The Fork and The Chopstick: A Tale of Two Privileges?

fork and chopstick

I was recently having Chinese food with a (white) friend of mine who has known me for a long time – and is aware of my sensitivities towards race.  After we had selected our food choices, the waitress brings out our cutlery.  Chopsticks for both, a larger than usually plate (no bowls), and puts a fork in front of my friend.  My friend was very offended, and started expressing his anger that he was being discriminated against because the waitress assumed that just because he was white, that he needed a fork.

We immediately got into a very heated argument over his reaction.  I even scoffed at first, saying, “well, now you know how POC (People of Colour) feel everyday: We get Othered, stereotyped, objectified, all day everyday.”  He replied, “It would be like going to the Spaghetti Factory, and the waiter offering you chopsticks”, to which I replied, “It would only be the same if every white person in Vancouver knew how to use chopsticks.” – and this went on and on.

After we cooled down, I really did some serious thinking (in that awkward moment of silence where we were both fuming).  What was I doing?

Sure, it’s true that as a white person he occupies a form of social mobility that I don’t have (read: white privilege), where his skin colour is the norm, his culture is the norm, his language is the norm, and his choice of cutlery outside of this establishment is the norm.  And sure, POC experience all day, every day, exactly what he is experiencing at that moment, and that he is taking his white privilege for granted…but what use is it for me to negate, and push down his experience of being Othered at that moment?  Who am I to invalidate his experience of race?

I called him the next day and actually apologized.  I told him that I felt bad about silencing his experience of racial discrimination.

In reflecting on this experience, it has reminded me of a really long journey that I have had to go through (and continue to go through) as a feminist.  I think as anti-oppression feminists, we often have the desire to call out everything.  We are so disciplined (this is a good thing) to check privilege, analyze power and “call out” oppression, that we often don’t take a step back and check our own positionality – in each and every one of our own interactions with people.  I’ve really learned to ask my self, in terms of when I choose to take action against something – especially in this moment of The Fork and The Chopstick – is it useful?  In this moment, is it actually useful to call out white privilege, in a moment where he was feeling discriminated against?  What is the work I am actually trying to achieve, and by silencing his experience of race – am I “doing” the work? Or am I just being oppressive?

If I could go back in time, I wish I would have, in that moment, chosen love and solidarity.

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Race, Religion and Language as Love

1415549_10153547352420268_587577359_o Lately I have been trying to shift my focus on love as a language. Instead of calling people out, I like the idea of calling people in. In love and in solidarity.


On May 21st I attended the Vancouver School Board (VSB) meeting that was held in regards to the updated transgender and gender identity policy. At this meeting I sat in alliance with a large crowd of supporters, but there were also quite a few voicing their misinformed opposition, and some of those who were dissenting were members of the Chinese community. After the arduous 8 hour meeting numerous LGBTQ supporters and allies approached me and asked why Chinese people allowed such homophobia and transphobia to persist—as though I was the sole voice of expertise on a rich and heterogenous culture. As if the small group of Chinese people voicing their dissent at the meeting were in any way representative of such a multi-ethnic and globally widespread community.

Indeed, many of those who opposed the updated VSB policy were Chinese and spoke Cantonese. But some also spoke in Mandarin. I wondered, at that meeting, if people knew the difference. Or did it all simply sound the same? Cantonese and Mandarin? Did it all sound so foreign, so alien, that these languages you don’t understand can so easily be grouped under hate speech?

Mandarin is my language.

It is the first language I learned. I speak it with my parents.

When I hear this language—my mother tongue—everything in me comes alive in a way that no other language can invoke. I love the way that Mandarin feels as the sound of it travels through my ear canal and into my body, how it activates a sense of familiarity within myself that reminds me of who I am and where I come from.

I remember the way that Mandarin feels so deeply connected, and rooted, in a sense of home.

