Yesterday, I was harassed by motorists when I was cycling on the roads on my way to the workplace and the same thing happened to me when I was cycling back from the workplace.
They honked at me for no apparent reason, as if they owned the roads.
In another case of discrimination, I know of someone who was recently met with acrimony by a particular company mobile phone representative.
She made a big deal out of the fact that this person wasn’t wearing full-length jeans when reporting for work for the first time to be a part-time mobile phone promoter, and the three-quarter-length jeans exposed his sockless ankles though he was wearing covered shoes.
I came to realise that we all judge and discriminate based on what we see and perceive about others.
There were times when I found myself making judgements on how other people were dressed, inasmuch as I am becoming more aware of how I am being judged by others based on what I wear.
How do we transcend this (apparently) natural trait of judging based on outward appearances?
It occurs to me that we are communicating all the time, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The signals or message we send out to others (consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally) is communicated in the way we walk, talk, dress, stand, eat, look, and so on – virtually our entire existence is in a constant mode of communication to the rest of the world.
BUT it isn’t our fault that we are simply being ourselves, especially when we can’t change the way we look (at the most, only up to a certain extent) or the colour of our skins.
To what extent is it justifiable (if it does at all) for others to judge us based on our outward appearances?
Or our skin colour?
Or the way we dress?
Or our gender?
Or our sexual orientation?
Or our belief system?
Or our perceived social class?
I believe each of us would have experienced discrimination in one way or other at some point in time, whether it be for our age or gender or race etc.
Speaking of which, one of the most deplorable forms of discrimination is racial discrimination.
I have come to realise that discrimination has a way of making us feel as if we don’t matter in this world.
It makes us feel less than a human being.
It threatens our very right to exist in the world as a human being with equal rights and dignity as the next human being.
It robs us of our very desire and will to live to our fullest potential, and to have any hope for a better future for ourselves and our future generations.
Discrimination affects us all.
Some of us may think that the recent Women’s March doesn’t involve us because we happen to be born male and aren’t adversely affected by the patriarchy and misogyny that have been causing countless women to be discriminated and oppressed.
Some of us may think that the Black Lives Matter activism-cum-movement doesn’t involve us because we happen to be born lighter-skinned and aren’t adversely affected by anti-Black racism while we continue to benefit from the white privileged system (or Chinese privileged system in the context of Singapore).
Some of us may think that the barring of the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States doesn’t affect us because we happen to subscribe to other faiths or belief systems (or none at all) and we aren’t targetted by the discriminatory political system.
Until we find ourselves as a target of discrimination, in any shape or form, whether it be racism or classism or sexism or elitism, we probably won’t think much about the plight of others who are being discriminated.
But it doesn’t necessarily take a personal experience to wake us up and galvanise ourselves into action in our own lives and in our own ways.
We can remind ourselves – again and again – that we are all in this together.
We can have empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings, simply because they are… human, like us.
This may sound like a cliche to some, but I believe this is what the gospel is all about – in essence, we are “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female – for all are one…”
Some may say, “Why do you make everything about race? We have other things to worry about.”
That’s because as a privileged white in a white-dominated society, or a privileged Chinese in a Chinese-dominated society, (or fill-in-the-blanks, regarding your specific racial or nationalistic privilege), we are blind to our own privilege and we tend to be oblivious of the sufferings of others who aren’t as favoured by the societal system as we are.
Some may say, “Well, it’s his fault for not adhering to the company dress code. We need to dress a certain way in order to portray a certain image to customers.”
I see your point, but it only goes to show how shallow we all can be by judging the book by the cover and to be (mis)led by stereotypes based on how people are dressed.
Some may say, “But the motorists aren’t really harassing you. They may honk at you because they aren’t used to encountering cyclists on the road.”
Yes, but there is a need for awareness that cyclists have as much right (and responsibility) to use the roads as the motorists.
That is the reason we need education about respecting people regardless of how they wear clothes (or not wearing at all, as part of body acceptance practised in naturism and nature-based indigenous societies).
That is the reason we need education about ACCEPTING people who look different from us or have a different skin colour or subscribe to a different belief system.
