterhood’ on April 26th  2012.

I recently spoke at the NZNO Women’s health conference about sisterhood. Not that I don’t care about men (I do deeply), but as one of three sisters and as a woman who has spent most of my adult life working in the female dominated profession of nursing, relationships between women are of great personal and professional interest. The call to action in the women’s movement almost thirty years ago emphasised sisterhood and demanded the end of oppression and the commitment to women as a social group (Klein & Hawthorne, 1994). However, the movement also raised questions of difference. Many suggested that in order to understand what women had in common they also needed to pay attention to what they didn’t have in common such as race, gender and sexuality. Focusing on similarity erased and overlooked important differences, but only focusing on difference led to the “othering” of others, stereotyping and pushing people away.

I believe these questions remain important for nursing, because I think our differences can make nursing stronger. An understanding of our differences can help us to better understand our similarities. As Audre Lorde points out “it is within our differences that we are both most powerful and most vulnerable, and some of the most difficult tasks of our lives are the claiming of differences and learning to use those differences for bridges rather than as barriers between us”. So I believe an important question for nurses is how can we capitalise on the energy and movement in difference and resist the coercive force of sameness?

One of the challenges is that differences raise critical issues of power, because differences are often institutionalised (Crenshaw,1994, p.411). Take the idea of the implicit ideal nurse-typically the ideal nurse is female, white, middle class, heterosexual, able bodied, nice, obedient and nurturing (Giddings, 2005; Reverby, 2001). Those nurses that fit the norm experience privilege and those that don’t are marginalised. Internationally, women of colour are present in practice settings with less prestige, lower wages, less security, and less professional autonomy (Gustafson, 2007). While, a disproportionate number of white men and women are ensconced in nursing management, academia and research, whose world view is supported by the dominance of white, Western, biomedical interpretations of health and illness. Grada Kilomba defines whiteness as “a political definition, which represents historical, political and social privileges of a certain group that has access to dominant structures and institutions of society”.  As Ang-Lygate (1997, p,2) points out “political sisterhood is suspect unless those sisters who enjoy privileges denied to other sisters are seen to share the responsibility of dismantling the differences”.

This dominance of whiteness in our workforce and our ideas about health and illness are present in nursing in New Zealand too. We are undergoing a period of unprecedented diversity. Transitioning from largely New Zealand-born European to being increasingly ethnically diverse, our dependence on overseas-born migrant nurses is evident in their composition of 29% of the workforce- one of the highest proportions in the OECD. At the same time Māori and Pacific Islands nurses are under-represented in our workforce while these communities experience the greatest health need. This inequity is challenging and as Margaret Southwick notes provides “justification (if one be needed) for the claim that nursing needs to take seriously the challenge of working with diverse and marginalised groups within society is to be found in the health status of these very same groups of people.” (Southwick, 2001).

So given the diversities in nursing and the health inequities that confront our communities, new strategies are necessary. I’m proposing moving away from sisterhood which implies the shared experience of being a woman and experiencing gender oppression to consider a new metaphor that allows greater consideration of our differences so that we can better articulate our similarities (Simmonds, 1997). There’s friendship for a start, a relationship based on equals who have affection, and interest in each other (Friedman, 1993, p.189). Its etymology is in the word free. It means to love, to love our own freedom, and to love and encourage the freedom of the other (Mary Daly, 1987). Friendship allows us to work in each other’s interests because part of what is compelling is our differences.

The notion of friendship as an alliance within the context of difference can be seen in this brilliant blog post entitled Queer Sisters Keep Saving Me: The Brilliantly Selfish Act of Being an Ally by Black Artemis

Heterosexual people especially women owe a tremendous debt to the LGBTQ struggle for some of the sexual freedoms we enjoy…the boundaries queer people bend and bust at the risk of their own lives in many ways expand our heteronormative privilege. Their radical decision to be simply who they are makes it much safer for the rest of us to redefine who we may want to be. We have a broader range of acceptable sexual expression because of the queer liberation movement for every time they push the envelope, they set a new “normal,” and it’s not even they who benefit the most for their courage. Rather it is those of us whose sexual identity is already validated.