I am a queer woman of colour born in the city of Taipei on the island of Taiwan. I embody queerness in a racialized body, as a settler on unceded Coast Salish Territories, home of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish nations.

At the VSB meeting on May 21, I yelled in Mandarin – for the first time ever in my life. I have never raised my voice in a language that is so sacred, so rooted, in my cultural identity.


I recently travelled to Northern BC doing anti-homophobia work where the demographic of the small town I visited was predominantly white and First Nations.

While there, I encountered a friendly Chinese elder working at the hotel where I was staying. For the first two days after meeting her she spoke to me only in broken, heavily accented English. Her body language and gestures were excited towards me;  I could tell she was happy to see another person who looked like her. To look Chinese. She stood out in a small town where she lived and worked as a rare Chinese person.

On the third day, I was having breakfast in the hotel dining room while she was quietly cleaning away, humming softly beneath her breath. I had wanted to connect more with her before, but we were always in a public space where our roles were so neatly defined. Hotel patrons ate and were looked after, hotel workers serviced and cleaned.

Like the true Fire Tiger that I am (as told by Chinese astrology), I instinctively want to disrupt these neatly defined roles. Rules.

Slowly and in Mandarin, I ask if she speaks Mandarin.

Suddenly it’s as though she were lit by pure sunlight, no longer obscured by clouds of hotel dust, grime and years of experiencing language barriers settle over her body. Perhaps never having been asked in her mother tongue a very simple question that, in the very moment of my asking, cleared at least some of that grime away instantaneously. She brightened immediately, her body relaxed in movement, her eyes reflecting a sudden clarity, and in that moment she knew she was being seen by someone who really saw her.

We talk fast, a little about everything. Urban vs rural, China, Taiwan, Vancouver, beautiful British Columbia. The conversation goes deep immediately. I soon realize we are talking so fast and are so easily able to skip the courtesy small talk because it was as if, at any second, our precious connection through this shared language might be disrupted by someone walking in on us, ending the moment which can so quickly become a distant, unreconciled memory.

She asks about my work. I try, in my elementary Mandarin, to explain the activism that I do, the activism that I embody. What anti-homophobia means. How do I say homophobia in Mandarin? Dare I mention transphobia? I connect, to the best of my Mandarin ability, one type of oppression to another. Homophobia and transphobia to racism.

She tells me about being from a big urban city in China. She mentions her university degrees. She talks about the metropolitan life she had before moving to Northern Interior BC where everything is much slower.

She married someone here who does not like Chinese food. He does not like her cooking.

She likes to cook Chinese food and wants to know what my favourite Chinese dish is.

She asks about my love life and marriage plans. I tell her gently but with conviction that I do not plan to get married. In fact, not getting married was encouraged by my parents. My parents removed themselves from thousands of years of social and cultural convention by offering me the choice to be whoever I want to be, wherever I want to be. 9 years after I was born, they brought me to Canada. We spoke very little English.

I tell her that my parents practice such a deep and spiritual Buddhism that the cycle of human life/death represented some serious karma and suffering, which simultaneously can be challenging and yet is beautiful. They much prefer the company of animals and mother nature to that of humans.

A moment of silence, and shock, settles through the hotel dining room.

Well, that’s not very Chinese of us, is it? And what does that even mean anyway? I gently tell her that we might be unusual but there are many people in the world who do not always think and live according to convention. I tell her that growing up my parents and I would delve into philosophical narratives about what kind of role difference plays in the world. The kind of difference that challenges the very norms we have come to live and breathe, and expect. And how those unusual differences can move others forward in thinking and in living.

She asks if it was hard growing up as an only child in Taiwan and in Vancouver with parents who are so different. She wants to know because she too is different, having moved from one of the most urban cities in China to a rural Canadian town halfway across the world.

Of course it was hard. And I tell her that my parents raised me into the strong woman that I am today. Instilling in me all the love and compassion that their Buddhist teachings could pass down. Of course, the 6 year old Fire Tiger child in me rebelled hard against sitting still. What was with all that meditation?

