Saturday, August 06, 2011

Stuff White People Like – The Melbourne Edition

Most of you have probably read the American Stuff White People Like blog by now and laughed about it at many dinner parties which have also been fundraisers for various causes. In writing this entry, please note that in describing the group of people below, ‘white’ is probably not the best choice of word in Melbourne and should probably be replaced with ‘inner city middle class.’ After you read through the list, give yourself a score out of 80 to determine how ‘white’ you really are.

1.Living in North Fitzroy (According to Christian Lander, this is the whitest suburb in Melbourne)
2. The TED Conference

3. Farmer’s Markets

4. Hating Andrew Bolt

5. Answering “Jedi” to the religion question on the census

6. Beanies

7. Having breakfast at Monk Bodhi Dharma, lunch at the Oasis Bakery and dinner at the Moroccan Soup bar

8. Political Prisoners

9. Facebook

10. Being Offended

11. ABC Radio National

12. Any event sponsored by The Wheeler Centre

13. New Balance Shoes

14. Music Piracy

15. Ceres

16. Dinner Parties

17. Having Gay Friends

18. Putumayo World Music Collection

19. Events put on by the local council

20. Bartering

21. Hating Corporations

22. The Greens (see here and here)

23. Op Shops

24. Breastfeeding

25. Multilingual Children

26. Sophie

27. Camping

28. Lentil as Anything

29. Cassette tapes

30. Coming to places on time

31. Muslims

32. Knowing What’s Best for Poor People

33. Leonard Cohen (I’m offering a prize for anyone who can spot a non-white person in the audience at his Hanging Rock concert)

34. Go the F*#k to Sleep

35. Bicycles (especially the fixed gear variety which are the most authentic)

36. Toyota Prius

37. Apologies (especially the one by Kevin Rudd)

38. Irony

39. Confest

40. Whole Foods and Grocery Co-ops

41. Self-deprecating humour

42. Arts Degrees (especially when they lead to writing PhD’s you can angst about at dinner parties)

43. The Age (with a special mention to the Good Weekend)

44. Indie Music

45. Couchsurfing

46. Advocating for Public Education whilst sending your own kids to Private Schools (especially one’s that enhance your child’s uniqueness like Preshil or Rudolph Steiner Schools.)

47. Collingwood Children’s Farm

48. Lucas’ Paw Paw Ointment

49. Masterchef (Especially the Eco Challenge/Dalai Lama episodes)

50. Apple Products

51. Zara

52. Bragging about unique furniture you found in a hard rubbish collection

53. The Chaser

54. Acknowledging the Wurundjeri

55. The Daily Show/Colbert Report

56. Marijuana

57. Vegan/Vegetarianism

58. Flash Mobs

59. St Kilda Night market

60. Kath and Kim (This entire show is made for the benefit of inner city people who wish to laugh at outer suburbs folk)

61. 80’s Nights

62. Asylum Seekers

63. Awareness

64. Walking over a Bridge for Reconciliation

65. Hating their Parents

66. Gifted Children

67. Astor Theatre Posters

68. John Safran

69. Having tweets appear on Q&A

70. Yoga

71. Barack Obama

72. Royal Weddings

73. The Dalai Lama

74. Slutwalk and F#ckwalk

75. Diversity

76. Religions your parents don’t belong to

77. SBS Documentaries that validate your own view of the world

78. Coffee

79. The UN

80. Giving themselves scores on lists (With thanks to Ben)

So, how white are you? My score was 65/80.

Samitha Mukhopadhyay writes that SWPL is primarily a place for white people to chortle at the oddities of race and class and then congratulate themselves for having done so, thus neatly avoiding the need to delve any deeper. Or, conversely, they may like the blog because it allows them to disassociate themselves and laugh at those white yuppies. The core message is that it's OK to be rich and white, as long as you laugh about it. No further analysis required. It's a message that, unsurprisingly, rich, white people love to hear.” If that is true for you, stop reading here. But if you scored more than 60/80, the following statements may be true for you.

1. You are a confident person

The “right” kind of white people are supremely confident in their own superiority. Their self-esteem and sense of entitlement are rock solid. The right kind of white people believe that (1) all other human beings aspire to be just like them, and (2) they will always remain in power and able to secure and perpetuate their values.

