miércoles, 14 de junio de 2017

The limits of multiculturalism: Why we need a decolonizing framework for intersectional solidarity in Canada

My name is Manuela Valle-Castro, I was born in Chile and I am a newcomer to Treaty Six territory. I moved to Canada from Chile in 2005 looking to pursue graduate studies, and moved to Saskatchewan in 2014 with my two Canadian born daughters. As an international student and an immigrant, I have faced some social and cultural challenges and financial vulnerabilities; however, I am also aware of how my class privilege, if yet precarious, provided me with the choice to migrate here, voluntarily, and with more relative social and cultural capital than most immigrants in Canada. I was already fluent in English, had two university degrees, and had family financial resources to cover for most of the cost of the move and settling in Canada. Also, I encountered a country familiar with Chilean recent history and often sympathetic to Chileans.

In Chile, I grew up under a military dictatorship until I was a teenager. The year before I was born, a military coup ended with the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, as a result of a conspiracy between the national elites and the U.S. government. Allende had nationalized resources like copper that had long been exploited by English first and U.S. based capitalists later, and Washington saw with horror the possibility of a referent for a democratic path to socialism in the Americas (and the world). So instead of growing up in the socialist democratic utopia that my parents and their generation had fought (and died) for, I grew up in a totalitarian government, with a militarized society that guaranteed the neoliberal experiment of Milton Friedman and his Chicago Boys. My parents were Marxists, so I grew up listening to a lot of conversations about class contradictions, class conscience, fascism, and the exploitation of men by men. I grew up angry and uncomfortable about many things like the militarized culture at school, police repression and violence, and class discrimination. But there was more going on that I didn’t know how to articulate. Today I know it was also the culture of misogyny, homophobia and violence against girls and women that is normalized in Chile. And it wasn’t until much later, after I came to Canada, that I came to understand how my socialization involved also the internalization and normalization of racism. It wasn’t until I was confronted with Indigenous issues here in North America that I was able to better understand processes of racialization in Chile, and the Chilean state as a settler colonial state. It wasn’t until being racialized as a woman of colour myself, that I started to understand how racism really works.

See, in Chile I used to be white. I grew up watching Disney cartoons where Indigenous and Black people were caricatured as ridiculous, anacronic, barbaric, hypersexual, infantile. Popular culture fed me all kinds of Orientalist racist stereotypes. I grew up “looking up” to the North as a site for imagining the future based on Eurocentric ideas of settler colonialism, in which Indigenous people only have a place in a romanticized past. I was taught by popular culture to identify with the subjectivity and the gaze of the colonizer and to view whiteness not only as desirable, but as a goal in itself. Most Chilean mestizos like me think of themselves as white, especially in relation to racialized peoples in neighbour countries like Peru and Bolivia, to afro-descendent immigrants from Haiti and Colombia, and to their own Indigenous peoples (most noticeably Mapuche). The phenotypic features I have allow me to be racialized as white (as having mostly European ancestry) when I travel in the Caribbean and the Andes, where there are more identifiable Indigenous populations. In countries like Cuba, Bolivia, and Peru I often get asked if I am from Spain or Argentina (coded as white). And in the North America, I get to be racialized as a woman of colour, a brown woman, and a Latina, all labels that are loaded with exoticized meanings and sexualized images. People rarely realize that my name doesn’t “mean anything” because it is a Spanish colonial name, imposed by patrilineality, erasing all traces of Indigeneity. I would love be able to say that my name means flower in Guarani (Anahi) or laughter in Mapuche (Ayelen). But I am a colonized person with a colonized name and a colonized subjectivity, daily confronted with her own contradictions.

By moving to Canada, I have become implicated both in processes of gentrification that mean further spacial displacement of the poor and Indigenous, and in discourses of multiculturalism, which are a key component of the Canadian settler nation-building narrative. By embodying the non-white settler and the model minority at the same time (gaining a Doctorate in Canada), I contribute to further legitimize the myths of the multicultural state and of meritocracy. My decision to move to Saskatoon looking for an opportunity to buy an affordable house for me and my daughters, invoked the same narrative of social mobility, betterment, and hard-work that moved Europeans settlers into the New World. Canadian multiculturalism is a function of the settler-state, which is guided by the rationale of extracting wealth from the land via immigrant labor. As Patrick Wolfe notes, the only role of the Indigenous body in this system is to disappear.

But not all non-white bodies are racialized in the same way. Racialized bodies that make it across the Canadian border are classified and perceived around hierarchies of class, gender, sexuality, ability and more. Some bodies are perceived as threats and criminalized, others are commodified as cheap labor, some are celebrated in their compliance with Canadian values, and some are perceived as passive victims. Racialized bodies come here with complicated stories of belonging and unbelonging within their nations of origin. They become people of colour only once they are here. The model of multiculturalism hides these hierarchies by presenting a level field in which all minorities are ‘equal,’ come in unproblematic neat cultural packages and can be consumed in yearly multicultural events by white people. The model of multiculturalism follows the Star Trek model of 60’s social and racial utopia: a crew where you have a representative of every minority, and at the centre, Captain Kirk, representing the persistent centrality of whiteness. We can always add another minority member to the colorful light diversity of the crew, but nothing substantial is unsettled until the assumed (male, able bodied) white center is challenged.

