A Show of Our Own

Charlene Sayo
Posted March 26, 2013 from Canada

I wish I could say this journal entry is going to, once and for all, put to rest old issues, but it’s not. I want to say that at the very least, this journal entry will explore new angles on old issues, but it won’t. Or maybe it will. Because for many women of colour, transnational and queer, racism and sexism are systemic troubles that continue to sabotage left progressive movements and relationships—problems that will not go away by ignoring them or by integrating and white-washing people of colour with the sometimes erroneous, privileged majority.

Last week, myself and two other young, transnational women of colour, Abhaya and Aubrey—three women with too many ideas and an infinite madness for social transformation—met to form a new media collective, one that aims to comprehensively unite and analyze race, class and gender concerns that many women of colour face. Speaking for and from my own voice, this union came to be because up until recently, I was involved in two media collectives, one feminist, and the other a left-leaning public and current affairs show. Despite my enthusiasm to be a part of two socially-conscious programs, it soon became evident that racism and sexism—structural barriers that arrests the full participation of marginalized people—were tired, clichéd—and for us coloured gals, painful—practices, despite the spirit of inclusivity the collectives espoused.

I had hoped that by joining a feminist media collective I would be able to flex my feminist muscle, bringing out stories of migrant, immigrant women, working class, and women of colour driven to redefine “diversity” from a hued landscape. Once the novelty of being the new girl wore off, my story pitches were met with polite nods but often obscured against celebratory stories of individual achievement and universal “every woman’s stories” such as body image and menstruation. The majority of the collective—white, liberal feminists from middle-class families—could not imagine realities outside of their privilege and that’s when things came to a screeching halt for me. As one of the only two brown women in the group, I wasn’t even the token spice in a bland, boring soup—I was the untouched pepper shaker at the end of the long counter.

Not that I’m against honouring women’s achievements or talking about universal, biological female functions. I really do believe that one woman’s hard work opens up possibilities for all women to triumph, but the absence—and at times, complete neglect—of discussing and combatting the particular issues that working class and women of colour face, will only make feminism as a movement and as an ideology, a space for those who can afford to exercise their race and class privilege.

This, unfortunately, is nothing new.

Earlier this month, I posted an article about a rape scandal in the Socialist Worker’s Party, Britain’s largest left organization. For those involved in progressive movements, sexism, from isolation to sexual assault, are mechanisms that preserve patriarchal values, undermines the contributions of radical women, and desecrates the transformative forces of the feminist movement. Not that rape or sexual assault had taken place in the public affairs collective I was also a member of, but the funk of sexism was wretched amongst the alabaster crew of veteran, mostly male activists. It was clear that Abhaya and I were only regarded as “guest” hosts—talking accessories—in relation to the men, the real hosts and stars of the show. While we read the news and added a feminine whimsy on the airwaves, our “participation” only served to beef up the numbers within the collective, and worse, faked an image of diversity and equality for the program.

So. Abhaya’s and my presence was good for something—but not for any genuine liberating, non-sexist principle. After months of being left out from post-show discussions—it had become social convention for the male hosts to huddle by the recycling bins and discuss politics while pushing Abhaya and I in a corner—and my XX chromosome unable to penetrate the brick wall XY structure, it was time to check out from the partisan organism.

So what to do? Well, there’s the obvious option to duke it, struggle it out, to educate each other; to liberate white feminist comrades from their racism; to liberate male comrades from their deplorable, patriarchal manhood—but my relative old bones and the need to conserve energy told me otherwise.

Unable to root and grow in the lily-white field of middle-class, liberal feminism and barred from the old-boys club, there we were, Abhaya, Aubrey and I, laughing, planning and envisioning a show of our own. We are a motley crew, all shades of brown, with four languages skimming off our tongues, peppered with narratives of race, class and gender rooted in countries from South Asia, and branching out in the rainforest metropolis off the Pacific Ocean. Are we isolating ourselves? Not for a nanosecond. To isolate would mean to remove ourselves from the action, to not participate. We are doing the opposite, creating our space and moving our turf to the centre in the wide expanse of the Canadian/Canadiana discourse. And by doing so, we are actively engaging with society, becoming more visible, more empowered through a collective medium that embodies and blends our common stories and goals.

So while this solution itself is not original, the potential transformative force within a show of our own, is.

Names have been changed to protect identities

Emagazine: Bridging Borders

Comments 4

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  • Becky
    Mar 26, 2013
    Mar 26, 2013

    I love your writing. Be that pepper shaker at the end of the table that gets knocked over and spills and spreads all over the "lily-white field of middle-class liberal feminism". Touch them all a bit along the way and make some of them sneeze! Keep up the good work.

  • Cali gal Michelle
    Mar 26, 2013
    Mar 26, 2013


    What a gift of prose you have, expressing ideas and self with grace and power. You ARE "creating space", which is always powerful, bringing with it the "collective medium". I look forward to see the change and forward motion you will create as you move as one, while not neglecting your individualism!

  • Apr 01, 2013
    Apr 01, 2013

    You are among the sharp knives in the drawer, Charlene. By addressing the systemic discrimination, you are leading us all in the right direction. Our social systems are not following the sentiment of today, the cultural fabric is woven with elderly ideas from the time of imperialism, gender apartheid and racial supremacy. We need to pin the right phrases and terms to get through and shed the light on things in order to understand the errors being made when shaping stereotypical divisions and social memetics. In my eyes, you are closing in on just that. Love your writing! Keep going, love, Ruth

  • JaniceW
    Apr 06, 2013
    Apr 06, 2013

    I love your writing. I hope that you will share the progress of your new media collective with the community. We are thirsty for provocative writing that stirs the mind and inspires debate. All the best with your venture.