If we are going to use the metaphor of sisterhood we consider the idea of a “chosen family” used by LGBTQ communities or the Māori concept of whānau. It too is based on love rather than biology and includes people as who are a source of love and support outside the heteronormative idea of family.

I’d like us to strengthen nursing by strengthening ourselves, for creating space for all nurses to be able to come together with our diverse traditions and values, to be united based on solidarity not sameness. I’d like us to be able to articulate our shared beliefs and practices while acknowledging how we differ.

I’m proud to be a nurse in New Zealand, I value the shared commitment to caring and to social justice in the shape of cultural safety. I’d like to build on our legacy and see nurses critically examine the values, goals, and intents shaping our profession. I’d like us to have some challenging conversations about power and privilege, to deconstruct our own classism, racism, and homophobia and to think about recognition and reparation. I leave my final words to Audre Lorde:

So this is a call for each of you to remember herself and himself, to reach for new definitions of that self, and to live intensely. To not settle for the safety of pretended sameness and the false security that sameness seems to offer. To feel the consequences of who you wish to be, lest you bring nothing of lasting worth because you have withheld some piece of the essential, which is you.

References

ANG-LYGATE, M., CORRIN, C. & HENRY, M. S. 1997. Desperately seeking sisterhood: Still challenging and building, London, Taylor and Francis.

CRENSHAW, K. 1994. Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. In: FINEMAN, M. A. & MYKITIUK, R. (eds.) The public nature of private violence. New York: Routledge.

DALY, M. (1978) Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Boston: Beacon.

FRIEDMAN, M. 1993. What are friends for?: feminist perspectives on personal relationships and moral theory, New York: Cornell University Press.

GIDDINGS, L. S. 2005. Health disparities, social injustice, and the culture of nursing. Nursing Research, 54, 304.

GUSTAFSON, D. L. 2007. White on whiteness: Becoming radicalized about race. Nursing Inquiry, 14, 153-161.

HAWTHORNE, S. & KLEIN, R. 1994. Australia for Women: travel and culture, New York, Spinifex Press.

LORDE, A. 2009. Difference and Survival: An Address to Hunter College” Rudolph, New York:, Oxford University Press.

REVERBY, S. 2001. A caring dilemma: Womanhood and nursing in historical perspective. In: HEIN, E. C. (ed.) Nursing issues in the twenty-first century: Perspectives from the literature. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.

SIMMONDS, F. N. 1997. Who Are the Sisters? Difference, Feminism, and Friendship. 19-30. In ANG-LYGATE, M., CORRIN, C. & HENRY, M. S. 1997. Desperately seeking sisterhood: Still challenging and building, London, Taylor and Francis.

SIMMONDS, F. N. 1997. Who Are the Sisters? Difference, Feminism, and Friendship. Desperately Seeking Sisterhood: Still challenging and building, 19-30.

SOUTHWICK, M. R. 2001. Pacific women’s stories of becoming a nurse in New Zealand: A radical hermeneutic reconstruction of marginality. Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington.

 

Questions haunt nursing student

In 2007 a student nurse called Lisa Kenyon wrote to the Kai Tiaki asking questions about nursing. I’ve reprinted her letter here and then my response. It seems relevant at the moment

I am a year-one nursing student from Waiariki Institute of Technology, doing my bachelor of nursing at Windermere in Tauranga. I have recently been out on my first practicum for three weeks and have come away with a multitude of questions. I am a 34-year-old married woman with a child, and consider myself experienced in the traumas and joys that life can bring. After finishing my practicum, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was left reflecting on my personal experience with the elderly.

I cared for a dear man who unfortunately died in my second week of being his student nurse; I was so privileged to have spent that time with him and his family. But I was left with a list of questions and thoughts to which I have no answers. Maybe there are no answers and maybe, with more nursing experience, these questions will make sense, but for now I want to share my thoughts and wonder how other experienced nurses or student nurses have overcome these difficulties.

The questions that bother me are: Can a nurse “care” too much? Don’t patients deserve everything I can give them? How do I protect myself and still engage on a deeper level with the patient? How do I avoid burnout? Why can’t I push practice boundaries, when I see there could be room for adjustment or improvement? Isn’t it okay to feet emotionally connected to the patient? Don’t I need to continually ask questions, if nursing is to change, or will that just get me fired?! Finally, am I just being a laughable year-one student, with hopes and dreams and in need of a reality check?