There are some ways to resist settler colonialism and to be allies with Indigenous struggles and other racialized groups who experience marginalization and oppression. None of them includes the narrow understanding of Reconciliation that the state has put forward, as a monumental “move to innocence” (Tuck and Yang, 2009) complete with apologies and spectacles of sentimentality featuring the master of performative politics Mr Prime Minister himself. The issue of land and resources needs to be constantly recentered in discussions about decolonization. Standing Rock cannot be seen as a failure, at least yet. The utopian relationships of reciprocity in difference, mutual respect and solidarity that were fostered during the long six months of the stand-off of the camp with the government cannot be undone overnight. People across the world witnessed water protectors and their allies coming together, following Indigenous protocols, sharing resources and reclaiming relations of spirituality and radical interdependence with the land and water. As the Canadian settler state moves forward its policies that protect a predatory extractive industry, the narrative of reconciliation and all its apologies are nothing but empty gestures. The celebratory tone of Canada 150 is already being interrupted by voices that point at the unresolved issue of Indigenous sovereignty and governance. The anxiety of the settler state in relation to these issues is evident in its rush to declare the Treaties as a thing of the past or museum culture.

When we frame our relationships and actions with others in this land through the lens of decolonization, our responsibilities become more clear. Racialized folks can refuse to be a token minorities that represent Canada’s multiculturalism and instead support initiatives that promote Indigenous sovereignty and governance. To denounce and boycott the attempts of banks and corporations to co-opt social movements. To explore the interconnectedness of our struggles. To establish conversations and solidarity networks between folks of colour and Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks outside the settler state. To me, it also means resisting  the colonizing impulse of the Canadian and Chilean settler states and all of its forms of violence. To understand the (human) forces behind neoliberalism as racist, masculinist and patriarchal practices, instead of viewing the economy as moved by natural abstract forces that make neoliberalism inevitable.

In this way, when multiculturalism gives us the image of the PM crying at the airport at the  arrival of the Syrian refugees, decolonization offers the possibility of connecting the events that caused the displacement of the Syrian people in the first place, with the ongoing imperialist military campaigns of the Canadian state. When multiculturalism defends the right for all religions to be accommodated in public spaces, decolonization calls to resist all forms of religious racism and religious colonialism, and to uphold the proliferation of Indigenous spiritualities that are connected to the land. When multiculturalism is insistently tempting us to become the exemplary model tokenized minority in exchange of the bone of “integration,” let us use that space to raise Indigenous voices and to resist colonialism both in Canada and at home.


miércoles, 15 de marzo de 2017

Feminist Gaming 101: The Havana experience

I had my first introduction to feminist gaming in Havana, Cuba. 

It seems like an odd place for it, but I happened to meet a bunch of interesting characters the day before they were holding their first 'game jam' in Cuba on February 24th 2017. These folks are game designers/artists/geeks who meet outside the commercial circuit of games and are striving to foster creative and collaborative communities around alternative gaming. Thorsten Wiedemann runs the international festival A MAZE with several locations around the world and was there to organize the event with local geeks Rodolfo Peraza and Jommi Barban from Fanguito Estudio. As a curious feminist, I attended without any expectations. And to my surprise, feminist revelations ensued from playing a game called UTE created by German game designer Lea Schőnfelder.

Now, let us be clear: I am not what you would call 'a gamer'. I had a Colecovision in the eighties where I mastered Donkey Kong Jr. and Saxxon, and I played Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter with my little brothers here and there in the nineties. That's it. Then in most of my adult life, I have not been particularly interested in games. My general attitude was shaped by the impression that the world of digital games was a hyper-masculine, hyper-competitive scene within mostly militarized violent worlds. Hyper-boring, to be short.

But THIS game.

UTE has a sort of naive, almost child-like drawings aesthetic, with very simple graphics. The protagonist of the game is a young straight woman who is approached by her grandmother in the introduction. Grandma proceeds to explain that the goal of the game is to have the most pre-marital heterosexual sex with a series of characters that include an insurance salesman, Che Guevara, a Philology student, her teenage pupil, the pizza delivery man and so on. Players score (pun intended) by sneaking out with the characters to have (outrageously kinky) sex without getting caught by the other men.
I was surprised by the exhilarating experience of playing this game. Every time anybody would get behind the controllers, men and women, the folks would immediately gather around the gamer participating as audience, encouraging the player to do their sex moves faster, or helping them beware of another man coming. Despite my previous assumption that games were isolating, this was a complete social/collective experience.

