“Asking” for forgiveness

I had totally forgotten about the incident but Facebook today reminded me that 12 years ago, I took a full-body dip in this fish pool at a spa located in Merchant Square. I don’t remember its name or if it is still around.

But the story about that day wasn’t really to do with my allowing hundreds (thousands?) of fishes to nibble at every bit of my body. Not by a long shot.

The short story is that after this dip, I was in one of the rooms getting a massage when someone barged into to explain to me that the locker room had been broken into and that all my posessions had been stolen.

The long story goes like this:

In 2009, I was invited to be a judge for a spa awards. This meant that for months, I would receive vouchers for various spa outlets in the country and then fill in a form with my ratings and comments.

I don’t remember all the details but have a foggy memory of signing in, sent to the changing room where I put my wallet, phone and other items into a small locker. I then went into the pool pictures above followed by my massage (I don’t remember if I went back to the changing room or I went straight to the massage).

Anyway, once they told me that my things had been stolen, I dressed up and sat in the waiting area. I had expected them to call the police but instead, I was told that they knew who did it and was looking for the perpetrator. I was very confused.

It took a while, many phone calls, lots of hushed conversations and suddenly, I was told that they had found the person (in a coffeeshop nearby?).

Now, here’s the thing, they wanted that person to come to me and ask for my forgiveness. This was something I was completely uncomfortable with – what kind of gangster movie was I in? I declined and said, I only want my stuff back. I didn’t even want to press charges.

The manager (boss? owner?) spoke to me on the phone and said that I need to meet that person who did it. I kept refusing. In the end, the compromise was that they made that person call me to admit wrongdoing and apologised.

I don’t remember if at this point, I had all my items already and just didn’t know how to excuse myself, or if I was still stuck there because my things haven’t come back to me yet.

All I know is that I had what was probably the most uncomfortable conversation in my life.

Eventually, I managed to leave and went straight home to tell my parents the story! I also told the organisers that I couldn’t judge that place – how do you rate an experience that was disrupted that way?

Anyway, the story is now recorded on here for posterity. I’m not sure I told many people this story even.

Only took 9 days before I missed one day of blogging here for 2021. Oh well … I totally forgot.

At the US Capitol – 2014

The events of the past few days has reminded me of my trip to Washington DC in 2014 when my friend Tori managed to arrange for me to visit the US Capitol, and meet a congresswoman and Senator.

I posted the picture below – me in the House of Congress, if I recall correctly, on my Travel Throwback Tumblr, which I used to remind myself of all the amazing places I’ve been to and have had the privilege of visiting. I’d not updated it in over 3 years.

Sad that it took an insurrection like this to make me remember that it existed.

Backward/Forward

It is so convenient, with the current sentiment going around, to avoid looking back at 2020 because what’s the point? It was a difficult year, we all stayed home and 2021 couldn’t have come quick enough.

But as with most thing in life, it’s not as clean-cut like that. In actual fact, 2020 was quite a good year for me – global pandemic notwithstanding – and I want to mark the New Year by being grateful.

That is not to say that there weren’t many crappy moments. There were the clear Covid-19 related issues, including actually getting infected by the blasted virus in the last few days of the year! Before that however there’s the small matter of being the first year in my life that I haven’t physically seen my family.

Being alone all year also took a toll on my mental health and moving to a new city and starting a job in the middle of a pandemic means that it’s been tough settling in and making new friends and connections. I also had a rough 7-8 months of the year being a bit stressed out (and to be frank, depressed) about my career trajectory.

Rejection after rejection was hard to deal with, and even when I did get some interviews, repercussions from the pandemic means I missed out on a couple of good opportunities and I was so sure that I wasn’t going to get a job.

My physical health could also have been better. My neck problems returned this year, and I got a groin injury in February – likely from hockey – which meant that I haven’t been able to run at all this year, aside from a couple of test runs that confirmed I was still not well.

I think it’s important to note all the difficulties I faced. I’m increasingly aware about how much I curate my digital life, and it’s important – for myself, if not anyone else – to remember that things are never rosy all the time. I have a very charmed life, but it’s not perfect.

