Racism has many faces

At several points in my life, I have been confronted with racism. These occurrences were not life threatening but they were hurtful nonetheless. When I started going out with Mr.M, I often heard that he was only with me to have fun on his holiday. You know white guy goes on holiday to South East Asia. He promises the innocent Asian girl that he loves her. But we all know what he is after, right? Wrong! I am glad that I trusted my instincts in this case because Mr. M turned out to be my soul-mate. But he had a hard time convincing others of his honest intentions. Once we were walking down a street and a man passing by on a scooter, shouted profanities at us. Since we were the only ones walking on the path, we assumed he was offended by the fact that we were a mixed couple. We could see his face; he was one from my race.

I live in Germany for more than eleven years now. I am often asked, if I have faced racism during that time. I can only say that wherever I have been, I have been welcomed in a friendly and accepting manner. In fact my physical difference seems to add a certain level of exoticness to my being. People often want to know where I come from and what it is like there. The Germans I have met so far are extremely open to other cultures and love travelling, which I think helps to expand one’s mental horizon. They love foreign cuisine too; evident in the number of döner, pizzeria, Chinese or Thai restaurants in most towns.

Having said that, after we moved to the village we are living in now, I heard from several sources that the area we moved to was a stronghold for neo-nazis. The first time I went to the post office, which is actually integrated into a small store run by an old lady, I was hurt by the abrupt way she treated me. She was grouchy and unfriendly. I assumed that the rumours were true and was in tears when I related my experience to Mr.M. I dreaded going there again but I had to post Christmas cards. This time she was extremely friendly to me and chatted with me for a long time. The next day when I came back to post the second batch of cards, she even told me that she had pasted Christmassy stickers on the cards. She was probably having a bad day when I first met her. However the “news” I had heard caused me to interpret her actions wrongly. Imagine how it would have been, if I had only gone there once? I would have unknowingly and falsely confirmed the racism claims.

However recently I had an upsetting conversation with a German teenager. The teenager was never interested in excelling academically. He has the minimum school education. He was complaining about the fact that he had difficulties finding an apprenticeship. He has been rejected with the explanation that he was not qualified for the position he applied for. I thought he was going to admit that it was a mistake that he did not take school seriously. Instead he said in an angry tone, “Instead of training me, a local citizen, they rather employ skilled workers from overseas. They support foreigners, who only come here for the money.” If you asked him, he would not say that his remark was racist. In fact he feels as if he is being discriminated against. Is this the beginnings of racism? How to make it clear to such people in similar situations that their anger is misdirected?

I watched a documentary on the Ku Klux Klan aka the Knights Party yesterday. The reporter followed members of this group for a certain period of time. One of the men interviewed admitted to being a Neo-Nazi as well. He said that his parents did not share his sentiments. However he has felt the hatred against Jews since he was a child. He hated Jews for being Jewish, not because he was taught at home to hate them or because he was hurt by them.

Where does racism start? Does racism sprout off stereotypes? Do clichés fertilise racist ideas? Like we all have the propensity to do evil; do we all have a racist part in us? Does ignorance and hatred cause this side of us to surface and take over our minds and guide our actions?

It cannot be said often enough, be our differences are only skin deep. Inside we are all the same. We have the same anatomy. The colour of our blood is the same. If you need a blood transfusion to save your life, only the blood type and not the race of the donor matters. The same things can hurt us physically. We go through the same cycle of birth, life and death. Ultimately we all want to live a happy life. Living itself is complicated and it is unnecessary to further complicate it with racism.

Live Webcast: Ethics – Educating the Mind and Heart | The Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama

There will be a live webcast of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s public talk at Delhi University entitled “Ethics – Educating the Heart and Mind” on March 22, 2012 in New Delhi, India, from 2:00pm – 3:30pm Indian Standard Time (GMT+5.30). Live webcast can be viewed at

Live Webcast: Ethics – Educating the Mind and Heart | The Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

Similarities between Gouda and Life

I love Gouda. I love the creamy taste of its young body rubbing against juicy ham between 2 slices of soft white bread. I love the slightly crunchy taste of its older body and gladly wash down the saltiness with a glass of fine red wine. It would be wrong to assert that Gouda gets better with age. To claim the opposite would be wrong too. Gouda tastes great in any age to me.

To me Gouda presents a suitable metaphorical comparison to the human lifecycle. As it is with Gouda, I will not claim that life gets better with old age. Surely there might be aspects that get better with age like our wealth of knowledge and experience. Similarly there are aspects that definitely worsen over time like our eyesight.

