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

Gay or Queer: the Work Underneath the Words

Town hall
I recently attended a “town hall” discussion initiated by some folks around the use of the word “Queer”.  This discussion was meant to to be an intergenerational dialogue between young people who embrace the word queer, and the “older” generation, who have had to live through a history, where the word “queer” is so viscerally unacceptable because of its history as a derogatory term.  I was immediately perplexed when I found out that it was going to be held at a bar, because a lot of young voices would not be heard, because they aren’t even allowed to be in the space.  Being in a bar, and talking about trauma in a place where there is consumption of alcohol is also something that I acknowledge about the space.

 

Queer or gay?

 

“Gay” jumps out at me first, because I am sexually attracted to men.  But then I start to think about the ways that it excludes my other identities as a feminist, as a Person of Colour, and how it actively works to invisibilize all of these other parts of me.  If I think about this “movement” that I am a part of, this movement that seeks to change inequality, and transform our communities to have less hate, and love more, “queer” speaks more to me, as it allows me to embrace the work that I want to do – that work being to transform “the norm”. To challenge and subvert “the norm”, because “the norm” oppresses many of us.

 

I am so privileged to be in a place today that I can be visible as an openly queer person of colour – and I am grateful to my elders, the queer people that fought for my equality.  I am so thankful, that I am in a community today, that I would argue, grants me even more privileges than some of my straight male counterparts.  I am so humbled by the fact that as a gay Chinese man, I am afforded even more privileges than some straight people – I have access to education, I have no social constraints of having a family, I have a wonderful career in the field of my choosing: this is something that most people don’t have, and I am incredibly privileged.

 

One of the things that I’ve really learned from being a feminist, and from being called out by my feminist friends, is the importance of engaging with privilege, and being constantly aware of the spaces that I occupy. This has been a difficult journey for me, as a survivor of rape, and as a survivor of homophobic violence to come to a place that recognizes the privileges that I am afforded.  For a long time, I was blatantly excusing my own misogynist language, because I was gay – I’m an oppressed person! How can I be oppressive to other people?!  Yes, I’ve suffered from trauma, but that does not give me the right to exercise oppressive power, and silence the experience of people who also experience oppression – especially oppression coming from me.  To me, it’s fundamental as a queer person to embrace the women, the people of colour, the trans* community, the intersex community, the migrant worker community – and to give them space to call ME out as a gay person of colour who occupies such immense spaces of power and privilege.

 

As gay men, I think we need to really ask ourselves, why do we actively endorse misogyny in our communities? Why is it okay to be racist on GrindR? Why is it okay to make jokes about trans* and gender queer folks? Why is it okay to use words like “oriental”, and accept racist ‘identities’ such as being a “rice queen”?

 

We need to remember that we call ourselves the “LGBTIPANQ-TTS” community – not because this is a movement about “inclusivity”.  This is not a movement to be “inclusive”.  The acronym grows because folks are keeping us accountable.  The movement is about challenging the norm, or, “to queer” the norm – it is not about being “accepted” into a community of a growing acronym.

 

And so, as I reflect on my experience at this town hall discussion, I am again reminded of the work that still is to come.  LGBTQ rights are only achievable if we actively engage with our own histories/herstories, as oppressed people, but also as people who are afforded many, many more privileges than a lot of people around us.  Our liberation is not only tied up with the liberation of others, in fact, other people need to be liberated from the oppressive structures that we actively endorse, and are privileged from.

 

In love and solidarity,
David Ng