She looks at me in the eye and says that she thinks her bi-racial son would benefit from living in a city like Vancouver, to look and be different in a small town is often hard. I nod and tell her that his difference should be a point of celebration, and that I empathize.

She finishes cleaning at this point. We have been talking for almost an hour.

We developed a sense of love and compassion for each other on that morning. In that moment she came to understand what I was talking about, the kinds of activism I do. And while we approach and navigate this life in such different ways, it was our shared language that brought compassion and understanding to each other.

How many people coming in and out of the hotel where she works really get a chance to talk to her? To begin to know her story? How do we suspend our expectations and prejudgements upon meeting someone when language is a barrier?

And how do we access one another without love as language?

I am going to end this story here.


Part of being an ally is to listen to folks who share their stories, and tune our empathy towards people who navigate the world with different levels of personal trauma, history and lived experiences.

The Vancouver School Board meeting I attended on May 21 was traumatic, not only because I was so viscerally impacted by hate speech in my own language, but more than anything, it was the hatred that some folks in white communities, both LGBTQ and “allied”, were so quick to direct to Chinese communities, that hurt me most of all.

So, how do we understand one another without love as language?

The VSB Gender Policy Debates: Discourses on Race and Solidarity

 

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Jen and I have been talking about doing some writing together in the aftermath of how from the VSB gender policy “discussions” has emerged all of this intense racism and transphobia. I didn’t attend any of the discussions, but I have been dealing with the impact that it has caused the queer communities and the Chinese communities I am a part of, and really struggling with where to go from here.  We decided to share our stories in relation to the conversations about race and gender that have emerged from the dialogues, and how they have impacted us personally.

David:  I want to start my story by saying that I have such respect for all these amazing allies (including Jen!) that have been doing all this incredible organizing, in supporting the changes to the gender policies at the Vancouver School Board (VSB).  It has been incredibly stressful for myself, as someone who straddles across queer and Chinese identities to see the way that from the debates has emerged these uncomfortable racial constructions, from even within the queer community.  Somehow within this process – and with the help of the media – we have responded to the organizing of conservative Chinese Christians against the VSB policy changes by knitting together yellow skin + Evangelical Christian + homophobia. That somehow, evangelical Christian conservatism is tied to being “Ethnic Chinese”.  I’ve had numerous queer allies say to me in the past week, “Why are Chinese Christians like this?” “What is wrong with Chinese people that they are so ignorant?” “Is this in your culture?” (Yes, someone actually said that to my face)

Homophobia and transphobia do not come from having yellow skin, it doesn’t come from being “ethnic” Chinese – Chinese people are not “more” conservative. These constructions are not only problematic, but they are rooted in the way that we (colonially) construct race, and through a removal of accountability to history and colonization.

While I recognize the complicity of being an immigrant and as a settler on indigenous territories, here in Canada, there are fundamental ways in which white supremacy operates with the colonial system which functions to marginalize people of colour (POC).  This also becomes relevant when we consider the ways in which Christianity – having been historically evangelized throughout the world via colonization by white Europeans – is now being (ironically) constructed as part of “Other” “ethnic” cultures and traditions.  Christianity arrived in China (and also in Canada) via white missionaries, who came to “save” these backward and primitive Chinese people from their pagan and Buddhist traditions.  Similarly, while white Europeans colonized Africa (and the rest of the world) and brought Judeo-Christian versions of patriarchy (and homophobia) to Uganda – yet somehow, the homophobic laws in Uganda (as in the rest of Africa) have essentially become constructed about being black and African. So even when we adopt the “white colonial religion” (which is the ideal/the standard) – it is never good enough, and in fact, when POC attempt to reach this standard, they are reprimanded.  When Vancouver Chinese Christians come and protest the LGBTQ programs here in Vancouver, it becomes constructed around the fact that they are “Ethnic Chinese”…it becomes about their yellow skin. And so, even when people of colour assimilate into religious institutions imposed by colonization and white supremacy (like they are meant to) – they are still inferior.  And through the colonial structures in which we continue to struggle under, I am reminded that people of colour are never meant to be equal. This is how white privilege operates.

