Thoughts on performative forgiveness/apologies and reconciliation in the midst of the Joseph Boyden Debacle

In the light of the Boyden’s re-emergence, I’ve been thinking a lot about apologies, forgiveness and reconciliation more broadly, and it’s been…triggering.
First some basics. Definitions for forgiveness, apologies, atonement, and reconciliation.
Forgiveness: voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offence, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well (Wikipedia).
Apology: expression of remorse or personal regret felt after committing a shameful, violent or hurtful act
Notice that these two things are mutually exclusive and does not require reciprocity. A person can forgive a person without apologies. A person can apologize without receiving forgiveness. Even when it happens in a reciprocal context, it cannot be forced, and certainly doesn’t mean reconciliation, which is the restoration of a relationship to an equitable state for all parties.
Forgiveness or even reconciliation can be encouraged with acts of atonement: actions taken to correct previous wrongdoing.
Now that we have definitions, I’ll preface this by saying I’m not someone who has a great record when it comes to forgiveness. What do I mean by this? I’m unlikely to forgive anyone directly without an apology and in some cases, without atonement/reparations. My version of “forgiveness” will be more like resignation/acceptance: no longer having the offence bother me and moving beyond it. In order for real forgiveness or reconciliation to happen, I demand atonement/reparations.
I guess that makes me sound like a grudge keeper. Not exactly. I can forgive a person but still not talk to them and still avoid them. I’m not out to get them, but I know that the forgiveness is for “me” and it doesn’t have to mean that I must actively wish them well. The reason I do this is because of self-preservation. I don’t want to forgive someone to have them hurt me again. So my version of holding onto a grudge is just that: an act of self-preservation rather than revenge or ostracism.
My issue with forgiveness is that it doesn’t seem to be much to concerned with restorative justice. So when I feel people are pushed to forgive in a public manner, it’s much like making sure restorative justice is avoided for perpetrators.
So moving along, I think the context of reconciliation here in Canada, far too many people think apologies are equivalent to reparations, and thus reconciliation is warranted. Nah.
People suspect performative apologies for a reason (*cough* Trudeau *cough* Harper). They make the perpetrator look virtuous without accountability through reparations. And the victim, having been pressured to “forgive” in a public manner draws ire as someone who is a grudge keeper. And so this leads to many acts of premature forgiveness, when the victim feels unready but needs to do it anyway to save face. This “forgiveness” is often conflated with reconciliation and acceptance of the apology as atonement. So it really kind of lets the perpetrator off the hook, without consideration of the needs and desires for reparation of the victim. Victim has a right to ask for reparations whether or not reconciliation is eventually achieved. I think too often, there’s onus on victims to let it go for the sake of diffusing any tension or awkwardness.
Grudge keepers get a bad rap, at the expense of their own well-being and for the benefit of the status quo not having to change.
People who think the whole Boyden thing is a “witch hunt”, I don’t think they give shits about justice. I have nothing against them but I would not trust them with my house keys.
As a female-presenting person of colour, I know how much we are pressured to diffuse tensions by letting things go at our own expense. So go ahead see me as a grudge-holding bitch or whatever, but I’m going to just self-preserve like a boss and others can steer clear of me.
This isn’t some person’s feelings at risk here. It’s people’s histories and survival. Pretty sure Boyden can continue his lifestyle without ever being accepted as Indigenous because of white supremacy. But letting him just take that identity or other marginalized identities for profit is a violent act in itself with serious repercussions on the communities. So, when marginalized people seem “difficult” or like they “can’t get over it”, they’re really giving you feedback to get your act together. They are not being difficult just out of vengefulness, but in an effort to make a more equitable society.
Act accordingly.
 
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My speech at the March for Science, Toronto on April 22, 2017 #sciencemarch

This past weekend, I had the privilege and honour of speaking at Queen’s Park in Toronto to the crowds gathered for the March for Science. Here’s a transcript of my speech.

Hello everyone. If you’re here, you might know that our government hasn’t always had the best record when it comes to preserving the ethos of science needed for research to be free from political bias. I’m here to tell you, that science is almost never free from cultural and political bias. But where does that leave us, striving to make our governments more transparent, our laws more just, and economy more ethical? As a society, we have to become more conscientious about the ways in which science has been used to advance the interests of our governments and corporations, but also the ways in which it impacts scientific research policy itself, and at what cost.

Since the Harper government’s infamous muzzling of federal scientists, we have become aware of how power structures in this country can jeopardize science, and in turn, our collective health and well-being. What we might not realize is how Canadian extractive industries, namely, the oil and gas and mining industries, continue with impunity, to use the expertise, economic and political support of our nation’s scientists and engineers, to violate human and environmental rights in vulnerable communities within Canada and overseas.