I would really appreciate feedback from other student nurses who have felt the same or from experienced nurses with some insight into these questions, as I am left doubting what kind of nurse I am going to be.

Lisa Kenyon, nursing student, Waiariki Institute of Technology, Tauranga.

My response below:

I was pleased to see Lisa Kenyon’s letter, Questions haunt nursing student, in the December/ January 2006/2007 issue of Kai Tioki Nursing New Zealand (p4). The questions she has reflected on indicate she is going to be an amazing nurse.

I believe nursing is both an art and a science, and our biggest tools are our heart and who we are as human beings. I was moved by her letter and thought I’d share my thoughts. The questions she posed were important because the minute we stop asking them, we risk losing what makes us compassionate and caring human beings.

Let me try to give my responses to some of the questions Lisa raised–I’ve been reflecting on them my whole career and continue to do so.

1) Can a nurse “care” too much?

Yes, when we use caring for others as a way of ignoring our own “issues”. No, when we are fully present in the moment when we are with a client.

2) Don’t patients deserve everything I can give them?

They deserve the best of your skills, compassion and knowledge. Sometimes we can’t give everything because of what is happening in our own lives, but we can do our best and remember we are part of a team, and collaborate and develop synergy with others, so we are resourced and can give our best.

3) How do I protect myself and still engage on a deeper level with the patient?

I think we have to look after our energy and maintain a balance in our personal lives, so we can do our work weft. We also need healthy boundaries so we can have therapeutic communication.

4) How do I avoid burnout?

Pace yourself, get your needs met outside work, have good colleagues and friends, find mentors who have walked the same road to support you. I’ve had breaks from nursing so I could replenish myself.

5) Why can’t I push practice boundaries, when I see there could be room for adjustment or improvement?

I think you can and should, but always find allies and justification for doing something. Sometimes you have to be a squeaky wheel

6) Isn’t it okay to feet emotionally connected to the patient?

Yes, it is okay to feel emotionally connected to the patient, but we also have to remember that this is a job and our feelings need transmutation into the ones we live with daily.

7) Don’t I need to continually ask questions, if nursing is to change, or will that just get me fired?

Yes, you do have to ask questions but it is a risky business. Things don’t change if we don’t have pioneers and change makers.

8) Finally, am I just being a laughable year-one student with hopes and dreams, and in need of a reality check?

No, your wisdom and promise are shining through already and we want more people like you. Kia Kaha!

Ruth DeSouza RN, GradDipAdv, MA, Centre co-ordinator/Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Asian and Migrant Health Research, National Institute for Public Health and Mental Health Research Auckland University of Technology

A level playing field? Sport and racism

At the weekend it was my parents’ wedding anniversary. They got married in Dar es Salaam and one of the distinguishing features of their wedding was the hockey stick “guard of honour” that their friends created for them outside the church after the service (my Mum played hockey for Tanzania). The family capability and Goan cultural propensity to excel at sport (take Seraphino Antao the first Kenyan athlete to win a gold medal at the 1962 Commonwealth Games) skipped right past me. Mostly I enjoy the social, political and cultural issues in relation to sport like the national anthems, the medals and the underdog winning. The recent completion of a PhD (yes really) has also given me some confidence and time to begin to explore questions like the neocolonial exploitation of African players by European football clubs and how raw materials in the form of players are sourced, refined and exported for consumption and wealth generation in Europe leaving the African periphery impoverished. But that’s another blogpost. This post is about racism and sport, but I needed to do a geneaological manouevre and trace my own relationship with sport through my experience of being a Goan via East Africa now resident in Aotearo New Zealand. I’ve mapped some of the ways in which sport has been mobilised such as the re-shaping of personhood for colonised peoples and in turn the ways in which western sport has been appropriated by diasporic and marginalised communities as a form of resistance. I then talk about the prevalence of racism in sport, the contributing factors and what can be done.