We should refrain from comparing old age with middle age or youth or focusing on the things that no longer function as well as they used to. Instead we should be seeing it as a unique phase of the human life cycle. As a unique phase that has its own ups and downs and potentials for self-realisation.

I used to liken life to the seasons in nature. Spring symbolises Childhood, summer symbolises Adolescence, autumn symbolises Midlife and winter symbolises Old age. Is one to view life as a process that progresses from growth, maturity, decay and ends in waiting for the cold embrace of death? That sounds like a rather pessimistic view of life. It doesn’t have to be that way. Winter can be a wonderful time for relaxation. A time to go on a virtual trip together with a good book, with a cup of hot chocolate in a hand, while snuggling under a fluffy blanket. Winter is also a wonderful time to take walks in the nature, especially for those who like me suffer from hay fever. Such a walk provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life, while breathing in the cold and crisp winter air. Therefore there are ways we can make the wintery phase of like more pleasurable.

Although I have about thirty years to reach this phase of my life, I was inspired to write this post after watching a TED talk by Jane Fonda titled: Life’s third act. Below you will find a video of her talk, which lasts about 11:20 minutes.

Here is the gist of her talk. We live on average 34 years longer than our great-grandparents and a whole adulthood could fit into this time span. However old age is still viewed as the time before death – a time when our bodies weaken and degenerate. Jane Fonda calls the last three decades of our lives <em>The Third Act</em>. She talks about how an ageing demographic has forced (the intellectual) society to rethink its definition of this period in life, which has its own unique characteristics and opportunities. Traditionally life is viewed as an arch; where it is all downhill after the peak in midlife. But she thinks the metaphor of a staircase to more suitable to describe ageing. As we age –ascend the staircase – our spirits become wiser, more whole and more authentic.

Jane Fonda relates about the time when the thought of growing old made her depressive. Now she is right in the middle of the life phase she was terrified of and she realises she has never been happier. She does admit that ageing is no bed of roses and we might encounter problems as a result of our genetic construct. Nevertheless we can undertake measures to make use of the extra life time we have available. Old age presents us with the opportunity to review our lives. We can tie up loose ends, find closure for unresolved business, forgive others and ourselves and move on. As a result, we can change our relationship with our pasts.

In closing, she makes a point that as children we know who we are and what we want. As we grow older, to be part of a group or another person’s life we compromise who we are. In old age, we have the freedom to focus on our person again and redefine our lives. This would not only impact the rest of our lives but also impact the lives of the younger generation, who can use our new gained knowledge to (re)shape their own lives.

I agree with Jane Fonda, although in her stead I would have used the Gouda instead of the staircase as a metaphor. 🙂 Do you agree with Jane Fonda’s view of The Third Act? Do you already have plans to make your third act special?

A Father’s take on Gender Stereotypes

(This is a comment on my post on Gender Stereoptypes. It is written by a father and he makes such great arguments, I thought it is worth being a post of its own. Here is the link to the author’s blog: Covered by the Dust. Thank you for sharing your views with us.)

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My wife and I worry over gender stereotyping with our daughter… especially before she was born. Everything we bought was gender neutral, but I look over to my 8 month old now and she’s dressed in pink. Ok its leggings and a t-shirt rather than a dress, but still typically ‘girly’. The clothes were a gift

So why did we relax about it and put these clothes on her? Well we came to realise that to impose gender neutrality is still imposition. As Tabitha grows she’ll know she’s a girl as will the world, by hiding her gender the world will not suddenly treat her in a non-gendered fashion… in fact it’ll become more amplified. We don’t buy Tabitha dolls and we never bought our older son an action man. But our boy does have a lot of ‘boyish’ things… he was into Ben 10 so he has some Ben 10 stuff. We try hard not to re-enforce gender stereotypes but nor will we legislate completely what they have… so we dont deny our son a toy on the basis of it being too girly or too boyish. As it turns out our son isn’t at all sporty, he likes to write stories and draw and do a number of things that other boys around him think him strange for, but importantly he doesn’t feel uncomfortable in his skin because as parents we’ve never made it a ‘thing’. So what if a boy wears a bow in a hair and prefers a hand bag to a rucksack… it’d be a mistake to judge against that because of stereotypes… but I do think that it is possible to take it too far the other way and make everything loaded and have meaning as a gendered thing or activity… when to kids it doesn’t even enter their heads, but they can pick up on it from us. I think its just as bad to bring a kid up as being hyper aware of gender through denial as it is to force them into traditional gender roles. Kids should be allowed to be kids, and what kid doesn’t want to clop around in their mums high heels… its funny!