2. You are a marketing agents dream

Due to their likes being so predictable, the right kind of white people are highly susceptible to greenwashing campaigns and purchasing anything that’s advertised in free indie music mags like X-Press to clothing advertised in the Good Weekend. Whites are also far more likely to support causes with accessories like expensive T-Shirts, wrist bracelets, and various coloured ribbons. Whites are also particularly susceptible to social cause marketing which sometime do far more damage than good.

3. You think poor people want what you have

Due to their colonial past, white people have enormous guilt towards people in the third world which they try to fix by assuming that if only the third world was whiter, they wouldn’t be in poverty. This leads to ridiculous Whites in Shining Armour aid projects like One million T-Shirts for Haiti or Socks for Japan. Good Intentions are not enough is an excellent blog which responds to these well-intentioned, yet stupid ideas. For example, the very trendy Tom’s Shoes company recently wrote the following in its advertising for the A Day without Shoes initiative (the video clip is one of the whitest pieces of marketing I have ever seen). “The great thing about an event like One Day Without Shoes is that it's so easy to participate. We've had some supporters go barefoot for 20 minutes and others have gone barefoot for months!” The clip made by good intentions in response to Tom’s Shoes is called “A Day without Dignity.”

4. You are possibly quite well off and have a great deal of spare time

One of the whitest functions on facebook is the “Like” button, in that it allows white people to demonstrate they are supporting the right kind of everything from humour to political positions. Bolstering your white credentials on facebook or in other places often takes a great deal of time, and may be quite expensive. And by the way, how many of you are reading this blog at work?

5. You are not unique

To quote Christian Lander “But a closer look reveals that from Austin to Australia, from L.A. to the U.K., indigenous white people are as different from one another as 1 percent rBGH-free milk is different from 2 percent.”

6. You are middle class

Christian Lander writes on the blog “It’s partially about race, but it’s fundamentally about class. It’s about a generation and class that values authenticity and credibility more than monetary wealth.”

7. You are the beneficiary of positive stereotypes

Though most ethnic stereotypes are negative, different racial groups also hold some positive stereotypes of white people. A 1972 study found that, in general, whites were stereotyped with positive traits and minority groups with negative traits. Positively, whites are stereotyped as intelligent, socially diverse, and generally non-dangerous and unlikely to commit crime. However, they are all considered racist, prejudiced, or biased and scared or uneasy around minorities.

8. Most Films and TV shows are often created with you in mind

Samitha Mukhopadhyay writes that “what makes Stuff White People Like special is that it describes relatively wealthy white Americans, and in doing so, recognizes that their particular culture has been mainstreamed and presented by Hollywood as the norm.”

Filmmakers know that due to white people having more spare time and disposable income, they are more likely to watch films. Below is just a small list of film themes that attract white people

*Car trips to wineries (Eg: Sideways, Road Trip)

* White boys trying to lose their virginity on campus (Eg: American Pie, The Social Network)

* Films about therapy (Analyse This, In treatment, Prime)

* Inspiring white people changing the world (Good Will Hunting, Erin Brockovich, Patch Adams, Dangerous Minds, The Power of One, Pay it Forward – Teachers LOVE these types of films)

* Films about white post-modern angst (When Harry Met Sally, Garden State, Juno, Rachel’s getting married, 500 days of summer, Up in the Air)

* Films about prejudice (Invictus, anything by Michael Moore)

9. You were raised to be middle class

From the moment you were born in a midwife led, doula assisted, drug free, home birth, it is quite likely that you were breastfeed, read to every night, and that your toys were made of organic materials and/or had the word “Baby Einstein” on them somewhere due to your inherent giftedness. If you get nothing else from this blog, next time you are having a discussion about what’s best for poor people, note that the reason you are not poor relates directly to the daily effects of white privilege.

10. You are the product of immense privilege

Matthew Miller writes, “Stuff White People Like is, to be blunt, something that very few people seem to get. It's not just an attack on hipsters, and it's certainly not racist, but rather, it's an attack on privilege. The 20 and 30-something upper-middle class kids Lander mocks benefit tremendously from their positions as children of the elite, and have created their own "culture" that reflects their pretensions by affirming their own uniqueness and artistic merit without requiring any real effort. It's also an attack on class, and repeatedly points out that in order to advance in a society controlled by the "right kind of white people," you have to parrot their views and affirm their (well-meaning, but sill patronizing) stereotypes, which is ironic considering how tolerant and open-minded they claim to be.”

