Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: August 2009

Because Colonialism and Immigration are Basically the Same Thing

It’s common knowledge that birth rates tend to be higher in economically less developed places and lower in economically developed ones. For example, the birth rate in Italy is so low that the government offers money for fecundity. On the other hand, Niger, among the poorest countries in the world, is also the country with the highest birth rate, has the highest rates of illiteracy, and ranks sixth for infant mortality (the country also has a very high general death rate, ranking 7th in the world).

One could argue that it’s also common knowledge that, amongst the more diverse of ‘western’ nations, such economic trends continue to play out. Apparently that’s angered some white British folk – Melanie McDonough, writing for Britain’s Telegraph, complains of the inequities of the birth rate in her country, saying:

The people most likely to take their [groups which promote reproduction] views to heart are the agonised Anglo-Saxon liberals, for whom excess fecundity is never going to be much of a problem in the first place. They don’t seem to cut much ice with the Somali mothers you see in West London.

Right…because that’s so problematic. Oh noes, the world’s turning brown!

The comments, of course, are no less racist. Ms. McDonough, like many Brits and Americans alike, would simply love it if the “native whites” of their countries would start reproducing and the immigrants slowed it down a bit, or even stopped altogether (somehow reminds me of the Israeli attitude toward the Arab birthrate – “but they just have so many BABIES!“).

My favorite comment, however, is this one:

Think how Europe’s former colonies felt being dominated by a minority – now think replace “colony” with Britain. We want a place we can call our own, be ourselves, and want the right of self-determination – is that a familiar mantra? The problem when it comes out of the mouths of whites it’s racist. When it comes out of the mouths of non-whites though it is an inalienable right – a virtue.

I have to say, I really love it when white people compare the migration of non-whites (immigrant minorities) to wealthy countries to the colonization of other lands by whites as if those two concepts were simply reversals of the other (kind of like when white folks bring up “reverse racism”). They are no such thing: One involves wealth, power, and privilege, and the other – more often than not – involves escaping a place with few opportunities for one where there is (at least theoretically) more opportunity and freedom, and often very little power at all.

But hey, what do I know?

(Side note: If this kind of thing is interesting to you, I highly recommend my new favorite blog, Stuff White People Do, in which a white man deconstructs racial stereotypes, often snarkily).

Morality and What We Wear

I’d fully intended to blog in detail about the Liskula Cohen affair but after getting into a long debate about it on Twitter today, decided it wasn’t really worth it (also, I’m not an expert in defamation law and am sure to screw something up). The short of it is I think any pending defamation lawsuit on Cohen’s part is juvenile, perhaps even vexatious, particularly in light of the fact that she publicly forgave the blogger who called her names.

That said, an interesting discussion was born of the Twitter debate. Speaking from my gut, I made the comment that Cohen has little recourse to defend herself against being called a skank, considering the fact that she poses in sexually provocative positions, and partly nude (note: “skank” in my mind did not mean promiscuous, rather, I had thought it was more like “trashy”). While several people disagreed with me, and still others were offended, one person (a blogger whom I respect but often respectfully disagree with) asked the question: “Incidentally, why shouldn’t we infer a person’s morality from their dress and actions? Is there another way?

My gut reaction was to say that a woman can wear what she want, which I do firmly believe. I also, for the record, believe that in rape or sexual harassment cases, it is never the fault of the woman, regardless of whether she’s nude or wearing a burqa (and in my experience, sexual harassment tends to happen no matter what you wear)

That said, I’ve become in my old age a strong proponent of modesty. No extremes, but your average run-of-the-mill modesty. Part of it comes from living in Morocco (though again, the harassment there is intense whether you’re covered from head to toe or wearing a miniskirt), and part of it from sheer hatred of fashion. Either way, as a modestly dressed person by U.S. standards, I often find myself judging those who aren’t. On the other hand, I’m on the sloppy side. I prefer jeans and tees any day to tight pants and cleavage. I’m also aware that people judge me on my sloppiness.

I’m not arguing that women shouldn’t be able to dress however they want. I support a woman’s choice to wear a miniskirt in the same way I support her choice to wear hijab. But the point is, people will judge your character based on your clothing – and your behavior – no matter how you dress.

Therefore, given the abundance of photos of Liskula Cohen floating around the Internet that look like this…

…and the definition of “skank” (2. disgusting or vulgar matter; filth, and 3. one who is disgustingly foul or filthy and often considered sexually promiscuous)…

…I say a defamation lawsuit doesn’t stand a chance.