People always mistake tabitha for a boy… even on days when she’s in pink. Thats because physically babies look the same whatever their sex. The social signifiers of hair length isn’t in play yet I suppose but more to the point it says to me that gender isn’t even something at play till much later, any gender worry is totally the imposition of adults.

What I hope to do with both my children as they grow is model and explain how to be the best they can. I hope to demonstrate how to be a good person but also to my son I hope to show how to be a good man, by which I mean that I want him to understand that societal gender disparity is a construct and I want him not to contribute to it. Same with Tabitha.

I certainly think that the story of Sasha and many others like him has noble aims but I’m not sure that it doesn’t contribute to the problem of a child’s gender, treatment and later sexuality being something constructed by outside forces… its just a different set of forces.

Are gender stereotypes overhauled?

Stereotypes are one way of simplifying a complex world. But some people forget that stereotypes are oversimplified generalisations. They constrain us when we use them as behavioural guidelines, when we accept them as the law of nature, when we let them dictate our actions or when we use them to judge others.

Some time ago, I read about a British couple, who kept the gender of their child a secret for 5 years. Apart from a few people, no one knew that Sasha was a boy. When I read this article, I was impressed by the extreme step the parents took to protect Sasha from stereotypes and the resulting societal behavioural expectations and pressures. Who decided that it is alright for girls to play with Barbie dolls but not boys? Why is pink considered a girly colour? Why is a girl, who climbs trees and likes to play ball games with the boys, a tomboy?

This British couple stressed that they did not hide his sex from Sasha. He knew that as a boy, he has different body parts than girls. All they wanted for him was the freedom to be a child, without society indirectly dictating and judging his behaviour. I applaud the parents for their courage to take such an extreme step for an applaudable cause.

What I do not understand is the backlash that the couple faced from the general public. People seemed appalled by what the couple had done. Some even called for the child to be taken away from them. In my opinion, such reactions show how unwilling people are to break away from gender stereotypes. Megan Gibson mentions in her article that probably people see sex and gender interchangeably. I found it an interesting thought. I always thought that gender and sex referred to the same thing. What is the difference between gender and sex?

According the online edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary, Sex is used to distinguish individuals based on their reproductive organs. Gender can refer to the sex of an individual or the stereotypes typically associated with a sex. Given this ambiguity, it is understandable that people were confusing sex with gender and the resulting backlash. But was it justified?

While researching this topic on the internet, I came across an NBS news piece about a then 5 year old boy, who liked to wear dresses. At first, his parents were against it because everyone knows that boys do not wear dresses, right? Until one day, the boy’s elder brother asked his mom a question. What’s wrong with his brother wearing dresses, if it made him happy? This innocent question caused both parents to realise that they were the ones with the problem. They allowed their younger son to wear dresses. Naturally they told him that boys do not usually wear dresses but he was free to wear what he wants. By the way, his favourite colour is pink. 🙂

This small boy with his love for pink dresses and all things sparkly caused me to think that possibly prevailing gender stereotypes are overhauled. By the way, there was a time when young boys did wear dresses.

I found this photo on Wikipedia. The note, “English boy, 1871. Without his name on the back the sex would be hard to determine”, is captured below the photo. This page also shades light on the reason for boys to switch from wearing dresses to pants.

It goes to show how stereotypes constantly evolve to suit prevailing societal “norms” and I guess we are ready for the next update.

My Dream

I dream of a world where girls are not murdered at birth.

I dream of a world where no one knows the meaning of dowry.

I dream of a world where the price of a bride cannot be expressed in goods.

I dream of a world where education is available to all.

I dream of a world where there are no gender stereotypes.

I dream of a world where women are treated as human beings.

I dream of a world where there is no need for women to have a special day because they are treated equally in every way.

Belle de Jour – A strong female or a dispaired soul?

In 1998, as part of my Film Critic course in university, I watched the movie Belle de Jour. The French movie was directed by Luis Buñuel in 1967. Given the almost 20 years gap between the time the movie was filmed and the time I watched it, I did not expect the movie to shock me as it did.

In short the movie is about the frigid wife (Séverine Serizy) of a young and attractive doctor (Pierre Serizy). Continue reading