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Another day, another rant lalala - Tactical Ninja

Sep. 29th, 2010

10:56 am - Another day, another rant lalala

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So someone left a comment in my post about the letter regarding the American privilege debacle, that went like this:

"What got me is the fact that Americans were lecturing someone from a country they'd dropped bombs on less than 15 years ago on the subject of white privelege trumping American privelege."

Because yes, that was actually happening. I went back there yesterday for the first time since the whole thing happened. It's up to 770 comments, and a lot of them are doing exactly that. And it got me to wondering about the similarities between the viewpoint of the writer of the list and my own, and how those might have developed given the different histories of the two countries and the different ways our relationships with the US have played out.


Why someone living in Belgrade might have a gripe with the US.

An American visits Belgrade in 2010 and experiences the attitude of residents firsthand.

Two international chess masters, one in the US, the other in Belgrade, correspond briefly about the bombing.

Why New Zealanders might have a beef with the US. Pay particular attention to the bit at the bottom, where the US Assistant Secretary of State for this part of the world, in 2006, stated that the nuclear-free issue (which is still a point of pride for many Kiwis) is 'a relic'. Also note that the US is still attempting to link any free trade agreement between our countries to a repeal of the ban on nuclear ships in our harbours - even though ANZUS is supposedly a military alliance and nothing was overtly done to hurt us economically, the US made it, and is still making it, about trade and economics when NZ didn't back down.

Here is a US viewpoint on the disintegration of ANZUS, written in 1986. Most notable to me in this is the vague threat carried within the words. "We could destroy you, but we won't. You don't matter but we'll make an example of you to save face with those who do matter."

And here's a section of a speech from Murray McCully (Nats MP for East Coast Bays), made on the 20th anniversary of the passing of our nuclear-free legislation:

"There is acceptance on both sides, I believe, that a cost is attached to the maintenance of the legislation. That is a simple fact of life. The presidential directive of 20 years ago that responded to New Zealand’s nuclear-free legislation with restrictions on the access of New Zealand forces to US intelligence, technology, and joint training opportunities remains in force today. New Zealand does not have a free-trade agreement with the United States, unlike our nearest neighbour, Australia, which, 3 years into the implementation of its free-trade agreement, will provide an increasingly powerful magnet for New Zealand capital and skill. There is a cost associated with the New Zealand policy. It is a cost that New Zealanders are, in the significant majority, happy to bear, but it is also a cost they look to their political leaders to minimise through skilful diplomacy, forceful advocacy, and the exercise of good judgment.
So the retention of this legislation that is called iconic, and that is symbolic of our independence of thought and judgment in international affairs, is not in question. What is in question is how we might best deal with the challenges that remain as a consequence of its somewhat tortured history, and how we might best re-establish the relationships, especially in the vital areas of trade and security, that a country with our heritage, our language, our history of shared sacrifice, and our outlook should be able to have with those who were once our allies and who are nominally—but not quite yet in the fullest operational sense—our very, very good friends. That is the unfinished business of the nuclear-free debate.
For those reasons, the National Party has sought to work with the Government to improve our relationship with the United States."


I guess we don't see it as a relic, then. Our relationship with the US is still strained, because we have not changed our minds and capitulated to the demand that we allow their military to do as they please in our country. And whether we like it or not, those of us who have grown up here have this strained relationship as part of our identity (even if we don't know how it started), along with pretty strong views about remaining nuclear free. And the Assistant US Secretary of State's dismissal of our national identity in such a way is not helping improve the relationship, from the perspective of those of us who live here.


Dunno about you, but I'm seeing a similarity between the stuff about the then Yugoslavia and the ANZUS thing. No, we didn't get bombed. Instead we were isolated. No, we didn't have a leader like Milosevic who needed to be stopped (apparently without exploring peaceful options first) - instead we had one that listened to the will of his people and did so in the face of extreme pressure from much more powerful nations. The only thing these two examples really have in common is the arrogance with which the US used its power to make examples of nations that 'don't matter' in order to preserve face with those that do, and the way that has affected the view of the US among local people.