Photo of Goans in Dar es Salaam via Jo Birkmeyer-submitted to Mervyn A Lobo’s blog 

The establishment of sport in colonial contexts was linked with Western Christian church activity and colonialism. Sports were introduced to meet both the needs of churches and colonial governments in transforming bodies into desirable shapes and capabilities so imperial reform could be undertaken by locals thereby creating physical and moral reform against existing less palatable indigenous norms. Games like cricket and football were intended to reinforce the superiority of colonial culture and transmit a particular moral order and values that were seen lacking in the colonised group such as team spirit, commitment, the sacrifice of individual aspirations to the group, bravery and so forth. Particular versions of masculinity were also being promulgated in a context where many Asian men were seen as effeminate.

In the diaspora, Goans formed clubs and institutions replicating village ties and loyalties back home which helped to allay loneliness, cultural alienation and the challenges of navigating a new country. In 1921 it was estimated that almost half a million Goans lived in Goa, Dama and Diu and that up to 200,000 Goans lived in British India, East Africa or Mesopotamia (James Mills, 2002). One quarter of that number lived in Bombay. Expatriate sports confirmed ties with the homeland, created a sense of community and provided an oasis from the demands of navigating belonging in racially stratified communities. Every Saturday after mass at the Holy Family Cathedral in Nairobi my parents would make their way with us to the Railway Goan Institute founded in 1909 which later became the Railway Institute in 1967. I have great memories of hurtling around (we seemed to do a lot of running along those wooden floors) and being spoiled rotten by my parent’s friends who would provide us with bottomless supplies of coke and crisps. Goans in Kenya also formed other clubs like The Goan Institute Mombasa in 1901, Goan Institute Nairobi in 1905 and the Goan Gymkhana in 1936 with sports an important focus of diasporic life.

Closer to where I live now in New Zealand, Indians in Wellington formed their own hockey team in 1936, which also marked the year that the Auckland Indian Sports Club (AISC) was established.

Photo reproduced with permission from Te Ara. Original article: Nancy Swarbrick. ‘Indians’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-11
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/indians/5/5

Many other communities also made sport a focus of their activities, for example the New Zealand Chinese Association Annual Sports Tournament (AKA Easter Tournament) started in 1947 and runs every Easter Weekend. It consists of a sports tournament and cultural event for Chinese members and competitive sports like basketball, volley ball, touch rugby, netball, lawn bowls and golf are enjoyed. Similarly pan-ethnic events like the Ethnic Soccer Cup at the Auckland International Cultural festival are eagerly awaited and full of good natured fun and tough competition.

Photo by the Localist

Sport seemingly offers a transcendent space, where cohesion and connection is possible not only within and across diasporic communities, but also across dominant and minority communities. A phrase bandied around frequently last year was the way in which hosting the Rugby World cup in New Zealand “brought us together as a nation”.  Who of us will ever forget the ferocious and irrepressible passion of the Tongan community in New Zealand supporting their team? I love the ideal that sport can be a place where people with diverse interests, histories and values can be unified in one setting. I’ve watched with growing feelings of warmth the ways in which our Pacific players have infused “the game” of rugby with flair and energy and increased the ratio of tattoos, dreadlocks and eye-liner.

This illusion that sport can be a connecting force is challenged in Sara Ahmed‘s critique of the “happy” multicultural film Bend it Like Beckham. Directed by Kenyan-born, Punjabi British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha, Ahmed suggests that the central message of the film is that “the would-be- citizen who embraces the national game is rewarded with happiness”. The feel good vibe of this film ignores the negative affects surrounding racism and unproblematically represents visibly different migrants as patriarchal, closed, traditional, fixed and unchanging. White people can be inspired and warmed by Jess’ migrant success, as she bends the ball (a metaphor for disrupting cultural barriers) without needing to feel guilty about racism. The film plays into the notion that success is the reward for integration and is also proof that racism can be overcome.