That is why we (as a collective “we”) are talking about – and will continue to talk about – racism, classism, sexism, elitism and so on, so long as these sociopolitical issues and problems continue to exist and affect not only ourselves but also others.
(In solidarity with fellow people of colour and white supporters of justice and equality)
What started off seemingly as a comedy appears to end up as a tragedy, for at the beginning of the US presidential campaign, no one really took the controversial businessman Donald Trump seriously as a likely candidate. The fact that he did end up as a president reveals the proverbial elephant in the room that is increasingly brought to the fore in this day and age of the Internet.
The uncomfortable truth that is often swept under the rugs in mainstream media is that America has always – always – been built on the violence and bloodshed of indigenous people, of black and brown people, of those who don’t fit into the agenda of the white supremacy, Eurocentric capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy, which is rife with racism, sexism, misogyny and other forms of systemic and institutional discrimination.
As this article “Don’t be surprised. This is the America you have always lived in” noted:
“This is hatred on a level that that we have not seen since Jim Crow… We underestimated as Americans how deep out hatred was of the ‘other,’ how deep white uneducated Americans felt about the demographic shift. We underestimated that level of insidious hatred.”
Barack Obama’s eight-year service as the president of the US may have brought some semblance of justice, sanity, equality and progressive change, but it fails to contain the underlying destructive mindset that remains embedded in the majority of the population. Mass shooting, mass incarceration of black and brown people, white police brutality against unarmed black and brown people and US invasion and involvement in the conflicts and wars especially in the Middle East and Africa and its interference in Asia-Pacific continue unabated, and are likely to stay the same or increase during the new president’s four-year term.
Perhaps what is more frightening than a racist and misogynist man becoming the president of the US is the fact that he has the backing of the majority who supported and voted for him, who make up the demographics of those Americans who are:
(as noted by a white progressive Christian man living in America)
When I was a trainee undergoing Leadership Training Camp in Pulau Ubin in my first year of junior college, I looked at some of the seniors with wistfulness when they were rowing a wooden raft and enjoying themselves while we trainees were suffering from physical exhaustion. I longed to experience freedom like they do. Maybe when I become an adult, I will have that kind of freedom to do what I enjoy, or so I had thought. But years later, I still find myself grappling with the notion of freedom – for some reasons, I don’t feel completely free to be myself or to be fully at peace with myself and the world around me.
It has been said that “no one is free until (or unless) all are free.” Is that why I don’t really feel completely free? How to be really happy when I am aware that there are others out there still suffering from injustice or discrimination? Then again, will that day ever happen when all are free? Will I always have to postpone my happiness indefinitely? I know Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to live in the present moment and be thankful for that moment. Maybe I have to give myself permission to be truly happy so that it sends peaceful, healing energetic vibrations to those who are still struggling.
I am coming to think that when Buddha attains enlightenment or Nirvana, it is not only for himself or herself. Maybe Buddha knows that by liberating ourselves first, we can liberate others. Maybe the concept of merit-based karma isn’t completely selfish – maybe we do good to ourselves and others not so much to accumulate good karma and better rebirth for ourselves but also to show others that a better way and a better world is possible, and we ourselves can make it happen. Maybe our motivation for helping others can come from the understanding that we are all interconnected, hence when we help others, we are helping ourselves, and when we help ourselves, we are also helping others because we are all one.
Speaking of motivation, I am reticent to subscribe (wholly) to the national approach to “meritocracy” and “citizenship”.
Regarding meritocracy, do we necessarily get motivated to do things or to work hard in order to get rewards? Isn’t this an ableist approach to try to compete in a system that says “survival of the fittest”? Wouldn’t meritocracy result in people thinking they are more deserving than others because they are more able to do something? Wouldn’t it lead to elitism, classism, arrogance and snobbishness and cause us to look down on others who have done less or achieved less than us, or to feel inferior if we think we don’t measure up to others who have done more or achieved more than us? I would also venture to say that meritocracy can lead to repression when we feel shamed or compelled to hide our inherent human weaknesses from the society or from public view in an attempt to look good, moral and “incorruptible”.