I wonder how many countries have a 'strained' relationship' with the US because of this arrogance?

So is it really surprising that people from countries that have experienced these strained relationships feel that these issues are important to discuss? And is it really surprising that having those issues dismissed or ignored in favour of navel-gazing denial by citizens of the nation that perpertrates it, will make the relationship more strained?

Disclaimer: I am aware that many people in the US disagree with the actions of their government. But you know what, many white people disagree with actions that perpetuate racism, and many men disagree with actions that perpetuate sexism. That doesn't mean they get to deny it exists or deny that they benefit from it. And if they ignore or silence people who talk about it, they're being arseholes. Sorry - I know this stuff is hard to read, and pretty much all of the US people I know are lovely lovely people - but it needs to be understood that every time you make a post asking how autumn is going for everyone, or assume that we just know what you're talking about because 'everyone does', or talk about movies/technology that have been released in the US but nobody else gets to see for another month (if ever), or mention things that you can do there because you have access to more resources than everyone else, or link to a site that doesn't allow access from outside the US, we feel excluded. Because we're not part of the 'everyone' you're thinking of. And the ability to unthinkingly forget that lots of people exist and have lives and customs and seasons different from yours, is a tiny reflection of the same power that makes your nation able to impose its will on less powerful ones, and make examples of those that don't capitulate.

And we see that.


On a similar note, it seems my letter of complaint to the mods of that community will be ignored, despite having followed up with a request for a response - which I did after becoming aware of just how many other kiwis were incensed by that post. The letter hasn't been acknowledged after 48 hours. They are probably busy. I'd like to think they're discussing how to address it, but it's seeming more and more likely that it will simply be allowed to drop. This has a certain irony, no?

I have also made the post in which I ran the letter by you all public, in case someone drops by and wants to see the discussion from our perspective. If you commented in there and fear the anons, please feel free to delete - I will understand. Personally I don't give a crap what the anons think, and reiterate the invitation to have it out here by name instead.

And yes, I will let this subject drop eventually - at the moment I'm exploring (a la beagl) exactly why I have had such a visceral reaction to this whole thing. Because navel gazing is fun! And I've learned a lot about a whole lot of other stuff too, thanks to you all commenting.

Comments:

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From:anna_en_route
Date:September 28th, 2010 10:27 pm (UTC)
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To be absolutely fair, it's not like New Zealand hasn't exercised or tried to exercise its own power on its much smaller or less powerful neighbours (mostly pacific islands).

We like to think we're a benign influence but I believe that we were at least complicit in allowing Timor L'Este to be handed over to the Indonesians way back when and I believe we were responsible for some nasty stuff in Samoa (which we apologised for but still...).


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From:tatjna
Date:September 28th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
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This is true, and I'd like to think that our response to being reminded of this wouldn't be complete dismissal.

The Wiki page says this: "Fearing a Communist domino effect in Southeast Asia—and in the wake of its South Vietnam campaign—the United States,[17] along with its ally Australia,[18] supported the pro-Western Indonesian government's actions. The UN Security Council had a unanimous vote for Indonesia to stop its invasion and to withdraw immediately from East Timor’s borders, and was blocked by the United States from imposing any economic sanctions or other means of enforcing this mandate.

The territory was declared the 27th province of Indonesia in July 1976. Its nominal status in the UN remained that of a "non-self-governing territory under Portuguese administration."


So while we are not expicitly mentioned, the fact that the US and Australia are, and that the ANZUS alliance was in effect then indicates that we were most likely right in there.

The things in Samoa that New Zealand apologised for were the introduction of influenza due to a breach of quarantine to allow a ship from Auckland to dock there (the disease eventually killed 1/5 of the Samoan population yikes!), and events (including the shooting of civilians and exile of leaders) surrounding the Mau peaceful protests.