Having said that, in 2020:

  1. I graduated with a PhD, after a lot of hard work!
  2. I was awarded a six-month bursary that not only helped me pay rent for quite a few months, but gave me the time to send out all those applications! And I finish a book chapter that has been published, among other research activities.
  3. I started a permanent academic position at a university, which is relatively soon after completing my studies (salary, yay!).
  4. I made some really good friends this year as a result of the pandemic, both in person (company for outdoor walks) and online, the latter of which I hope to consolidate in person when things improve.
  5. I moved to a new city – it wasn’t an ideal time to relocate, but I really like Birmingham so far and can’t wait to see what it’s like when the pandemic is less of an issue (vaccines exist – woo!).

What do I hope lie ahead in 2021? Consolidating some friendships in person, do a bit of traveling and hopefully get some more research published.

And find more me time. Learning how to relax, making time for myself and starting to do things I enjoy again like writing (a blog) or taking a bath. Yes, absolutely, more baths.

Happy New Year. <3

New Year’s Eve in bed

It’s just as well that with the pandemic, we should all stay indoors. Not that it’s much of a choice for me considering that I have few days left to go with my isolation. If not for testing positive, however, I would already be spending the day with my bubble so there is a hint of sadness.

I woke up today feeling much better than the past few days, and able to get out of bed by 9ish – that’s a good few hours better than before. But just doing the dishes from yesterday and preparing breakfast winded me, and I was back in bed again for most of the day – except for meals. I did manage to catch up on some emails and other more productive things from bed, however, which is quite the improvement.

I wasn’t going to post anything on here until tomorrow, but I got a call from the NHS Test and Trace team today, which I thought I should make a note off (this blog started off as a way to record life in a pandemic after all). At first, I thought it was really good that they did it – since we’re not encouraged to contact the Covid hotlines or go to a GP/hospital unless things become very serious – because it feels like someone is looking out for you.

But after the initial “How are you doing?” and “Are you showing any symptoms?”, the woman just started reading things off a script. I’m sure the first two questions were scripted too but it just ended up being a monologue really … and really monotonous too that she almost sounded like a robot. If not for the occasional umms and errs, I wondered if it was a recorded message about how it was illegal for me to leave the house and “do you understand this?”

I think what she said was made all the more jarring because it’s basically a repetition of the several text messages and emails I’ve received from the NHS and my GP. It become less about checking in on me to feeling like I was being tracked and surveilled.

But she was just doing her job, I suppose. Not long after that call, I was back in bed with a bit of lightheadedness and mild breathing difficulties. I’m so sick of my bed and just want to feel better.

I know it’s only a couple of hours away but I hope next year brings me better recovery.

Happy New Year, one and all.

Ah, and there goes some fireworks!

The day I found out I have Covid-19

I was only going to start posting on this blog again in 2021, but lockdown due to pandemic inspired the birth of this site and so, I had to at least record the positive result I received today from Covid-19 test.

I’m posting that screen grab from The Guardian above for posterity; when I logged on there to look for the stats, I didn’t expect to be part of the statistics for the highest number of recorded daily cases in the UK ever.

Not my proudest moment. But what can you do? I’ve been as cautious as I possibly could – and barring one or two transgressions – have generally been really good about the way I have behaved since the start of the first lockdown.

Just hoping my symptoms doesn’t worsen and that I’ll be fighting fit again soon.

Many people have sent well-wishes, thank you. x

Running away

I went for a run earlier this evening – it was my first run in almost three months, and only the fifth since lockdown began in March. I’ve been nursing a sports injury since February; it’s felt better over the past few weeks but on some days I still feel a twinge and I was going to hold off until it was gone.

But today, I felt extremely restless. And even after taking an afternoon nap to reinvigorate myself as I work through Sunday, I felt even more lethargic than before. Except that I could tell it was much more physical – my body wasn’t happy.

So, I wondered if I could do a short run – even just to ‘test’ out the injury. I decided instead to do some yoga, and I felt better but it was still lacking. As I was cooling down with Down Dog, I decided to lace up and go for a run.

By most standards, it wasn’t a bad run considering how out of shape I am. In fact, considering that I walked for 30-40% of the run – whether I thought I felt something at the injury – it’s quite good. I’m not sure how the injury will feel tomorrow; I hope whatever I felt on the road was just in my head, or just that area sore from very little attention for many months.