Regarding citizenship, I understand that this concept may arise from our fundamental need to belong to something or some group or tribe. I can understand and relate to the need for belonging as it may be hardwired in our genes the moment we are born to want to have a sense of belonging. However, as much as it is a valid need to belong to a community, do we need to have a formal citizenship in order to consider ourselves as belonging to a particular nation or country? Do we as human beings only have access to basic rights such as shelter or housing, healthcare and so on only when we are considered citizens of a nation? Wouldn’t a stateless person have the same human rights as a citizen in any land or country to have access to these rights?
In essence, if a government’s definition of citizenship is borrowed or adapted from imperialism, it implies that the indigenous people usually have less rights than those who are considered citizens who conform to the system, and their indigenous lifestyle and habitats are often being infringed upon or sacrificed whenever the government wants to clear their land and resettle them in the name of “development”, on the pretext of “doing what is good for the society”.
The Everyday Feminism article about the 160+ examples of male privilege in all areas of life is true and comprehensive. It really helps to be aware of these examples, because as the article put it, male privilege hurts everyone, including me because accessing male privilege often requires me to conform to a toxic norm of masculinity, which to me is simply another form of misogyny, and which marginalises men who don’t fit into that which the patriarchy-oriented system think men are “supposed” to be.
I find this related article to be helpful as well, as it recognises that having privilege can also mean a person can be privileged in some ways and experience oppression in other ways, which calls for intersectionality, and also I am reminded that having privilege means I can choose to step up to the responsibility to use the privilege for good, such as supporting the most vulnerable among us to strengthen our individual and collective struggles against any oppressive or discriminatory system or mindset.
What caused a person to resort to such a drastic act of suicide in the form of self-immolation? I have read of similar cases in which Tibetan monks have taken their own lives by self-immolation, which also served as a form of protest against injustice and oppression by the ruling system. Similarly, the Arab Spring revolution that inspired Occupy Wall Street movement was sparked by a Tunisian man who set himself on fire in 2010 to protest against injustice, corruption and poverty.
Refugee Rights Action Network WA offered a sound explanation for such an act of self-immolation by an Iranian refugee, whose quote was shown above:
“On October 15 last year, Khodayar Amini, a Hazara man, set his body alight in a park in Dandenong, in fear of being redetained by immigration authorities. A patch of scorched earth marked his site of death, a silent testimony to an incredibly violent end.
Before Khodayar’s death, he stated clearly,
“My crime was that I was a refugee. They tortured me for 37 months and during all these times, they treated me in the most cruel and inhumane way, they violated my basic human right and took away my human dignity…They killed me as well as many of my friends such as: Nasim Najafi, Reza Rezayee and Ahmad Ali Jaffari”
For these men, the physical burning and scorching agony brought upon by fire, can be seen as a visible expression of the unacknowledged suffering that had plagued their lives under Australia’s merciless immigration regime.
As racialised bodies in a system designed to deny care to those deemed ‘unworthy’, these men have cried out to Australia, asking for care. In a system that renders their suffering invisible they have sought to make their suffering visible. With nothing else within their control, they have cried out with their bodies.”
I believe the underlying message is: Do I matter? As human beings, we all have an inner desire to be respected, acknowledged and treated with basic dignity. I am sure most, if not all, of us would have experienced in some form of discrimination or other, and the experience can be downright humiliating. In a recent incident on social media, I was chagrined when my post was removed twice by a group administrator without explanation, despite my request for an explanation, and I decided to raise an issue openly to challenge the perceived discrimination.
I can only imagine how much worse it has been for refugees whose voices have been drowned consistently by the uncaring system. It probably wouldn’t be fair for me to compare my own experience with those who had to deal with the systemic oppression day after day, which threatened their very survival and well-being. But I can certainly relate in some ways to their pains and suffering.
“Do I matter? Does my life matter?” is the question that continues unspoken in our lives whenever we undergo struggles and setbacks. In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement exemplifies the need to vocalise and highlight the issue of anti-black racism and institutional oppression of the black community that had resulted in white police brutality against unarmed black men and women.
May we all come to the realisation that we ourselves matter and so do others, and may we unite to subvert the inhumane system that threatens to strip us of our basic dignity and humanity.