Colonialism sucks.
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From:anna_en_route
Date:September 28th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
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I remember being told that New Zealand was in on the meeting that decided Timor Leste's fate and we certainly turned a blind eye to the years worth of suffering that followed (it sticks in my craw because one of the people from work was sent over there to help with a census and wrote a particularly chilling piece describing the road that the Indonesians had sealed down to a cliff specifically so that they could throw people over).
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From:morbid_curious
Date:September 29th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
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I feel the handling of Fiji's most recent coup was quite horrible, on both New Zealand and Australia's parts. And the reason it went so badly? They seemed to be emulating the U.S. response, trying to get Bainimarama to buckle to their South Pacific hegemony with threats and economic sanctions. Which is exactly the worst way to talk down a popular military leader who took power from politicians who were widely perceived as corrupt and making policy based on business interests rather than the good of the people.

Voreqe Bainimarama is a good military commander, but not so hot as a civil administrator and politician. If we'd tried to support them in finding a clear path back to democratic elections, then I think Fiji would have had them by now. Our diplomatic failings brought to you by the privilege that says our form of government is right by default, and others are wrong regardless of their intentions.
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From:anna_en_route
Date:September 29th, 2010 12:36 am (UTC)
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*sigh* Fiji is just a mess all over (colonialism again).
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From:tatjna
Date:September 28th, 2010 11:03 pm (UTC)
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Waiting for the more, because I'm interested in what you have to say about this.

Meanwhile, I think the US should eat something. *nod*
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From:richdrich
Date:September 28th, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC)
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But does being from a country that acts like a colonial asshole neccesarily privilege the individual? Or is it a negative thing?

I'd much rather the UK gave up in colonialism, I can't see a way I benefit from it.
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From:anna_en_route
Date:September 28th, 2010 10:59 pm (UTC)
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Other than English being the default choice for a lot of the world and the internet?

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From:tatjna
Date:September 28th, 2010 11:03 pm (UTC)
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The individual benefit vs group privilege thing is one of the issues that's come up around the original list. Many individuals within the US feel that they don't benefit personally from the things that were listed. And I have no doubt that the older colonialism that created white privilege didn't provide too many benefits to the people back in Merry Old England either, particularly those in the lower levels of the class system.

And it's one of the reasons that I've attempted to use the term 'US-centrism' rather than 'privilege', because I can totally see that.
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From:pythia
Date:September 28th, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
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Christ ONTD_F makes my head essplode.
I love that nearly ALL of the people from the US that posted where pretty much saying "No, I don't have US privilege, you're wrong!" and that's somehow seen as acceptable, yet can you imagine the uproar if whitey tried to deny having white privilege?
It also pisses me off that the entire argument has pretty much devolved to discussing US POC/whites. It's like...their suffering at the hands of white privilege is more important than anyone else's suffering.
That's going to sounds wrong, probably. I hope you get what I mean.

Quite often there is a post on ontd_f that I'd like to comment on, but I'm basically too afraid of getting utterly jumped on simply for asking a question, you know? It drives me insane that the feeling is kind of like...the more privilege you have, the less right you have to speak. And I understand that people want a place to speak where the privilege they're speaking up won't speak over top of them, but I think trying to silence the privileged (especially those who are trying to learn more about privilege, what it is and how they can be sensitive to it) is no better than being silenced by the privileged.

...I've written 'privileged' too much and now it looks funny.
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From:tatjna
Date:September 28th, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)
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Hehe, welcome to my life. Privilege doesn't look like a real word any more.

And yeah, I do get what you mean. A discussion ostensibly about the effect of US-centrism on people from outside the US has devolved into Americans wanking about American issues!.

