Monday, 23 March 2015

Where the Fight Against Racism Went Wrong

Today I watched a documentary on the issue of human trafficking. It featured the stories of ex-prostitutes, pimps, johns and the people of law enforcement who serve in the fight against the sex trade.

Toward the end of the documentary, I realized that amongst the many reactions I had, one of them was the gratitude that I had toward the men who chose to fight this particular cause.

One of the officers, Daniel Steele, the Vice Sergeant of the Denver Police had described the reason behind his passion for fighting sex trafficking.

“I just have no tolerance for people who think it’s okay to force women into being slaves.”

Looking at how powerful the influence of men fighting for injustices against women, where most of these acts are committed by men themselves, got me thinking about non-marginalized people fighting against racism, acts mostly committed by non-marginalized people.

A few weeks ago there was the issue of two white student journalists being banned from attending and covering a Racialized Students Union meeting at Ryerson University.

While people debated the merit of both sides of the issue, the stance I took was very difficult to articulate. It was a mix of understanding the importance of safe space for marginalized and racialized groups, but a lack of understanding as to why the journalists were not permitted to attend the meeting, which RSU coordinator Vajdaan Tanveer confirmed was because the student journalists were white.

Since then, I have heard the argument of how them being there would have compromised the ability for group members to be open and honest about their experiences.

Since then, I have heard the argument of how they wouldn’t have been able to understand the experiences of others because they had never experienced racialization.

Since then, I have heard the argument of how they are a part of the problem because they belong to the hegemonic group that essentially, has done most of the racialization.

But since then, I have pondered the irony of students being banned from attending a meeting focusing on the experience of being racialized based on the colour of two peoples skin.

I have wondered how a group that prides itself on “campus-wide” initiatives could possibly contradict their own mission statement by being exclusive to only the racialized group.

And since then, I have truly wondered if their lack of acceptance for the two white students was an act of racialization in itself, believing in my heart that it was, but feeling too guilty of being “part of the problem” to admit it.

Here’s the real problem.

Somewhere along the lines, pride and pain took over the mission of conquering and peace. The lines of division and segregation that a racist society drew in the sand in history got darker and bolder over time and separated us even more.

And now we’re not even in the same sandbox anymore.

In another case, protestors gathered in Downtown Toronto for a Black Lives Matter protest towards the end of 2014. The organizers instructed non-black protestors not to speak to the media if they were approached. They wanted the protest to focus on black voices.

While I understood the intention, I truly did not comprehend the method.

After watching this documentary today, and seeing far too many race crimes, protests and just everyday acts of intolerance, I’ve come to the conclusion (or at least now can confirm what I long believed) that racism can’t just be fought by blacks.

It can’t be fought by sitting in a room and talking about the instances you were the victim of racialization. That might help you heal, but it won’t help stop racism.

Racism can’t be fought by silencing the voices of others, hoping the audience will then hear our voices louder.

Racism can’t be fought without making alliances with other races, to show the rest of the world that racism is the issue of people who haven’t even been victims of racism.

To show them that yes, racism is your problem too.

Racism isn’t just an issue that ethnic minorities face. It’s a society-wide issue that needs to be addressed by those who are oppressed, those who have been oppressed, the people belonging to the groups who historically, have been oppressors, and those who know nothing about oppression whatsoever.

Racism is not a competition.

It’s not a competition to see who’s been the most oppressed, or who’s worthy of fighting the cause vs. those who aren’t. It’s an issue that needs to and especially cannot be defeated by society unless we stand as a united front.

After I watched the documentary today, I imagined what my response would be if I were a man.

And if I were a man watching that documentary, I would realize that sex trafficking is a widespread issue. I’d see that there are men; fathers, brothers, police officers, federal government workers who prioritize this issue, one that doesn't affect my gender nearly as much as it does to another, as a worthy cause of being fought.

And so I might not be so intolerant the next time I see a street worker and call her a derogatory name.

When people see their own people fighting a cause that doesn't affect them negatively, they get to thinking twice about the affect of the cause in a broader sense and might even feel more compelled to fight, too.

Sadly the reality is that people need to identify with a cause before they decide to partake in the fight. That’s why racism is a cause primarily fought by minorities, feminism by women, university strikes by university students and TAs, anti-Islam by Muslims, anti-semitism by Jews, etc.