Social activists need to grow as humans as well because the greatest enemy isn’t outside, whether it is white supremacy or colonialism or patriarchy; it is the untamed ego or shadow side of us. (We can have a holistic t’shuvah understanding of ourselves, recognising that while we bear the image of the divine, we have a capacity to do tremendous good or terrible evil.)
When we succeed in bringing about a revolution and challenging and dismantling white supremacy, for example, the question is “what’s next?” Is the response “who’s the next enemy?” If so, it can become a means to not deal with our interior life and stay preoccupied with fighting against an external perceived enemy all the time. This can lead to infighting in social activist groups or movements as the members begin to turn on one another. But if the response is “how can I continue to create a better and more humane world?” then one can find creative ways to bring about or facilitate restoration and reconciliation. It might mean working through one’s own pain and suffering to experience healing and peace more and more; it might mean reaching out to help the oppressed heal from their pain and suffering; it might mean working with the white people who are aware and willing to bring about equality in real and tangible ways in society, and so on.
To be sure, social activists are human and have their own fears and egos and insecurities. But are they going to allow these to override their primary motivation in activism, which is a love for oneself and others and working towards their emancipation? If others’ freedom and well being are their top priority, they can choose to not their own hurt pride and wounded ego get in the way of their mission to alleviate the oppressed of their pain and suffering.
Social activists have to learn to develop a thick skin and a willingness to be open and receptive to questions and criticisms. They have to realise that as public figures who have a platform that is open to scrutiny from the rest of the world, they cannot be shielded or sheltered from opposing views or different perspectives. Instead, they can choose to learn from the criticisms and different perspectives to do their own soul searching, to grow and expand, to become stronger and bigger persons.
Social activists need to create a space for themselves to embrace their own brokenness, weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as that of others. Only then can they live an honest and authentic life, and continue to inspire others with their humanness.
Social activists can choose to learn from other role models who have been through struggles and upheavals themselves and who are open about their struggles. People such as Rob Bell and Carlton Pearson, who have suffered and been ostracised in their work to challenge oppressive systems and mindsets and who have worked through their struggles and shared openly about them, can serve as such role models.
A university student named Iwani Zoë from South Africa wrote a perceptive blog “Is Singapore a racist country?” Someone in this related article “Foreign student in NUS writes an article on racism she faces in Singapore” made a rather disparaging comment, saying “She lives in an utopian planet. Racism exists everywhere but it is up to the society and government to regulate and minimize its threats to societal upheaval.”
My response to his comment is:
“Yes, racism exists everywhere, but each of us can take a more active approach to deal with racism because we can’t always depend on the government to “regulate and minimise its threats to societal upheaval”, especially if we are dealing with less overt forms of racism such as the micro-aggressions we experience in daily life, as described in Iwani’s blog. In fact, sometimes racism is state-sanctioned, as evidenced in the white police brutality against unarmed black people and the mass incarceration of black and brown people in America, so the government in general isn’t always dependable.
Also, we are the society and we can do our part to deal with the issue of racism by having open conversations about it in order to educate and raise awareness among people about how being subject to discrimination and prejudice is affecting us; we can do so online through blogs and social media as well as offline. It is through such dialogues that we can find healing and no longer suffer in silence, and that the ones who are enjoying racial privileges can check themselves and not contribute to the problem of racism, such as by reminding themselves and educating their children to not stare at those who look different from themselves and to not subscribe to negative media stereotypes of other races for a start.
Already, in America, and increasingly around the world, the issues of anti-black racism and white supremacy have become an open conversation (thanks to Black Lives Matter and the like), to the extent that more and more white people themselves are acknowledging that they are benefitting from the white privilege system and are choosing to stand in solidarity with the oppressed. While it might not be possible to create an utopian planet, we all can indeed find ways to make this world a better, more humane and equitable place for everyone by sharing our experiences, accepting our differences and celebrating our diversity.”
“The government can legislate but they cannot change behaviour. That comes with education and inner motivation.
The bottom line is that we must embrace our racial diversity. Contrary to what some have said, I think racism is rather mild in Singapore.”