In terms of my body though, I feel so much better! I actually feel in my body again, something that I haven’t felt for months.

Fact of the matter is I haven’t managed to find much motivation to do any exercise. Over the past two months, even my yoga and mindfulness/meditation has become rather sporadic. I’m still spending most of my time at home, and I’m still cycling but only to get to places as opposed to exercising.

In general, I’ve been feeling ‘meh’.

I haven’t had much time to focus too much on my mental health though – the past few weeks have gotten busy again with some work that I’ve been doing – to earn some money, conduct fieldwork for a research project, and working on getting some academic publications out.

Here’s the honest truth: I’ve actually been super stress, and there are some things happening in my life at the moment that’s causing my anxieties to shoot up again. I realised this about a week ago, but I didn’t have the energy or space to manage it.

I think today, my body gave me a big sign. I don’t know if I can continue with the running if the injury is not completely healed, but this post is a reminder that I need to check in on my body and mind a little bit more.

The next two months is going to be wild, and I’m going to need to be in good shape to navigate it.

I’m going to take the rest of the evening off. A glass of wine, and maybe watch a musical. Apologies to anyone I owe work to – I’ll get started again tomorrow.

Yes, your lives matter too and that’s why Black Lives Matter

https://blacklivesmatter.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/blmgn-profile-picture-0520-blm-1080x1080-01.jpg

To my Malaysian friends and family.

Over the past few days, I’ve had some quite intense and difficult conversations with many of you about racism, specifically related to Black Lives Matter and how some of us are responding to it. Many of these conversations are about using the “All Lives Matter” argument against those showing solidarity with BLM.

So, I’m penning some of my thoughts down on here from these conversations – partially as a resource I can direct people to when the inevitable conversations keep happening, and partially because I hope it will shed some light on the issue for those who are going around “All lives matter”-ing.

I was initially hesitant to put energy into this, particularly because for a while now, I have been subscribing to Reni-Eddo Lodge’s wisdom (you can read a short version here or buy her book, which I believe sold out across the UK over the weekend but I heard it’s currently in reprint), but I am also aware that so much of the discourse – naturally, no doubt, because this is the system they live in – about the oppression of black people is framed against whiteness (or white supremacy).

This means that the language that movements like Black Lives Matter use, might not always speak to those of us from other part of the world where white-ness is not always the default – at least in our discourse (it still is, to be clear, and I’ll get to it later below).

The reason for this is clear. Black Lives Matter is a US movement, albeit one that has been gaining traction over the past few years, especially in other predominantly white countries.

This is an important distinction because one of the biggest criticism from those I’ve spoken to re: “all lives matter” are saying that it’s not just black people whose lives matter. Yes, absolutely – but that is not what they are saying.

Black Lives Matter isn’t saying that other lives matter less; they are saying that racism is bad, and wrong, and systemic and in the context that they exist in, black people are suffering – blindlessly killed – at the hands of the white institution.

What does this mean for those of us then in countries like Malaysia? To support Black Lives Matter is not to suggest that any of our lives matter less. Black Lives Matter is reaching out for help – to amplify their voice, to stand in solidarity, to be anti-racist, to donate – and what many of us who have been posting stories, images, links and more (as well as having conversations like these), is responding to this call and standing by them.

What groups we stand for in the battle against racism doesn’t need to be mutually exclusive. My friend, the thespian Jo Kukathas, eloquently wrote on Facebook:

“Rather than say don’t stand up for BLM, stand up for that as well as the other injustices that most compel you to stand up and speak … As the BLM movement gains traction worldwide we Malaysians can add to the list of other people being treated unjustly by the state and by society here – orang asli, migrants, Indian men, indigenous people, Africans, refugees, stateless people and ask why. We can also ask why we still have a race based political and economic system of government where privilege is not yet a dirty word.” 

Jo Kukathas

Yes, each and every one of these lives matter. But in responding to Black Lives Matter by simply saying that “all lives matter” (some are going even as far as to say that the focus on black people in itself is racist) is essentially silencing the voices and experiences of a large group of people – again, within the context of predominantly white countries – who have been oppressed, dehumanised, murdered over and over again.