I remember reading numerous articles, including the Douglas Todd’s blog post, and Ian Young’s article on the “Chinese communities in Vancouver” protesting LGBT programs, and seeing how my Chinese friends (some queer, many not), were feeling so ashamed of their communities, and questioning what to do about this (seemingly) “growing” conservatism in the Chinese Christian community – as the media implies. But I think we really need to ask ourselves this – why is it that when white Christians are homophobic and transphobic, they are “homophobic and transphobic Christians”, but all of a sudden, when Chinese Christians are homophobic and transphobic, they are “Ethnic Chinese” Christians who are homophobic and transphobic?

It is these constructions of race that have emerged in the aftermath of the VSB policy that I believe we have to address and keep accountable.

The second part of this conversation regarding accountability is the way that the conversations are being dichotomized, and oppositions are being constructed without a look into the ways in which solidarity can (and should be built) across these “territories”.

I am a Christian. There. I said it.

I grew up in a Chinese conservative evangelical Christian church. Yes, I went to one of “those” “ethnic Chinese” churches that you’ve been hearing about in the media lately. A church in the same denomination as Stephen Harper, a church that signed a petition to ban gay marriage a decade ago, a church that tried to tell me that abstinence was holy, and that sexual health education was a farce, and that condoms didn’t work because they are actually perforated (and thus you can still contract AIDS).  I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy growing up as a queer person in such an environment.  I don’t know how I would have turned out – or if I would have even survived – if it weren’t for the strong feminists and queer allies that supported me through my youth.  Though I never actually technically “left” my church until I moved to South Africa for grad school, I’ve often wondered why I continue to engage with my evangelical Christian community that I grew up in, and why I didn’t just pick up and leave, like so many queer people that I know.

As I reflect today on my (traumatic) experience with organized, patriarchal “religion”, and how it has again reared it’s ugliness on the VSB gender policy debates, I’ve realized that there is something so blatantly overlooked in this debate – and that is, love.  Despite my not so favorable experience with church, and while my visceral reaction to the transphobia that comes from this (misinformed version of) evangelical Christianity is to reject and “call out” the oppressive discourses, I realize that a large part of my work on myself, and in my feminist work is grounded in my desire to love human beings and always, love more.

My love, and empathy for human beings is what drives my activism, and I have to constantly remind myself of this. Despite how angry the transphobic language that comes from people who are opposed to the gender policy makes me – these people love their children, they care so deeply about their families, that they are willing to take hours out of their time to print placards, and attend meetings to fight for their children. It’s interesting that similarly on the “other” side, my queer comrades that have been doing this work fighting for this policy, and have been doing the intense emotional work of sharing their own stories, are also doing this out of love for their families, and for their children. Let’s no forget this.

The actions of my church – despite being homophobic and patriarchal – came out of love for me. Though I disagree with the way they’ve manipulated scripture to promote patriarchy and homophobia, I have to remember my church genuinely cares for and loves their congregation, and they are willing to put an incredible amount time and energy to devote to their communities. This is why I have to remind myself that I do, in fact, have such tremendous love, respect, and solidarity with my own Chinese Christian community, as all of them do their own organizing and activisms out of love.

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Love Intersections

We are so excited to launch this blog this afternoon 🙂

Jen and David just had an interview with Jane Bouey @W2 Media Co-op around the Vancouver School Board gender policy revisions alongside Dora Ng and Wallace Wong.  We talked about race, gender, colonization, and how through the language of love we can build solidarity.

Stay tuned – we will launch in T minus 6 hours! (15:00 Pacific Standard Time)Image