My fantasy that the arrival of the first Asian All Black will give Asians more street cred and admiration has taken a battering with the racist responses to the “Linsanity” phenomenon. Jeremy Lin, the Asian American son of Taiwanese immigrants and graduate of Harvard has experienced spectacular NBA basketball success but the headline “Chink in the Armor,” or the tweet by Jason Whitlock referring to “two inches of pain” have deeply hurt many Asian Americans. Understandable, given the limited representation of Asian Americans in mainstream media and because the blatant racism provided a barometer reading of how this group are viewed in a racially charged landscape. But as Long, Tongue, Spracklen and others have noted, we live in a racist society so why should there not be racism in sport? Racist taunts and chants at matches and the throwing of banana skins at players have been supplemented by attacks via social media adding a new viciousness. A Welsh student was recently been imprisoned for using twitter to spread racist rants about acritically ill footballer Fabrice Muamba and locally, unhappy fans took to twitter to racially denigrate Blues coach Pat Lam.

Sport media coverage contributes to inequity by not reflecting social and cultural diversity. The MARS - Media against racism in sport programme– developed by The Council of Europe and the European Union recognises the following inequalities in representation in sports news stories:

  • Gender under-representation -where women comprise only one quarter of all stories despite making up half the population.
  • Migrants making up around 10% of the EU population but representing less than 5% of the main actors in the news in Europe.
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people representing roughly 6% of the population of the United Kingdom but accounting for less than 1% of the population seen on TV.
  • 20% of the British population has an impairment or disability but less than 1% are represented on British TV.

These inequalities in sports media coverage reflect broader societal inequalities. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s annual review of race relations Tūi Tūi Tuituiā, Race Relations in 2011 released in March 2012 noted a “continuing degree of racial prejudice, significant racial inequalities, and the exclusion of minorities from full participation in all aspects of society”. The Commission identified racial prejudice in the form of: “negative attitudes to the Treaty, to indigenous rights, to Māori, Pacific peoples, Asians, migrants and refugees”. The report noted that these prejudices were implicated in discrimination, marginalisation, and inequalities, ultimately proving a barrier to the realisation of the social and economic benefits of diversity.

The racist soup of Pakeha media culture not only excludes particular groups but it also reproduces pathological, deficient and destructive representations of groups that are already discrimiinated against and marginalised. Take the “common sense” racism of Paul Henry, Michael Laws and Paul Holmes who all compete for New Zealand’s top racist.Take the comments by the former All Black and World cup Rugby Ambassador Andy Haden, who referred to a “three darkies”selection policy by rugby franchise The Crusaders. When Haden made an apology it was “to anyone who was offended” by the comments. He received a smack on the hand with a wet hanky from our Prime Minister John Key despite the outrage and I don’t think he had to resign. Key defended Haden’s actions as having a precedent in Paul Holmes‘ “cheeky darkie” comments in 2003. The gutless and useless Broadcasting Standards Authority refused to uphold 10 complaints over the  comments on Radio station Newstalk ZB. They acknowledged that the comments went beyond the limits of acceptability and breached broadcast standards, but they were happy that the actions taken internally by broadcaster were adequate. Thank goodness for writers with a conscience like Tapu Misa who is my only reason for continuing to purchase the morning newspaper and the long missed Karlo Mila from the Dom Post who can still remind us through her poetry that words scar.

Poster by Dudley Benson (2012)

Where there is power, there is resistance (Thanks Foucault). Racism (and anti-Semitism) in sport have also provided a space for protest and resistance. American sprinters Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman who were the only two Jews on the USA Olympic team, were pulled from their relay team on the day of the competition in the 1936 Berlin Olympics,. There was speculation that the American Olympic committee did not want two Jews to win gold medals in the context of Nazi Germany and Hitler’s Aryan pride. These are the same games where Jesse Owens won four gold medals.  Fast forward to the 1968 Olympics when Tommy Smith and John Carlos powerfully raised their fists on the podium in a Black power salute. The symbolism of this gesture referenced the black American community (black gloves); black American poverty (black socks, no shoes), black American lynching (Smith wore a scarf and Carlos a bead necklace).

Source Jonny Weeks:The Guardian

Closer to home, look at the stand many New Zealanders took against the Springbok rugby tour of 1981. 150,000 people took part in over 200 demonstrations in 28 centres and 1500 people were charged with protest related offences. The protests were in response to New Zealand opposition to the apartheid and segregation practiced in South Africa. These apartheid policies had impacted on team selection for the All Blacks, and Māori players had been excluded from touring South Africa by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) until 1970. I take my inspiration from this event that “New Zealanders” might take their history into account and challenge the unacceptable comments against Pat Lam and show leadership over such behaviour.