Personal Note

I have spent several weeks trying to put together this blog post in manner that best articulates my thoughts on this complex issue of class in Australia. If you feel guilty or offended, that is not my intention. My purpose of posting it here is to add depth to the inevitable conversations I often have about SWPL on Sunday mornings in vegan cafes.

If this blog prompts discussions about

-how and why you donate money to various causes,

-why you buy the clothes you do,

-what motivates you to write certain things online, and

-what makes you happy

Then my purpose has been achieved.

Looking forward to the conversation.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A Jewish Balanda in Yolngu Country

Spending five days on Elcho Island was an eye-opening experience that will stay with me for a long time. Learning about the Law and ceremony of the Yolngu people, seeing how they practice it despite all the pressures from the modern world that dismiss it, was remarkable. Indigenous Australian law is probably one of the world’s oldest continually practiced traditions still alive today. Every time we have a national event like the Olympics, Australians are very proud to display their aboriginal history through dances and performances in public settings.

That said, if more Australians saw the living conditions of the people on Elcho Island whose tradition we say we value so much, they would be very confronted. Due to an extreme housing shortage, about 30 people live in each house, there are almost no jobs on the island, and English literacy is very poor.

The Northern Territory National Emergency Response (usually referred to as ‘The Intervention’) which aimed to fix a number of the issues outlined above is a subject of great controversy amongst the people who live there, with some feeling it unjustly disempowers the local elders and discredits their traditional way of life. Others feel that it is necessary to prevent further deterioration in living, health and education standards across the NT.

The school we stayed at was called Shepherdson College. It was a well-resourced school whose staff are doing some pretty amazing things. This news story is a great example of what can happen when elders are empowered to make decisions for themselves.

Our Scopus students were accompanied much of the time by children aged roughly 5-13. They were very friendly with us, often holding our hands and even adopting us into their families due to their complicated kinship system which outlines permitted and forbidden contact with people in the community.

The Yonlgu students enjoyed the activities we put on such as Israeli dancing and mural painting. We also enjoyed visiting their sacred sites and learning about their ancient law.

One thing that struck me when listening to the elders describe their law, was that in order to keep it, they must live in their ancestral land near the sacred sites, as the law is intrinsically tied to these places. They spoke proudly about how their law had not changed at all since their tradition began (cave paintings found in the area indicate that their tradition may be up to 40,000 years old).

After I heard the elders explain their law, which is intrinsically tied to certain sacred places, seasons and ceremonies, I reflected on the fact that I was very fortunate to belong to a religion that one can practice authentically in any place in the world. It made me think that perhaps one of the reasons that the Jewish people have been so materially successful over time, is that our law (halacha) constantly evolves through rabbinic interpretation in a manner that makes our traditions intrinsically portable and fully compatible with western notions of employment, income and social interaction.

Clearly there are some similarities between us, with parallels between sacred sites and the existence of Israel today (a point actually noted by one of the elders), yet the challenges that exist for a Yolngu person who wants to keep their law whilst living in a balanda (white person) society are still far greater than for a Jew. For some Yolngu, being asked to move away from one’s land for employment is forcing one to choose between keeping their law and having a job.

Before the trip, Emanuel Holbein, who is an inspirational teacher on the Island, successfully applied for a $2000 grant from the NT government in order to provide meals for the students at the school for the first week of the school holidays whilst we were there. Emanuel was expecting about 10 students to be at each meal. What happened in reality was that up to 50-60 people (young and old) showed up to each meal. It very quickly occurred to me that many people on the island are not eating three meals a day. Our students immediately swung into action by helping to cook and serve food for all the hungry.

I felt grateful for our over-catering, that allowed us to leave a great amount of kosher food behind for the students in the coming week. The knowledge that some of the students at the school may be hungry until school resumes in three weeks was challenging for all of us, and gave the Scopus students much to be grateful for in their our own lives back here in Melbourne.

I am looking forward to working with the school community next term in highlighting some of the issues facing Indigenous Australians today and exploring ways in which we can make a difference.

Reflecting on the difference between our lives in Melbourne and those on Elcho can best be described in this story.

One day a rich Westerner who had made millions from speculating on the stock market was strolling along the beach and saw the fisherman pulling in his boat with his meagre catch.

The rich Westerner stopped and remarked “not much of a catch today”. The fisherman replied “yes not much” but explained that his small catch was enough for him and his family.

The rich Westerner asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, play with my children and have an afternoon’s rest under a coconut tree. In the evenings, I go to the local pub to see my friends, play some music, and sing a few songs….. I have a full and happy life.” replied the fisherman.