I was trained in chemical engineering at the University of Toronto. During my education, while we considered legal and ethical issues, I, along with others, felt that we needed more preparation in this area. Engineers as professionals, were advised to be apolitical, in that their expertise was to serve the public good, but we were not to question who and what factors defined what the public good was. Moreover, once I was in industry, I began to see how current laws and policies governing the activities of Canadian engineering, procurement, construction and management firms fall short in their promises of accountability in Canada and abroad. To this day, and in spite of criticism from many stakeholders, very few of these companies have faced legal, social and political repercussions, and their dominance in the world extractive market continues unaffected. Just recently, in late March, after being held responsible for many other infractions, Barrick Gold has been accused of using the Papua New Guinea police force to destroy up to 150 households in order to unlawfully evict villagers near a gold mine. In British Columbia, just last week, the Mount Polley Mining Corporation was granted permission to drain its waste into Lake Quesnel, which is used for the livelihoods of many residents in the area, including several Indigenous communities. This is barely three years after the the collapse and spill of a Mount Polley tailings pond into Lake Quesnel, an event considered to be one of the worst mining disasters in Canada.

During the Harper government, Canadians acknowledged the need to hold our government accountable for all the harm and negligence that was to befall this country’s environment and health. It’s time we extend this push for accountability and transparency to our homegrown technocrats and their enablers who exploit Canadian laws and scientific and technical expertise to reap profits. We as a country cannot claim to be a leader in human rights and environmental protection, while our private sector is continually rewarded for contentious standards of transparency, innumerable human rights violations, especially with respect to Indigenous communities, and an appalling environmental record. In fact, we are complicit in these infractions, as long as we create the sociocultural and political space to tolerate these practices.

As an engineer-turned-social scientist in training, I am in a unique position to consider divergent perspectives in this matter. And I know, that in their ideal states, both the science and technology sectors, and the social welfare proponents want a more prosperous, healthier and sustainable future. It’s time we finally let them hear each other out, create the space for collaboration and let that goal come to fruition.

An open letter to Senator Lynn Beyak on her recent comments about the Indian residential school system

*Caveat: I speak from the perspective of an immigrant, citizen and settler ally to Indigenous peoples. If I have been out of line anywhere, please let me know*

Dear Senator Beyak,

My name is Aadita Chaudhury. I’m an immigrant who is a Canadian citizen, who like you, is a settler in the traditional territories of First Nations people, much of which is unlawfully occupied – this is a fact that cannot be denied. I live in Toronto, the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. I wanted to write to you with regards to your comments about the residential school system, as I’m sure numerous others already have. You spoke about the “unacknowledged” “well-intentioned” “good deeds” done by the residential school system, and how recent conversations have unfairly gloss over this “different side of the residential school story”.

Senator Beyak, I’m not here to convince you of the violence of atrocities of residential schools, the rampant, physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse, the nonconsensual and grossly unethical nutritional experiments on Indigenous children, because I don’t think it is my job to convince you that residential schools have left a deep legacy of pain in Indigenous communities. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has done an excellent job of that, and numerous Indigenous scholars, thinkers and artists continue to speak about their experiences today. Perhaps you should seek out more of these voices yourself and consider them without attending to your imperialist biases, which you seem oblivious to, since you have the nerve to attempt a revisionist history of residential schools while standing on stolen land.

I would like to talk to you about this issue as a descendant of citizens from another British colony – India, as to how your recent notions about residential schools and Trudeau’s 1969 white paper are misguided and insidiously hateful. I’m no stranger to stories of dispossession, discrimination and cultural genocide from my own country of origin. I am deeply uncomfortable at your attempt at Whig history, because if successful, it would imply the success of the original residential school strategy, which was to “kill the Indian in the child”. In fact, your example of a good deed that has been done in residential schools referring to the mass conversion of Indigenous children into Christianity to me sounds like nothing more than spiritual abuse at best, and you condoning this is furthermore disturbing. Your support for the Trudeau white papers with the hope that we could all be “Canadians together” shows your support for systemic and epistemic violence against non-British and non-French communities in Canada, by which the government would effectively incentivize the destruction of the Indigenous psyche perhaps to further legitimize it claims on Indigenous territory while creating mass amnesia about its own hypocrisy.

As a person living currently in Toronto, I often feel very disconnected, and even unwelcome in these lands. This is not because I have real fears for my safety, but somewhere deep down, I know I have not been invited here in the terms of the original custodians of the land, and I have not made a space for myself within their relations. To me, this feels like grief at the loss of possible connections I could have made, the cultural landscapes I could have been part of ethically and the knowledges and practices I could have honoured, instead of having to bow to my ancestors’ colonial masters once again. Every time I see someone like you who shuts down Indigenous claims to sovereignty, I feel revictimized by imperialism. One of the biggest regrets in my life was being welcomed into Canada without any Indigenous perspectives or presence, without living, working and going to school for years until I met an Indigenous person. It was as if the odds were already stacked against me in trying to understand its history. It’s as if, everything from my school textbooks to many public space, wanted to convince me of the timelessness of British common law across time in these lands, erasing Indigenous history. To naturalize the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in this way not only trains immigrants to believe the “official story of Canada” from which the violence of colonialism and slavery are erased, it sets them up to not believe and honour the Indigenous perspectives.