Side note: I think we also need to look inwards at ourselves and ask the difficult questions about our relationship to racism, and why some of us feel like black lives can’t matter unless ours matter first. I am trying to read a lot of books now featuring minority voices to learn more, and to ask questions of myself. It’s not always comfortable but it is necessary (happy to talk more about books to read, hit me up). Update: Linking a couple of social media posts by Malaysians I have come across for us to think about our own anti-blackness/browness: click here and here.

The term “All Lives Matter” first emerged in the US in response to Black Lives Matter as a mechanism to deny this oppression, to validate the very racist institutions that perpetuate such injustices on black people, and by white supremacist. Words have meaning and when you say “all lives matter”, what you’re essentially doing is amplifying the voice of white supremacists hell bent on maintaining the status quo.

The fact is that even though white people are a very, very small minority in Malaysia, we too have suffered at the hands of the very system Black Lives Matter are fighting again. You and I rightly believe that racism is bad, and that each and every one of our lives are important. We believe this because chances are, many of us have felt victimised by racism (all our different ethnic groups in Malaysia – whether majority or minority have screamed discrimination at one point or another).

This is unavoidable in Malaysia, of course, because the fabric of our political system is rooted in race. But race is a construct of our colonisers – yes, white people – who sought to divide us to maintain their rule and power against us. So, you know all the fighting that we are doing against each other, they started it. And the legacy lives on.

So, why are we all having such a visceral response to global event surrounding Black Lives Matter now – whether we support it or otherwise? That BLM is a US movement gives us the distance to talk about race because it is so difficult to have those conversations in Malaysia about ourselves. We were all raised to speak about it in whispers, if at all. We worry about the Sedition Act. Newspapers might get shut down by the Printing Presses and Publications Act. Our posts on social media might get us charged under the Multimedia and Communications Act. Until recently, we’d get kicked out of universities due to the University and University Colleges Act.

All of these laws have roots in colonial legislation. Our silence – even today, over 60 years after Merdeka (at least for Semenanjung) – is still being legislated by white legacy. Let’s not even start on the world order where white countries are seen as “leaders of the free world”, or in the case of Australia, “deputy sheriff” of Asia.

Many of us Malaysians are standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter because like ours, black lives matter. We are standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter because the institutions that are oppressing them are also (and have been for centuries) doing the same to us. We are standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter because we see them and we hear them.

Your life matters too. I see you, and I hear you, and I stand by you. But I also see, hear and stand by alongside the black people in the US, UK and in other parts of the world. The only way that every life can matter is when Black Lives Matter too.

Why I don’t think the #blackouttuesdays black squares worked

I uploaded a couple of posts from black people and organisations (in the US and the UK) yesterday onto my Instagram Stories asking people to stop posting the black squares on their social media to show solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and the protests across the country (and other parts of the world) following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police.

The black squares flooded social media yesterday in response to a movement started by two black women in the music industry for Tuesday to be a day of reflection – it asked that those in industry to pause their operations for a day – as part of their #theshowmustbepaused initiative.

The posts I shared were concerns by those who noticed that the #blacklivesmatter hashtag was filled with the black squares as opposed to vital information about what was happening with the protests on the ground, and how people can help. I removed them however after a couple of conversations with friends who had DMed me about how these signs of solidarity can happen alongside the sharing of all of this information.

Others like Lizzo also told people that if they wanted to post the black squares, then to use the #blackouttuesday hashtag instead. So, I took her lead and replaced those posts with a suggestion that if people wanted to use the black squares as their way of showing solidarity, to just avoid using the #blacklivesmatter hashtag. Nonetheless, all day, I couldn’t help but wonder if the black squares did more harm than good.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that people from across the globe are showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter. I think there’s a lot to be said about visibility and awareness, and I know from private conversations I’m having, that the events in the US are making my friends and myself question our own relationship to racism.

The discomfort I felt yesterday about the black squares were rooted in two thoughts:

Our behaviour as users

I think as social media users, we also enjoy being part of something larger than us, and that makes it easy for us to latch on to campaigns and initiatives like these, often without thinking about the implications of our actions. It’s partly to do with us as humans, but also to do with how social media platforms work – all the features they offer us encourage, or rather push us towards, this kind of behaviour. Everything that can needs to go viral. And we lap it all up. This is the affective nature of social media.