My response is:
“Less overt forms of racism, such as the aforementioned daily micro-aggressions, can be as insidious and detrimental as armed race riots because they create despair, resentment and frustration for those who have been subject to discrimination, prejudice and marginalisation. (It may also result in self-hatred and low self-esteem, as one may wish one was born white or fairer skinned.) To be honest, I myself used to think that racism is rather mild in Singapore compared to some other places, until I realise I have been living in a privileged bubble as a majority Singaporean Chinese and see for myself how many non-Singaporean Chinese, or darker skinned people in general, have been stared at or subject to racist jokes or made to feel as if they don’t belong to the community here as much as the Singaporean Chinese do.
To quote Professor Adeline Koh, “Singapore Chinese, as they are termed, enjoy systemic, racialized and institutional privilege in the country as opposed to the countries’ minorities (primarily racialized as Indian and Malay).” The question is: Do we own and acknowledge the fact that we are benefiting from the system of Chinese Privilege in Singapore? The next question beckons: Do we exert our Chinese Privilege by pretending that it doesn’t exist, and benefit from it all the same—or do we recognize that we are, like other minorities in Singapore, also a person of color, and should be more sensitive to what they are saying, because we go through exactly the same thing when we are not in Singapore that they do at home?”
Living an examined life is hard, but necessary, and ultimately fulfilling. Each of us has to find our own ways to life’s perplexing issues. I am always inspired by the starfish story. Like Helen Keller said, “I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
Decided to take a nap because I felt tired and sleepy due to lack of rest. Realised that if I were to neglect rest at the expense of my health, I would be doing violence to myself.
Violence seems like a strong word, but then again, maybe I need a strong word to wake myself up to the cumulative effects of harming myself if I continue to deprive myself from the need to get adequate rest, knowingly or unknowingly.
Now that I have defined violence in this context, I am going to extend the term to some other aspects of life. Sports, or any act of trying to win or not to lose or subscribing to the concepts of winning or losing, is doing violence to oneself and others. Contests, as harmless as they appear to be, give people a false sense of entitlement and superior identity over others. There is no need for us to do something in order to become somebody because we all are already somebody.
Cycling, badminton, musical chairs, debates and so on – any act of wanting to overpower or outdo or outwit or prevail over someone else is an act of violence and doesn’t foster compassion and empathy. Only through compassion, cooperation and collaboration can we truly thrive – as one.
If one part of the body suffers, all suffer. If one part of the body thrives, all thrive. We are all one and equal.
Living true to myself and rebelling against the ways of the system has to go beyond mere words and idealism – it must become a reality in the way I live and interact with people. If there are people in my past such as in school or workplace or church institution whose mindsets I no longer resonate with because their mindsets are “destructive” to the extent they don’t foster my growth or evolution, I need to let them go. I cannot allow myself to be restricted or hampered or influenced by their small minds and narrow thinking. I have to be true to who I really am and walk the walk and be free. It is out of love and respect for myself and others that I need to do this.
Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in New York. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University, New York. She is the author of the multi-award-winning, The Conscious Parent. Heralded as a game-changer in the parenting genre, this book turns the traditional parenting paradigms on its head and revolutionizes how we raise our families. She has been exposed to Eastern mindfulness at an early age and integrates its teachings with Western psychology. This blend of East and West allows her to reach a global audience. Her ability to appeal to both a psychologically astute and consciousness-driven audience establishes her as one of a kind in the parenting field. She lectures extensively on mindful living and conscious parenting around the world and is in private practice. She resides with her husband and daughter in New York.
“Parents, few hold a greater power or more immense responsibility. And this is why I’m here today, to propose that we occupy the role of parenthood in an entirely different way, with a renewed curiosity, a heightened awareness, a transformed commitment. Because nothing like parenthood that needs to be at the forefront of our global consciousness. It’s the call, the linchpin that affects how our children will thrive. Everything: how they take care of themselves, each other, the earth, show compassion, tolerate differences, handle their emotions, create, invent, innovate. This is where global transformation begins. We cannot expect our children to embody an enlightened consciousness if we parents haven’t dared to model this ourselves. It all starts with us and how we parent.”