* Not to devalue American issues, but ffs that is not the place, especially not when everywhere else on the internet is dominated by American issues.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:September 29th, 2010 05:00 am (UTC)
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Yeah I'm stubborn in a quiet way so I'm keeping on keeping on commenting on things and, yes, shock, talking about my culture. But it's almost like being white there invalidates you more than almost anything else - probably the only thing that tops it is gender.
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From:rivet
Date:September 29th, 2010 01:04 am (UTC)

::raises hand::

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Hi, my name is Jodi and I benefit from US priviledge. Here in NZ, no one knows my family is poor, my stepfather was an illiterate illegal alien, my sister was a drug addict and prostitute, and my mother is disabled (and ginger!). Instead, people see confidence, impressive overseas credentials, and hear an accent that induces them to strike up conversations with me. It opens doors for me professionally and personally, it makes me stand out it people's memories.

I think that travel really teaches people a lot more about the priviledges they have. Too bad more Americans don't do it.
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From:allyn
Date:September 29th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)

Re: ::raises hand::

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agrees whole-heartedly
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From:clashfan
Date:September 29th, 2010 02:40 am (UTC)

Re: ::raises hand::

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They see the confidence and credentials unless I'm there to reduce you to a sputtering goof. In front of your friends.

I'm here to help. :-)
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From:bekitty
Date:September 29th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
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Good point. It's worse in some way than the Oppression Olympics, where everyone loses. Or is that wins?

I'm always kind of bemused by people who treat privileges as a scorecard. "I've got this privilege, but not that one, so that means I have no privilege at all!" They don't seem to realise that privilege is more like algebra - it's not 1 + 1 - 1 = 1, but more like a + b - c = a + b. You're still affected by privilege, but it's up to you to understand it and examine it regularly.
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From:tyellas
Date:September 29th, 2010 07:38 am (UTC)
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One of the main reasons I wanted to move here was - and still is - that I love and approve of the nuclear-free policy.

And yes, another Yankee acknowledging that I'm privileged as an American.

Also, a webcomic that sums it all up about cultural appropriation.
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From:eleonor
Date:September 29th, 2010 11:33 am (UTC)
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Hello,

Like I wrote in my reply to you, I am sorry my post caused so much harm back there... But it doesn't change the fact some things need to be talked about.

They didn't kick me out of there, but I got a warning so I figured out leaving might be the best option. I really don't want to cause more harm in there. It's not like I forced my article on them; they linked it and discussed it, and all I wanted (and thought it's appropriate) was to join the discussion to answer some questions or explain a few things (such as the article length, do I know black people live in USA, etc). But the last thing I wanted was to disturb their safe place or to force myself on them.

What I didn't like about the community (at least that one post) is the fact they derailed the argument (which was not about white privilege but about US one) and pretended it was a no big deal, and for engaging into oppression Olympics.

Thank you for the links you posted here.
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2010 12:38 am (UTC)
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I don't think your post caused harm. I think the reaction to it is what was harmful, and certainly exposed some attitudes that had been bothering me about the community for a while.

In short, I think the community is more womanist than feminist, ie they explore the intersection of gender and race, and race is foregrounded in discussion.

Sadly for the rest of the world, US race issues are the only ones that ever really get any traction, which turns it into a situation in which many women feel alienated.

I do not think that being the catalyst for members of the community to show their true colours and thus allow the rest of us to understand the true dynamic that exists there, is harmful. It's useful. It's a shame that so many people's voices got trampled in the onslaught of denial though - there were some very good points made in that post.
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
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Something you might find interesting:

http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/02/15/dear-usians-on-the-internet/

The writer of this article is Australian, and while there is the usual attempt at derailing that we experienced in the comments, they don't get away with it quite so easily. Which is nice to see.
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From:morbid_curious
Date:September 30th, 2010 01:30 am (UTC)
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I was talking about the fail with a friend today, and she offered this link in trade:
http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/02/15/dear-usians-on-the-internet/
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)
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Bloody hell, even the comments in that post devolve into talk about whether people from the USA prefer to be called USians or Americans.

But there are obviously a lot more international members on that forum because it doesn't suffer from dogpile syndrome the way the ontd_feminism thread did.

It is nice to see that there are many people out there who see and understand this issue. I'll pass that link on to Mira. Thanks!
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