The political theorist Jodi Dean described this quite aptly in discussing affective networks.

The loops and repetitions of the acephalous circuit of drive describe the movement of the networks of communicative capitalism, the ways its flows capture subjects, intensities, and aspirations. Accompanying each repetition, each loop or reversal, is a little nugget of enjoyment.

Jodi Dean, Affective Networks

To be in a loop, of course, means that there is no break. This is when fatigue can set in, and consequently, drive through a sense of hopelessness (my friend Amelia and I wrote a piece about the networked affect related to the Bersih movement in Malaysia about this). Being stuck in a loop can also have a another effect – the repetitive images of black squares yesterday likely flattened the tension, sentiments and anger that has driven the Black Lives Matters movement to the peak of our consciousness over the past week. In this sense, the black squares served as both a dampener and a diversion.

Social media as ‘platform’

Following on from the above, I think social media platforms refusal to take responsibility (yes, yes, I know Twitter’s @jack is in favour at the moment because he is seemingly standing up to Donald Trump, but Twitter’s history suggests that it is not the noble organisation we may think it is) for the activities that occur on their platforms. Just as how they say that they are not publishers, but merely a platform through which publishers can push their content.

There’s a lot of debate about this, of course, and more learned scholars than myself as engaging in more informed discourse surrounding this issue. But I think what is clear is that this sense of being able to choose what their responsibilities are make it easy for them to – at best, take a hands-off approach to moderating content, but worst, pro-actively silence voices they disagree with (whether through censorship or being complicit by silence and refusal to act).

What I mean by this, at least with regards to the square boxes, is that the social media platforms – and I will call out Instagram as a key example of this because that’s where I saw the most squares (at one point, I counted at least 10 square boxes in a row) – could have done something about the flooding of #blacklivesmatter with those images. They could, if they wanted to, just remove black squares or at least amplify the other images from the hashtag. They could also fix their algorithms so that just because I liked one black square that it doesn’t show me millions of others (or at least 10 in a row).

Again, Jodi Dean can help us understand the effect of thinking of social media platforms as a bastion for the strengthening of democracy, as she discusses what she calls communicative capitalism.

The concept of communicative capitalism tries to capture this strange merging of democracy and capitalism. It does so by highlighting the way networked communications bring the two together

Jodi Dean, Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Politics

No doubt, the past decade or so have shown many examples of how the existence of social media platforms have helped citizens around the world speak out to power, injustice and oppression. But to merely accept this at face value risks taking a deterministic view of social media (as platforms), but also trusting Platforms to have our best interest at heart. The fact is, they don’t. It is not surprising that Instagram did not appear to have done anything about those black squares; it is owned by Facebook, and only days ago, its CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg chose – in my view – to stand on the wrong side of history by actively choosing to wash his hands clean of issues surrounding hate speech and race (including a threat of violence by the US President).

Without wanting to speak for them, this is what black people are marching for. They exist in a system where the institutions (actively) work against them.

By the time I went to bed last night, my timelines were filled with black squares – and not just when I was looking at the #blacklivesmatter hashtag. I know that many people who understood the nuances of the campaign were still sharing links, images, posts on what was happening on ground and how others – especially non-blacks – can help (donate, be anti-racist, etc). I saw some of them yes, and I also saw many angry post by black people upset that the images from the protest – including violence against the protestors by the authorities – that have filled the #blacklivesmatter hashtag has been drowned by black squares.

The problem is, I had to actively look for these posts amid a sea black squares (using the #blackouttuesday hashtag only) so even a lot of other information weren’t coming through and that is why I don’t think that #blackouttuesday worked.

This is not a passive aggressive post – this is me calling you out.

“Whenever we beg for nuances, for our difference to be articulated, for more diversity and accuracy in how our communities are described, in the characters written for ‘black’ actors on stage, on television, or in film, our voices are either silenced or ignored”

Inua Ellams, Cutting Through (in The Good Immigrant)

I am reading this great book right now, and I’d encourage everyone – not just those from ‘minority races’ – to get a copy.

https://hive.dmmserver.com/media/640/97817835/9781783523955.jpg

That line from Ellams hit hard and reminded me of this incident in one of our PhD programme’s work-in-progress sessions where a colleague was presenting a chapter of their work, which attached the descriptor “a fan of colour” to quotes from interviewees. This distinction was important in the work because they were making a point about the voices of “people of colour” in a white-dominated fandom.

