Digital Pedagogy Lab is honored to feature a special mini-keynote from Surita Jhangiani, Assistant Professor of Teaching at University of British Columbia. To view the video of Surita's presentation, click here.
A Search for Reclamation
The Submissive Death
I’ve been inculcated into a culture of submission, I’ve lost who I was, or maybe I never got to know that person. The person I do know, holds onto fear with an iron grip, I can’t let go. I think I want to, but what lies beyond my beautiful prison? Violence? Rejection? Loneliness? I don’t fear the latter two, for my prison has brought me years of solitude, and my thoughts reject me regularly. I’ve come to embrace the narrative of my mind.
I don’t know why I lived under the illusion for so many years that I was more than the colour of my skin. For a majority of my life I thought I was equal to my peers, that I was afforded with the same opportunities. I blindly acquiesce to small injustices; I lived in ignorance to all the ways that I didn’t fit in. I chalked up any indifference to being deficient, and not different. When I was ignored by my teachers, I assumed it was a reflection of my intelligence, and that my voice did not matter. I began to shy away from expressing my opinions, which in turn fueled the stereotype of the subservient Asian female, an empty vessel waiting to be filled. I was chastised for being too quiet, wasting space.
At some point in my journey I accepted the beliefs of others as my truth, and there began a narrative of self-deprecation that would follow me for years to come and become so intimately intertwined with my sense of self. Any attempt at bifurcation failed.
I hated the stereotype, yet I subconsciously submitted.
The younger me did see that it was my ethnicity that separated me. The lies about who I should be were easy to swallow because sadly, at some primal level I believed that Canada, among other nations, was a haven for diversity. That I was safe, that we were safe. I believed that my nation cared for me. The politics of multiculturalism were seductive, and rightfully so. According to the Government of Canada, we claim to be a nation which, “ensur[es] that all citizens keep their identities, take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging.”
With an ethos such as this, I naively believed there was a logical reason for what transpired around me. I kept my head down and I followed the pack. I never questioned where we were headed, who was leading, and what their prerogative was. I just followed.
By swallowing the deceptive pills of colonization, I unconsciously accepted the fictitious lies about immigrants and grew ashamed and quiet. I shied away from who I really was. I started to recognize myself through the eyes of the oppressor. Was I really uncouth? I watched my mannerisms, careful not to overstep marginalized boundaries. I grew small, distorted physically, in order to fit a mould that weathered and beat my body. I conceded to my diminutive state.
As I grew older, I began to realize the deceit. A deeper read of Canadian history presents a vastly different narrative than the one I was led to believe. A brief look at our history reveals a disturbing narrative, one where Canada has silenced and marginalized indigenous communities, equated Canadianism with whiteness, and upholds laws and policies that continue to privilege "old stock Canadians."
Canada’s historical legacy continues on today. As recent as 2015 former conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper commented “We do not offer them [referring to refugees and immigrants] a better health-care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive," Harper said. "I think that's something that both new and existing and old-stock Canadians can agree with" (Gollom, 2015, para. 6). Harper’s comments clearly demarcate between groups and degrees of Canadianism: others, new, existing, ordinary vs. prominent, and old-stock. Continuing with Canada’s legacy of othering, in 2007, Hérouxville, a small town in Quebec wrote a code of conduct for immigrants, which prohibited the burning and stoning of women and emphasized the importance of Christmas trees (Montpetit, 2017). Our nations are becoming a space where cries for inclusivity hit the floor silently, while the discussions about the “other” become amplified to deafening decibels.
Then one day, when my anger began to swell and threaten to erupt. I notice how discourses of hate were spewing their vitriol into every crevasse of society, including our children. Some part of my heart died when I heard a child exclaim that our neighbours to the South don’t like people with brown skin. Another part of my heart died when I heard a three-year-old talk despairingly about the colour of their skin, that it was too dark. Followed a week later by women of colour talking about the need to stay out of the sun so their skin did not become “too” dark. If only these women could see how transient their status was and how their notions of privilege fed into a larger discourse that ultimately discounts their worth. Holding your own underwater never leads to growth only futile wars. Don’t be fooled by the oppressor.
The oppressor has cunningly wielded a system of capitalism and patriarchy cloaked in hegemony. They made me believe I was agentic, that I mattered, but it was a guise crafted to disparage the marginalized. As long as we felt powerful, and could be controlled seamlessly like string puppets, the victors could continue their carnage on our souls, eradicating the world of our voices. Muted and indiscernible we lie beneath you.