Meknes, ya Meknes

As I get ready for work, I finger a row of books on the shelf, tickling the spines of favorite titles like John Updike’s Brazil and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita until I reach a tiny volume. My fingers rest upon the broken and bent spine of Allan Hibbard’s Paul Bowles, Magic, and Morocco, and I’m transported first to the day when I stumbled upon it in a bookstore, lead to it by kismet, in search of some biography, some non-fiction work I never found, then to the days I spent reading it, shaded by an orange tree in the hot Meknassi sun four Augusts ago. I remember those first days more clearly than any that succeeded them: sitting coyly at one of the two outdoor tables at Coin de Feu, watching Japanese tourists – who always seemed to find this tucked-away treasure of a café – from behind my sunglasses, sipping on mint teas and cappuccinos, and flirting with the waiter, whose name I remember but whose face has long disappeared from memory.

Though it wasn’t my first time in Morocco, it was my first time there alone, having just moved my life across the ocean with one giant suitcase and a hiking pack. On my first day, I bought some potatoes, some fruit, two Casablanca beers, milk, butter, cereal, and a pack of Marlboro Lights. I attempted to make mashed potatoes for dinner, failed miserably, and cried a little while I smoked a cigarette in my kitchen. Then, realizing the sheer madness of crying over potatoes, I hoisted myself up onto the kitchen counter, looked out the window toward the sky and all of a sudden it hit me – where I was, what I was doing, and the fact that I’d be doing it for at least another year, and I smiled, suddenly feeling freer than I ever had before. I took photos that first night, of the sunset and of myself sitting on the floor against my bed/couch, walls bare, suitcase as-yet-unpacked (as I had nowhere to put anything).

I remember so clearly the smells of that first summer and fall; my solo trip to Chefchaouen wherein I got harassed – not for my gender but in the hopes I might buy some hash – and got food poisoning on the night before Ramadan began. I remember the scent of the crisp air and how I didn’t want to leave. I remember shopping for a night table on a very hot October afternoon, the smell of Atlas cedar wafting through the air, mixing with diesel and sewage as we rode the truck back to my apartment with my new purchase. How proud I was to have navigated the furniture souk by myself and bargained a table down to 250 dirhams (which, when you think about it, is incredible for a handcrafted piece of cedar furniture – take that, Ikea).

No memories of my two years in Meknes come back as clearly as that first August four years ago. I was barely twenty-three, and still amazed by everything around me. I hadn’t yet experienced the frustration of Morocco; I hadn’t yet been pinned up against a truck on my way home from work at night, saved only by my trusty neighborhood car guardian, the eyes and ears of my block. I hadn’t yet had gut-wrenching food poisoning, or the giardia that hit two months later, wrecking my insides and knocking 30 pounds off my already lithe frame. I hadn’t begun to feel cheated or ripped off for my foreignness, despite my salary being in local currency. I didn’t, at that point, feel the pain of leaving things behind.

I remember the week before I left; everything happened so quickly and I was so ready to just get the hell out of there that I don’t think I took the time to savor everything I loved. I was tied down by obligatory goodbye lunches and teas for those last few days and I didn’t have time to walk the 1,000 or so paces down my favorite street and back. I didn’t get to walk up Rue des FAR, down Ave. Mohammed VI, past the conservatory, where I’d strain my ears for sounds of the violin, then up Rue de Paris, where I’d buy a marrakshia and an espresso and sit amongst lecherous men watching football, hiding behind my sunglasses as I’d learned in that first week and watch teenagers strut up and down the tiny (almost provincial) pedestrian lane, girls dressed up for each other, boys doused in cologne, wondering what I would’ve been like had I come of age there.

My beloved Rue de Paris – when I arrived in 2005, it seemed almost decrepit, but when I left two years later, the storefronts were filling with chic new local additions – Marwa, where I bought my favorite fingerless gloves; Novelty, which called itself a piano bar but which was in fact only novel because it was the only bar I could sit alone unharassed, and where one could find draught beer. I hear Cinema Camera has undergone renovations. I miss the uneven sidewalks, the pathetic-looking potted plants, the ubiquitous cats.

I thought I’d miss Marrakesh and Asilah, but Meknes, ya Meknes, I miss you.

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