An incredible amount of laughter ensued every time somebody played. 
The revolutionary pleasure associated to this game can be attributed number of transgressions to gender norms around the sexual virtue of women which are pretty explicit, but it also had an incredible significance that we were in Cuba, and that the Che Guevara was represented here as a hilarious character of a sex-themed video game. Playfully subverting the overwhelming masculinist and serious narrative of the heroes of the Revolution was truly exhilarating. If yet the game doesn't feature same sex desires, heterosexual practices such as pegging here are too kinky to be deemed heteronormative:

Feminist Utopias

Inspired by a graduate seminar with the late Jose E Muñoz, I have been thinking for a while about the utopian function of art and about the potential of different art forms in expanding our political imaginations (the ways we envision the world, our lives, our relationships, ourselves), in particular feminist performance. In “Ephemera as Evidence”, Jose E. Muñoz outlines how queer performances and performances of queerness are a kind of ephemeral and invisible evidence that point at the “lives, powers, and possibilities” of minority groups whose existence has traditionally been erased from historical visibility. This idea was already developed in Cruising Utopia, where Muñoz suggests that queer acts and performance already enact the potentiality and possibility of other worlds as well as other temporalities that are not linear. Relying on Bloch’s use of hope as a hermeneutic to combat the force of political pessimism, Muñoz conceived utopia as “a critique of the present, of what is, by casting a picture of what can and perhaps will be.” (Muñoz 35, emphasis original).

Building on Jacques Ranciere's ideas on spectatorship I have argued that our (feminist) political practices are prefigured by our imaginations and our 'cartographies of the feasible' and that some forms of performance and art have the potential to expand our imaginaries and our ideas of what is possible. But I have never thought of the role of digital art and games for the reasons mentioned above. After my gaming experience in Cuba as a joyful, non-competitive activity that does not produce wealth, but just laughter and good times, I am definitely more curious to know more about this culture! Can these art forms be subversive of narratives that exploit and dehumanize women? Can games be feminist, sex/queer/kinky positive, and fun? In what other ways can they challenge our worldviews? 

Keith Stuart from The Guardian recently made the argument for adults playing more games, on the grounds that they are relevant spaces where culture and art are happening. And I would furthermore argue that they are relevant spaces where politics are being articulated as well, as particular worldviews are assumed, or have to be temporarily accepted by the gamer. UTE is a sex-positive game that just makes you accept this world in which a woman's (hetero)sexual pleasure is the goal. It is both undeniable that games are relevant today, and that the mainstream portion of it remains problematic for its connections with consumerism, racism, militarized masculinities and misogyny as frequently exposed by Anita Sarkessian at Feminist Frequency Tropes versus Women. However, it is important to identify and celebrate a subculture of alternative feminist gamers, made up mostly women, though not only.

In the special issue WOMEN of A MAZE. magazine I learned about the high involvement of women in the alternative games scene, and about the political potential of gaming through games such as Consentacles, a collaborative cards game for two designed by Naomi Clark, which could lead to players to re-imagine and in a way, to re-socialize themselves about sexuality and consent. Clark herself refuses to see the game merely as an educational tool, but the possibilities of the convergence of feminist politics and digital platforms for art and gaming seem endless.

Feminist Games are Feminist Art

But the question of what kind of art can be considered feminist art is not an obvious one. Not all art made by women can be considered feminist, while some art made by men that deal with cultural norms around gender (including masculinity), sexuality, heteronormativity and patriarchy should be regarded as feminist art. 

In my curious quest to find games which envision and present feminist worlds, I found Nina Freeman's "How do you do it?" which plays with the eroticism of the very taboo issue of the masturbatory fantasy and sexuality of girls. It is a simple, uncomplicated game in which you play with your dolls, make them have 'sex' and avoid getting caught by your mother. I enjoyed its narrative of a girl fantasizing about something that feels intriguing, exciting, and shameful at the same time.  

Ironically enough, I got busted by my 9 year old playing this game (the reverse situation to the game) and hilarity ensued. She had a 15 minutes giggle fit at the expression of sexual satisfaction of the girl in the game as she doesn't get caught by the mom. 

Similarly, Mighty Jill Off by Anna Anthropy plays around lesbian BSDM themes, and though I haven't got to play it myself yet, has been praised for its representation of non-traditional forms of desire by mediums like Rock Paper Shotgun.

It is not lost on me that I started thinking of the connections between digital games and utopia in Cuba, where my utopian desires had long lived (but were promptly crushed at the reality of authoritarian and poorly managed socialism). Becoming interested in gaming culture has immediately created space for new conversations with my two daughters, who are digital natives and spend many hours of their life playing games, both on and offline. We have started playing more board games and my oldest daughter is currently obsessed with the program Scratch, which teaches kids how to code to create games. I am excited to continue exploring this amazing scene further!

More sources to read about feminist games:
Code Liberation Foundation
Video GamNiñjas
Perfect Woman review in Kotaku