I need you my allies, to bring our voices to the fore, we murmur, do you hear us? You hear us, we haunt you in moments of silence. You must lean beyond the cliffs, beyond the institutions that poison you and bind you inextricably to their lies. Your vacillation threatens to smother the embers of our souls…
Awakening of the Captive Prisoner
But then I saw your prison. The prison that robbed you of life and hope. That locked you in your body, that soaked up the abuse. Although fear has been my quiet comfort, held my place in the world, I must now leave what is most comfortable. I’m broken. My days are filled with a new torture, one where I must find my voice. I can’t remember where I buried you…
Don’t be poisoned by the pills of oppression and turn your backs on us. Complacency only lasts for so long. I lived it, it expires, turns sour, curdles; you can’t run from it. The raw stench will emanate from every pore of your body, it will trouble your mind and rob you of serenity. As you sit in the comfort of your safety, I desperately seek refuge, not for me, but for the future. While I believed the lies, I betrayed those who placed their trust in me. I see the carnage, the deceit, the slaughter, and now the stench grows.
How do I escape such a tenacious grip? The colonizers, the occupiers, the supremacists have bludgeoned my will and led me to live a submissive existence. I realized, late, that the world you created was my illusion, a lie I wove to blind myself to a reality that was foisted upon me.
Now comes the task of shattering the iron grip. The grip that has the force to eradicate my freedom. Do you see why the fear is so deep? To relinquish my fear, I must accept the lingering reality of death. A brief look at history quickly reminds us of the price paid by those who sought justice from oppression. Yet, if I remain within the iron grip a living death is my only future. I must dismantle my prison, but not with the oppressor’s tools, they are deceptive as Lorde warns us (Lorde, Eddo-Lodge, & Ahmed, 2017), and will only enable my victimized narrative. After all, they led me to believe my prison was a bewitching masterpiece.
The tools, the destruction, and growth must be birthed from our silences that lay welled up and entombed within each of us. After centuries of being cast aside, repressed and silenced, we must now reclaim our voices. We can no longer be observers of our lives, watching from afar, carving out niches of what we ought to be, and never honouring who we are. Otherwise, death will come, we will pass, and this needless struggle will continue.
Our rebirth begins by questioning our own dormancy and acceptance of rhetoric that submerged our existence. How have we colluded with the dominator, spun their webs, and reimagined ourselves in their image to achieve some sense of acceptance and success (hooks, 2013). This is not only a journey for the oppressed, but the for liberated, who casually think about our oppression and then return to their oasis. Come forth my allies, and continue the work that my skin robs me of.
Can you not feel our destitution? The desperation in our voices? The difference in our skin colour, what mine begs for and yours receives, is the difference between you and I. As these words escape my lips, I wonder why you cannot see how the world divides us, mutilates us? What allows you to sit there with calm passivity as my ancestors, my kin, and my future are erased?
It is your unyielding docility that stymies our breath.
The Search for Reclamation
We divide amongst ourselves when we ought to be united. We fuel the oppressors need with our trite desires. The only path to serenity is to quell the calamity that breeds in our bodies.
How do we break free? I grapple with this question each day, yet the answer is never clear. I must delve within my soul, but where is the answer hidden? We must speak our truth, yet the truth has been spoken for centuries, and we still remain in a maelstrom of hate. I stare out at the vastness of our universe; no answers echo back. Within you must go, within lies the answer. Silence your mind. In silence, not solitude, will the answer appear. Love. How do we cultivate love to stop hate? Perhaps the answer is obvious. Great writers of our time have spoken of love as though it is a panacea of hope. Will it wash away hate? Who breeds hate? Why do those who hate unite with such reverence? While those who seek love are divided, and bring further hate to their clans? Colonialists spawn hate in order to conquer and divide. The imperialist remains steadfast in their unity, while the colonized continue to sow seeds of disparity. How did we become so wretched? We draw lines based on colour, ethnicity, gender, status, and the list grows. We find more areas to divide love. Love is where we must return to.
We can’t continue erasing others as if their lives are somehow less important, less meaningful and less cherished than those perched upon the highest echelons of society. The Highway of Tears is a testament to our failure.
I can’t be silent any longer. The real work now lays ahead of us, it’s questioning the beliefs we have accepted, often without the realization that they are a part of us. It’s questioning how we reproduce oppression and privilege. This involves deep critical introspection. What I am asking is not easy. We need to see our surroundings in a new a light, with a critical eye for the ways in which the status quo is being subtly reproduced and how our actions feed into whiteness. Find your voice not just in the quiet moments, but when ripples will follow.