To a large extent, this observation is true, although I would add that children who did not experience conscious parenting from their own biological parents are also able to embody an enlightened consciousness when they decide to listen to their own heart and devote themselves to conscious living and philosophy as they grow up, and choose to learn from other conscious people who serve as their role models.
“You know, we don’t hurt our children because we are evil or ill-intentioned, certainly not out of a lack of love. We hurt our children for one reason only: it’s because we are hurting ourselves and we barely know it. It’s because we are unconscious, because we have inherited legacies of emotional baggage from our own parents. We’re sitting on the emotional baggage that lies dormant unconscious, waiting to be triggered at a moment’s notice. And who better to trigger us than our children? They just know the buttons to push.
Through our children, we get theatre seats, orchestra seats to the theatrics of our emotional immaturity. You know when we lose our temper with our children and believe that they’re devils and monsters, chances are it isn’t because they’re that, but because they’ve triggered an old wound within us. They’ve made us feel feelings that we don’t care to feel. They’ve made us feel powerless and out-of-control, helpless, and in order to regain a sense of supremacy, we lash out at them in reactivity. You know when we pick on our children nonstop, we nitpick at them, ‘Why aren’t you like this? Why don’t you do that? Why couldn’t you be more like her?’ chances are it’s not because they are inadequate, but because we come from a place of inner lack, and we ourselves live under the tyranny of a severe inner critic. You know when our children are disrespectful to us and cross our boundaries and we fret and fume, and commiserate with our friends about our evil children? Chances are it’s not because they’re wild and chaotic, but because we ourselves have a problem with our leadership, with consistency, with order, with handling conflict, with saying no.
You know, our children come to us whole, complete and worthy. They’re happy with two sticks, a stone and a feather. But because we’ve been conditioned so deeply in an unconscious manner, so severed from our own sense of presence, wholeness, attunement, and sense of self and whole and abundance, that we project a sense of lack onto them, and we teach them, ‘Do not depend on your sense of self for worth and value, but look outward. Look to the Ferrari, the corporate corner office, to the casino, to the pill, to the bottle, to the needle, to spouse number one, two and three, to where you live, to where you graduated from.’ Because we are severed from a sense of being, we are consumed by doing. This is how we know self value. We teach our children, ‘You can’t simply play, you must achieve. You can’t have a hobby, you must excel at it. You cannot dream, you must dream big, and why really dream if you can’t succeed?’
It’s time for us to change the spotlight, to turn it inwards, and change it from being the child who needs to be fixed, the child as the one with the problem, and parental evolution as the solution. … The time to awaken is now. The parenting paradigm needs to shift. No more the parent as the greater than, but now we need to look at our children as equal if not greater transforming agents. Our children are our awakeners, they are our teachers.
It is time for us parents to answer the call, to pause, to reflect more, to connect to our own abundance, to trust our children, to understand their brilliance, to follow their lead, to self-love, to create purpose, to enter worth, to be in gratitude. For this is how our children will absorb wholeness and abundance, fullness and spirit. And from this place, they can fly free. It is time for us parents to answer our call to our own awakening. The moment is now and our children await.”
An inspiring and impassioned speech indeed, full of insight and wisdom for conscious parenting and conscious living, which I believe will result in a greater healing of humanity and the planet. I would add that each of us can be that conscious parent because “family”, as a concept and social construct, needs not be confined to blood relations only.
Each of us has the power to be that example, that role model, for other children to learn from, so each of us – whether we have children or we are childless – can choose to awaken to who we really are intrinsically – spiritual beings on a human journey who are already whole, beloved and abundant.
We are not defined by our actions, and neither are we defined by our age nor gender. The concepts of “father”, “mother”, “son” and “daughter” are only applicable in the physical realm that are tied to gender, age and biological relations, but our true self is genderless, ageless and formless. Therefore, each of us can play the role of a father, mother, son or daughter to someone else. Just as it can be said that each of us has a divine feminine and a divine masculine side, it can also be said that each of us has a sacred call to being a parent and a child. We are all parents to someone else, and we are all children to someone else as well. This is because we are all interrelated and we are all one in the deepest essence of our beings.