I would request you, as an immigrant and Canadian, to resign from our Senate. I think enough damage has been done to the memories, spirits, and psyches of our Indigenous communities, and in my case, it has bled into my own intergenerational trauma. I do not want to live in a Canada where people in political power continue to gaslight and manipulate the marginalized with impunity. Thus, I ask, if you have any love for this country, however shallow and problematic that may be, please step down.

 

Warmest regards,

 

Aadita Chaudhury

PhD Candidate, Department of Science and Technology Studies, York University

Toronto, Canada

Call for Papers – Open Panel: Television as a Contested Site of the Creation of Knowledge and Social Imaginaries

Organized for Annual 4S Meeting to be held in Boston, Massachusetts, August 30-September 2, 2017

 

Television has long been a site of impermanent knowledge production in societies all around the world. Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser linked the mass appeal of television to his notion of Ideological State Apparatuses, whereby ideological hegemony could be achieved and reinforced through its programming. Conversely, according to film theorist Andre Bazin, each shot in film was a revelation of God expressed through images of creation. While scientific educational programs have aimed at creating public awareness of science, fiction-based television programming has also been equally responsible for creating new ways of thinking about scientific practices and technologies in a rapidly changing political, ecological and social landscape.  As historian David Kirby has suggested, television allows viewers to virtually witness science. Yet, the impermanence of the medium also leads viewers to question the supposed objective reality of science. This panel seeks to explore the ways television programming has co-produced social imaginaries and situated knowledges in a variety of realms and societies, and the ways in which television programming and their appeal can teach us about the salience of specific public imaginations concerning the state of the world, the presentation of varying knowledge systems from feminist, postcolonial, indigenous and other ideological standpoints. We are seeking to create a relatively informal discussion regarding the impacts of television programming on science, science research and education and the field of science and technology studies itself.

 

Submission

Submission Deadline: March 1, 2017.

Submit paper, session, and making and doing proposals here:

https://convention2.allacademic.com/one/ssss/4s17/

 

Please check the box to submit your paper to open panel “Television as a Contested Site of the Creation of Knowledge and Social Imaginaries”

 

You can find more details about the conference on

http://www.4sonline.org/meeting

 

Organizers

For more information contact:

Aadita Chaudhury, York University: aadita@yorku.ca

Ingrid Ockert, Princeton University: ockert@princeton.edu

Trump, academia and its sexual politics

I find myself often thinking about the sexual politics of academia. This is not simply because of the barrage of sexual harassment cases to have appeared in the limelight in the last few years, but also because of the systemic aspects and contextual culture that make certain kinds of dynamics possible, and normalized to begin with.

The traditional model asks for a male professor with a dedicated wife in tow, who never leaves his side no matter what. The image is romanticized, but is in fact jarring, because it normalizes the unequal distribution of emotional labour. In a different domain, it is exemplified in Donald and Melania. What’s more, we know that women in abusive situations cannot always leave due to complex reasons, and so the iterative performance of the “brilliant” man and his sidekick woman continues to perpetuate itself. It is codified into the heterosexual matrix, the associated gender norms and relationships. What this often means is that female academics get the short end of the stick. Either their male peers choose non-academic women over them, or when they do choose each other, female academics are forced to compromise their careers in favour of that of the men, which impacts the already sordid figures and environment for women in the academy.

Of course, this isn’t the case with everyone. My own parents for example; my father had no major commitments to his engineering career, and followed my mother’s career around through her PhD and postdoc taking up whatever job suited him in the interim. I realize this is a small minority, and is largely eclipsed by some version of the Donald-Melania dynamic.

It doesn’t take much to see that this dynamic of a man as the leader of the household has salient effects on any job market, because women, especially women of colour seem to earn significantly less than men, while doing most of the household duties. There is something rotten in this perversion of romantic love and monogamy, that asks the dynamic to be preserved through the eternal sacrifices of the woman, just so that she can be seen as the normative model of the female partner or wife. I’ve heard far too many stories from female academics careers and lives ruined by these expectations, and I haven’t even started talking about sexual predators within academia yet. I believe “good men”, whoever they may be, have to be held accountable too, for their choices and the kinds of sacrifices (or lack there of) they have made in favour of gender equality. It seems like for the most part, it’s still a woman’s burden.

I refuse to stand for this.