So what are we to do about racism in sport? How can we use the values of sport, ostensibly fairness, teamwork, a fair go, equal opportunity, respect and care for each other to help us create a real level playing field, locally and globally? We can protest the sponsorship of the London Olympics by Dow (Union Carbide was merged into Dow and responsible for the tragedy at Bhopal not least 25,000 deaths and much much suffering). We can ask much more of our junk food media and not consume it as Jennifer Sybel suggests.  We can ask that the groups in our communities that are under-represented (disabled, women, LGBTQ, visibly different) get a fairer go and that  stories that purport to represent them contribute positively to our cultural and social diversity. We can take more responsibility for the actions of racist tweeters and taunters and recognise their actions come from consuming the same junk food media that we do. Rather than individualising their behaviour we can ask questions about what kind of playing field we have created and whether we want to put any effort into creating an alternative.

Illustration by Jim Sillavan for the Guardian

 

 

When helping does not help: Invisible children and colonialism

In almost thirty years of being a nurse I’ve learned that what one person thinks is helpful can be coercive to another. “Help” is complex, raising questions such as: how has the helper negotiated the relationship? Does the helper understand the problem? Do the people being helped agree with the helper’s framing of the problem? There is also the issue of power in the helping relationship. How did the helper get the power to help? What access to resources and knowledge does the helper have? Does helping disempower the helped?

The film and campaign KONY 2012 by Invisible Children and directed by Jason Russell about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by the “monster” Joseph Kony has generated passionate pleas from a range of “friends” to support the “people” of Uganda. I am excited about the democratisation of information through social media, but I’ve been frustrated that this video has made us all “experts” about Africa. There is a bigger social and political backdrop to this story which has been tracked by Blackstar news and Akena Francis Adyanga.

My concern with this video is that it valorises the story being told by Invisible children (and other white people) at the expense of African leaders, without access to the same power structures or resources. The  documentary repeats the colonial imperative for Africa to be saved by white people. This video smacks of yet another colonial “civilising” project,  where the old binaries of colonialism are revived. These frame Africa as backward, while the west is modern; “we” are positioned as free while “they” are oppressed and so on. In this binary of good and bad, Africans are represented on the not so good side of the binary. Therefore, the solution must be a good one, a white one, and in this hierarchy Africans lose out. Local efforts and voices go unacknowledged in favour of the white saviour complex, which as Teju Cole suggests “supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening”. Even the name  “Invisible Children” as the Sojourner project points out “denies and co-opts the agency of Ugandans – many of whom have organized to protect child soldiers”.

I have a stake in this propaganda video on several fronts. One is my personal experience of being born in Tanzania to parents who were also born in Tanzania and and having two sisters who were born in Kenya. My own life has been shaped by three versions of colonialism: German, Portuguese and British, and continues to be shaped by colonialism’s continuing effects in the white settler nation of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Secondly, in my doctoral studies, I investigated the colonial legacies of health and nursing in the context of migrant maternity. My profession of nursing is not only an altruistic and caring enterprise, but is also complicit with biomedicine in the advancement of colonialism and imperialism. Medicine has used imperial claims to modernity and universalism, while the concept of “health” has in turn has lent moral credibility to the colonial enterprise. Consequently, one of my theoretical and political commitments is the resistance to imperial cultural analysis. I abhor the white saviour narrative, where vulnerable children or women of colour must be rescued from men of colour by “culturally superior” white men or women.  We need less individualising narratives, where the full social, political and historical contexts of a situation can be considered.

So what does a process such as colonialism have to do with this video? European colonialism put in place hierarchies of superiority/inferiority and structures of domination and subordination. The conquest and control of other people’s land and goods has recurred throughout human history, but European colonialism in the 19th century allowed for the growth of European capitalism and industry through the economic exploitation of raw materials, cheap, indentured or slave labour and profitable land in the colonies. Profits always returned to the imperial centres. Domination and authority were supported by defence and foreign policies and internalised so that ordinary “indeed decent men and women accepted their almost metaphysical obligation to rule subordinate, inferior, or less advanced people” (Said, 1993, p.10). These imperial ventures were justified on the basis of developmental and pedagogical notions of progress and improvement. They created the template for contemporary production under globalisation. So none of us are outside of or immune from postcolonial relations, values and belief systems whether our ancestors were colonisers or colonised. We are all influenced by colonialism.