The rich Westerner ventured, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you…… You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.

With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have a large fleet.
Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to a city fr
om where you can direct your huge enterprise.”

“And after that?” asked the fisherman.

“After that? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the rich Westerner, laughing, “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stock in your company and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” pressed the fisherman.

“After that you’ll be able to retire, move out to a small village by the sea, sleep in late every day, spend time with your family, go fishing, take afternoon naps under a coconut tree, and spend relaxing evenings with friends…”

After reading that story, many might assume that the person whose society is most broken is that of the white fella who is working 70 hours a week and barely seeing his children for more a few minutes a day. On the other hand, the story does over romanticise the life of the fisherman, who whilst being happy with his life on the island, would also love to have the access to education, health services and emplroyment that are available in the white society.

My friend Howard Goldenberg who has spent decades working with remote communities across Australia has said that the main desire of the many Aboriginals he has worked with has been להיות עם חפשי בארצנו, “To be a FREE people in OUR OWN land".

Or in the words of Elcho Island elder Daisy Gondarra "The changes that have happened at Shepherdson College give students the message that there's a pathway for them, a purpose in life, to be able to get a real job. We want something better for students to achieve in the long run, a career pathway for them, not just a job for today but a job for the future. Our children have to learn to live in both worlds; that's the way forward. It's two types, Yolngu and balanda (white people), working together as equals."

Friday, June 24, 2011

B’tselem Elohim - בצלם אלוהים

The Midrash teaches: One person (Adam) was created as the common ancestor of all people, for the sake of the peace of the human race, so that one should not be able to say to a neighbour, "My ancestor was better than yours.” I was reminded of this midrash constantly as I watched the powerful reality show “Go back to where you came from” on SBS for the past three nights.

The show took six ordinary Australians who agreed to challenge their preconceived notions about refugees and asylum seekers by embarking on a confronting 25-day journey. Tracing in reverse the journeys that refugees have taken to reach Australia, they travelled to some of the most dangerous and desperate corners of the world, with no idea what is in store for them along the way.

Deprived of their wallets, phones and passports, they board a leaky refugee boat, are rescued mid-ocean, experience immigration raids in Malaysia, live in a Kenyan refugee camp and visit slums in Jordan before ultimately making it to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq, protected by UN Peacekeepers and the US military. For some of them it’s their first time abroad. For all of them, it’s an epic journey and the most challenging experience of their lives.
With the all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the show is one of the post powerful rebuttals to the dehumanising language used about asylum seekers all too often in this country.

Australia’s policy towards asylum seekers is largely decided by the opinions of participants in focus groups around marginal seats in Western Sydney. After watching Go Back To Where You Came From for the past three nights, I believe that if our government truly wanted to lead rather than follow the Australian people on this issue, they could easily educate many of us to find the best within ourselves by humanising, rather than demonising refugees who come here by boat.

Irwin Cotler, the former Justice Minister of Canada said in a speech at the Oxford Chabad Society, "The greatness of a society can be measured by its treatment and care of the most vulnerable and powerless." The most powerless people in the world today are the millions of refugees waiting in camps around the world. As a wealthy country, Australia can do far more to alleviate the plight of these people. Three good places to start would be to increase our level of foreign aid to 0.7% of GNI, support the implementation of the millennium development goals, and increase the number of asylum seekers given visas to this country each year.
On a broader level as a Jewish community, I also think that we would greatly benefit by remembering that all people, whether they be Greenies, Settlers, Palestinians, Chabadniks, Homosexuals, Reformers, Peaceniks, Zionists or Bundists, are created in the Image of God.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book To Heal a Fractured World, suggests that Judaism is a religion of sacred discontent. He sees Abraham, Moses, Amos and Isaiah as messengers of sacred discontent, of dissatisfaction with the status quo. He writes, "In Judaism, faith is not acceptance but protest, against the world that is, in the name of the world that is not yet but ought to be...There are cultures that relieve humankind of responsibility, lifting us beyond the world of pain to bliss...they teach us to accept the world as it is and us as we are. They bring peace of mind and that is no small thing. Judaism is not peace of mind...I remain in awe at the challenge God has set us: build, to change, to 'mend' the world until it becomes a place worthy of the divine presence because we have learned to honour the image of God that is humankind."

The final part of this documentary will be screened on Tuesday 28th June at 8:30 on SBS.