I did ask, however, why they opted to describe the individuals as “fans of colour” (to anonymise identities) and not, for example, just describe where they came from or what they identified with. I would, for example, always prefer to be referred to as Malaysian rather than a BAME person (Black and Minority Ethnic, as is so often used in the UK). They paused for a moment and said, it’s not something that they had thought about before.

Which, to me, is a good enough response – that’s the purpose of these WIP sessions anyway. I acknowledged this, saying perhaps it’s something to consider and tried to explain why I felt so. But their supervisor – a white person who was also chairing the session – cut me off and said (I paraphrase), “I don’t see a problem with using that phrase” and proceeded to call on the next person.

I was mortified to be called out like that in the room. For one, what is academia without discourse. But more significantly, I was extremely offended that my voice as a ‘BAME’ was shut down so quickly by a white person in a position of power.

I think back to that incident because I still feel that I didn’t articulate well enough why I thought my colleague should reconsider her phrasing. In discussing the diversity of communities and cultures that make up ‘black’ people in England, Ellams so articulately wrote: “Despite these obvious nuances, phrases like ‘black-on-black crime’ or ‘black community’ are used to suggest a monolith, it is portrayed as dysfunctional, rebellious, animalistic and mutinous.” Part of me wishes I was this articulate about the conflation of identities in making my point.

But I think also of what is happening in the US at the moment, where according to Ellams, the term ‘black’ was “an act of defiance, self-identification, and as a way to distance themselves from the ‘African’ label, which had abundantly negative connotations at the time”.

I think of the anger I’ve been feeling over the past couple of weeks at the injustice surrounding ‘people of colour’ in Malaysia, the UK, US and around the world, and the number of white people – my friends – who have responded with “not all white people” or “this doesn’t affect you” and more.

I think about how they have to just be better. Not just ‘white people’ but anyone who wields power and have utilised that privilege to silence minority voices. Over the past couple of weeks, the Malaysian authorities have been hauling up ‘illegal’ migrant workers, leading to clusters of Covid-19 infections among those communities – and many people think this is a good thing.

This is not a passive aggressive post – this is me calling you out.

Racism isn’t just about violence against people from other races. It’s not just about lynching, about hurting. Staying silent, silencing people, perpetuating systems of injustice, making excuses for other people’s microaggression – these are acts of violence too.

It’s not enough to just be not racist, or a bad person. But can you be a better person? ‘Fans of colour’ isn’t necessarily wrong or offensive, but is that enough? When you have the power and opportunity to craft your own words – and the privilege of the PhD viva to defend your decisions – why not opt to see these people. To give them a voice. To elevate their identities. To humanise them. Especially if the critical premise of the discussion is that these are marginalised voices in a white-dominated fandom.

Not being racist is not a passive act. Not being racist requires action – whether it’s speaking out against oppression, defending others in the face of injustice, and calling all of these out. That’s what we mean when we tell you that you have to be ‘anti-racist’, instead of just ‘not racist’.

It will be difficult, and uncomfortable, no doubt, but that is the every day reality for many ‘people of colour’. So, what can you do? Lots of people are already sharing things online. Keep at it, even if you feel like you’re alienating your audience (that discomfort you’re feeling is theirs too so normalise your speaking out). But more than that, call out any injustice you see in your daily lives (especially if you’re in a position of power), actively defend anyone being treated unequally, write to your MPs and other politicians, send letters to the editor, donate to groups working on the ground (yes, share your wealth).

As far as what is happening in the US is concerned, donate if you can afford it. I made a small contribution to the Minnesota Freedom Fund a couple of days ago to help bail out protestors who are being arrested. But they’ve been overwhelmed with responses and have suggested other organisations to donate to: read for details if you can help https://twitter.com/MNFreedomFund/status/1266053143512653826

Do better friends. And actively fight against inequality and injustice. In solidarity. ✊

Note: I originally wrote this for Facebook but decided that I should post it up here too. So there was never a title for this; instead, I chose a line from the article which best reflected my intentions although it makes no sense without context.