Narratives produced about the colonies have historically defined the West in contrast with the “Orient”. The Orient was represented in a denigrating and negative way, in order to represent a civilised and positive Britain. Generalisations were made about groups of people who were treated as a homogenous mass (rather than communities of individuals) about whom knowledge could be obtained or stereotypes created – for example ‘the inscrutable Chinese’. The video plays into this oppositional dichotomy of “us” and “them”, constructing two social groups as distinct and internally homogenous. It begins with a sense of connection, it targets our desire to belong and connect by talking about social media, emphasising what we have in common. However, the “we” that it refers to is white. The video then moves to the “other” and the mobilisation of social movements that social media allows in the form of the Arab Spring. The director Russell then shares a very personal experience of the birth of his son and how his son takes part in his father’s film work and activism. The son embodies Russell’s desire for a better world than the one he came into “because he [my son] is here, he matters”. Russell then takes us to Uganda and the experience of another young man who has had a different life from that of his son. A young man who has experienced loss and unimaginable suffering, who has no future because of Joseph Kony. Russell says something like “you mean this has been happening for years? If this happened in America for one day it would be on the cover of Newsweek”. How can we fail not to be moved? Rusell takes us through the journey he makes with his friends of trying to raise the attention of the United States government of the plight of this young man and eventually through the advocacy and donations of lots of young people who donate small amounts of money every month, the government takes action. Of course this might have nothing to do with the fact that oil was found in Uganda in 2009. Russell in his voice over says they did not wait for governments, they’ve built schools, created jobs, created warning systems to keep people safe. All funded by young people.  Russell invokes liberal humanist arguments (the very ones that were central to colonial capitalism) about the right of the individual to have a good life. As Teju Cole righly points out “the White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege”.

The video enacts the binary colonial script of the civilised and liberated white person who rescues Ugandan children, thereby affirming the superiority of the former. Russell reproduces the narrow representations of people of colour as a mass of oppressed people who live in a world without freedom, ruled by oppressive vain tyrants (oops that sounds like the West!). He reproduces a flattened and familiar “single story” of Africa. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  In the process, the complexity and diversity of people’s lives are lost and local activism is hidden from view in favour of camera crews with resources and magnanimity. Think about Binyavanga Wainana’s essay, How to Write about Africa:

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress

The effect is that we focus on the other, instead of looking at the monsters in our own communities. Rather than offering our support to the efforts of indigenous people who are quietly attempting to right wrongs without a television camera present, we get carried away in a tide of righteous indignation about “stopping the monster”.The video provides a depository for our own feelings of powerlessness and frustration. It demands very little of us. We don’t need to be accountable to a faceless mass, because we can trust Russell, we’ve seen the birth of his boy child, we’ve seen him in his kitchen, we’ve seen him in the family bed with both his children. He is trustworthy. Never mind facts such as Kony is no longer in northern Uganda, that the Ugandan army have also contributed to the violence meted out to civilians, that General Museveni used child soldiers way back in 1986 or that only 31% of funds that Invisible children receive go into this charity work.

So what does helping really mean in a different social context? How does sharing a link to a video to an organisation that is barely transparent about its funding, that uses the bodies of children to make a point, that carries us away with the injustice of it all, help? How does the fact that the focus now in Northern Uganda is about repatriating child soldiers who are being held in DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic, on postconflict rehabilitation and the reintegration of child soldiers? What impact will this film have on former child soldiers who have now reintegrated into  their communities? Can something with good intentions lead to misconceived interventions? Hell yes! The history of modern Africa is replete with aid failures and poorly allocated resources.

I am not against standing up and fighting for what is right, but only when we really understand what we are standing up for, not on “zero knowledge and maximum hysteria” as Elliot Ross argues. So we must make the most of this technology that is available to us and to critically interrogate the sources of this new media, their motivations and their operations . We need to do the research, to ask questions about our own complicity in contemporary geopolitics and to support the people who understand the problem.