So if we continue to minimize the face of racism by making it seem like a “black” issue or an “Asian” issue or a “Middle Eastern” issue, how will the importance of fighting it ever really mean anything to the group of people that seem to benefit from minorities being racialized the most?

Maybe I’m confused. But closing the doors in people’s faces and telling them their voices don’t matter, at least not in this instance, was what got us to where we are in the first place. Sometimes the only way to avoid the legacies of a brutal and discriminatory history is to rewrite it.

Luckily, we all have pens.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Midterm Assignment

A photo posted by Ellen (@theellenshow) on
The location of this Ellen DeGeneres tweet is identified as California. Instead of using Twitter to search for the location of the sent tweet, I will embed an instagram photo of the tweet and get the location from there.

By getting the id number and inputting it into Instagram's API, I was able to find the latitude and longitude of the post.

By entering in the data to Google maps, I was able to create a map that identifies the exact location of the post.

With this information, I would begin building a story around celebrity sightseeing in California. I could make a graph of the spots in California where celebrities frequent the most, then turn that information into a comprehensive chart for readers looking to go stargazing during the next awards ceremony.
I have built a chart that will help provide a visual for readers. I would speak on the trends (which restaurants get the most famous visitors vs. which restaurants don't at all and whether closeness to the point of the post is related to the amount of celebrity traffic, which in this case does not seem to have a correlation)

I feel that the chart I've made is comprehensive, relevant, and useful for readers who are looking to spot celebrities at Hollywood restaurants. And it all started with a tweet about the Oscars!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

This Week in Toronto: LOL in the North Comedy Show

            Laugh-hungry audience members trekked in the snow to get to Toronto’s John Bassett theatre Saturday night for the LOL in the North comedy show. Headliner Faizon Love, alongside comedians Capone, Jay Martin, Trixx, Rip Michaels and up and coming Aaron Lewin performed in front of an audience of almost 1,000 people.

            Lewin began the show by warming them up with some hearty laughs. His natural ability to grace the stage with comfort and a comedic response for everything got the crowd in the mood for the rest of the performers. His performance included him removing some clothes, all except his boxers.

            While the move was gutsy, comedian Trixx agrees that taking risks is necessary to be a good comedian.

            “If you don’t take risks, you get too comfortable,” Trixx said during a pre-show interview. “If you’ve never taken risks, bombed a show or been booed, you never go home and think ‘what do I need to work on’?”

            This was Lewin’s second time at the John Bassett theatre. He enjoys performing there because it forces him to be a creative and comedic centerpiece for the 1,300-seat venue.

            Before shows, Lewin spends time in his dressing room looking in the mirror, dong push-ups, and mentally preparing himself for his skit. With a list of words penned into his left hand as just-in-case-cues, he takes on the tremendous responsibility of setting the stage for both himself and the performers after.

            When Jay Martin announced to Lewin that there was a switch in the order, he handled it with grace.

            “You’re up first, rooks,” Martin said to Lewin backstage shortly before showtime. “First, first.”

            The same ease and grace that Lewin had in this instance was brought with him to the stage. His routine included racial jokes, what it’s like being the only black guy in his suburb town of Richmond Hill, Bill Cosby’s news headlines, and of course, the difference between a white man and a black man approaching a girl in the club.

            The crowd enjoyed Lewin, as most of his audiences do. He meets the difficulty of stand-up with an impressive calm, one that forces the audience to feel calm, too, in between laughter of course.

            Lewin’s next shows are set for February 15th, 22nd and 26th.    


Saturday, 7 February 2015

This Week in Toronto: Wild About Whisky

                                                Basil Hayden's Kentucky Bourbon Whisky

Whisky events are taking place all over the world. The St. Andrew’s Society and McGill university are organizing their third annual Whisky Fete in Montreal and talks of specialized whisky bars are popping up in different demographics. Here in Toronto, we are celebrating the beverage too. Toronto has taken part in the newest whisky trend; pairing two of some people’s favourite things-whisky and food.

                                                  Eccles cakes (paired with Aaran Malt)

Gone are the days that whisky was just another reason to party. The alcoholic beverage has been making serious headway in becoming one of the most profitable spirits in the market. But the beverage is expected to reach its peak within the next few years. With the whisky industry making a whopping $3 billion in 2014, it is the spirit to beat.

Unlike wines and spirits typically known to pair well with food, whisky has yet to make itself known as a pairing beverage. Executive Chef at The Forth restaurant at 629 Danforth Ave. teamed up with beverage expert Emily Pearce to change that.

                                          Oysters on the half shell (paired with Laphroaig)

The World of Whisky Lounge took place on Thursday and featured craft whiskies from North American Basil Hayden Bourbon and Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee whisky, Scottish Aaran Malt and Laphroaig Scotch and Canadian Lot No. 40 Rye. The food menu featured exotic and vibrant dishes of eccles cakes, tuna tartare, and grilled lamb to match each whisky set up at the sampling stations.

                                                      India's Amrut Single Malt Whisky

The event also featured a Japanese whisky, Nikka Taketsuru. The popularity of Japanese whisky has been growing tremendously. It’s even a topic of discussion and debate in the Wall Street Journal, about whether it’s better than scotch. And according to Chef Albertsen, it just might be.

“It’s my favourite,” he said of the Asian whisky.

                                              Zach Albertsen, Executive Chef at The Forth 

The event, an environment welcoming to experts and newbies alike, set out to change the attitude about whisky.

“It’s really approachable because there’s such a variety of categories. You can go from something that’s subtle and sweet to something that’s really strong, smoky, smooth, a bourbon or whisky,” Albertsen explained.

At the event was Mark Bylok, author of Amazon’s best-selling Whisky Cabinet. “I think it’s kind of the next natural step. People love their wine, they love their beer, they love their coffee. Whisky has a lot of that character and a lot of that flavor but it just takes a little while to appreciate,” he said about why whisky is on the rise.

                                                    Mark Bylok's "The Whisky Cabinet"

But that’s just part of the reason the beverage is becoming more appealing. The drink, typically associated with being a man’s drink is being consumed by more and more women.

Jamie Johnson, who runs whisky events strictly for women in Caledonia, says whisky culture is changing. “It’s a powerful drink. It’s always been associated with masculinity.”

Women of whisky events are helping to make the process of learning whisky culture less intimidating. “Its only women, one of the brand ambassadors from Glenfiddich hosts the evening and it’s just a nice atmosphere for women to ask questions,” Johnson said. “You feel better about asking questions and a little better about ordering it. It’s a lot like when you first learn about wine.”

Johnson’s point about women and whisky illustrates a larger one than just more women at the pre-dominantly male events.

“It’s a new conversation now,” Johnson said. 

Friday, 6 February 2015

Canada's Next Best Comedian: Aaron Lewin

Aaron Kadeem Lewin was born and raised in Richmond Hill. At the age of 18, long after he realized a passion in comedy, he pursued it. He began doing stand-up comedy after his friends constantly pushed him to make a career out of being the class clown.

During his first year of university, he produced his own show. Since then, he has gone on to perform in New York and throughout venues across Ontario.

Lewin has had the pleasure of performing with Spoken Reasons, Brandon T. Jackson, Capone and Faizon Love. He guest hosted the late night talk show Late Night With Michael Charbon, the Gemini award-winning executive producer from Rogers TV. From basement bars to the 1,300 seat John Bassett Theatre, Lewin doesn’t turn away a venue.

Lewin describes comedy as his own special way of expressing himself.

“It allows me to be a bright light in the darkest of rooms,” he says. “I want to be able to get my name out there because I feel I’m as talented and funny as any comic.”

Lewin’s comedy is hugely anecdotal. It’s based on the simple fact that he grew up being the only black guy in his community.

Some of Lewin’s biggest inspirations have been Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. He studies their performances like textbooks.

“I try to pick them apart, see what I can use,” Lewin says. “For example, Chris Rock taught me to always move on the stage, never stand still. That way, the audience doesn’t get an opportunity to look away from you.”

His goal? To be the funniest Canadian stand up comedian ever. Aware of the obstacles, he believes it’s still possible. He hopes to perform at the Just For Laughs festival held in Montreal.

“It would be a huge stepping stone for me,” Lewin says.

This Saturday, Lewin will be taking the stage at the John Bassett theatre. He is set to hit the stage to amaze the audience with his witty and charming personality. He’s looking forward to wowing his favorite group of people-Torontonians.