Kia ora friends! Today I want to korero on support: or rather, why even in marginalised communities, the most unsupportive folk are often our own.


I love the show Brooklyn Nine Nine, not least because of its unproblematic portrayal of discrimination, racism and sexism in the workplace and police force. So, it’s disappointing to see that black actor Terry Crews has made multiple statements this year dismissing BIPOC, including his former co-star of AGT Gabrielle Union, the Black Lives Matter Movement and more.





As frustrating as this is, this situation - where mass media or even in private conflict, upholds a minority person who seemingly disagrees with their own, in order to weaponise them - is pretty common. In more simple terms, people LOVE to say ‘but my black friend disagrees with the protests’ or ‘my Aboriginal mate doesn’t care about Sorry Day’ or ‘My sister thinks that feminism is crap’. I’m sure you’ve heard, or maybe used this before, yes?


I’ve written a lot about the Model Minority myth, which I encourage you to read, so I thought this Terry Crews situation is an opening for us to discuss this with more nuance.


In short, the Model Minority Myth is upholding an uncommonly exceptional minority person as a target or standard for all minority people. The problem is, is that those Model Minority figures have often a) benefited from their proximity to whiteness/patriarchy and b) been forced to assimilate in order to survive. Thus, one is deliberately withholding, and not comparing like with like.

For example, Barack Obama is a model minority, becoming the first black USA president. He was also raised in a middle-class area mostly by a highly educated white mother with a strong, supportive family and a mixed middle-class safe community, which enabled him to find internships, attend Harvard Law School and enter society with some level of privilege and safety. It is common, but deeply unfair, to compare Obama with black children experiencing violence and poverty, saying ‘if he can do it, they have no excuse not to!’.


I encourage you to read more of my or other work to gain an understanding of how the Model Minority Myth functions.


Let’s return to Terry Crews. One of the most popular comedy tropes and media designations of BIPOC men, is ‘giant scary black man who subverts expectations by being sensitive and emotional’ or the ‘gentle giant’. Think - Terry Crews himself, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Jason Momoa, Shaquille O’Neal. I could write on how bizarre it is that for the ‘majority’ of Western audiences this trope of ‘BIPOC men are scary/violent/aggressors’ is so ingrained into our subconscious assumption, that as soon as we see a black man cry, dance, play with his children or enjoy yoghurt, we find it comedic. Who knew! BIPOC men are people too!







Crews, a former linebacker who by his own description was ‘sweeping floors’ after his football career ended, has instead found career success, wealth and safety first by his black physicality (remember him as an Old Spice guy?), then by playing ‘scary, muscly, sexualised black men who have comedically sensitive feelings’ including his character as loving dad in Brooklyn Nine-Nine and singing along to A Thousand Miles in Wayans’ comedy White Chicks. In every way, Terry is a model minority. He has stepped into, and excelled in, the space created and the expectations set for him, without challenging ever them or trying to be himself outside of those structures, and benefited from that. In doing so, Terry has been awarded a level of visibility, financial abundance and safety that is not often accessible by other young black men in society and in this instance, black women in the same industry (read Gabrielle Union, who experienced racist discrimination while working alongside Terry on America’s Got Talent).


The point I’m trying to get at here is that Terry Crews became a Model Minority by playing along to the dominant expectations of his behaviour, looks and choices. The reason that Terry succeeded where, perhaps, other similar young, black, footballers-turned-actors may not, is specifically because he did what was demanded of people who looked like him, by the dominant (that is, white) majority.


It can be hard for model minority people at times to conceptualise or admit how much they have benefited from privilege rather than just their own effort or talent. To call someone a Model Minority isn’t to say that they haven’t worked hard, rather, it’s identifying what makes up the difference between minorities who do succeed and find safety, legitimacy and social status and those who do not. More often than not, that difference is not in how hard they work but in their proximity to privilege. I have no doubt that Terry is a dedicated, hard-working and talented comedic actor, but nevertheless one who has benefited from media industry contacts, educated, diverse and established showrunners and film producers from Andy Samberg to the Wayans family.


So when Terry makes harmful, dismissive statements that ‘he didn’t experience racism at AGT’ (despite Gabrielle Union, a black woman, asserting otherwise), or that ‘all lives matter and BLM sounds like a black supremacy movement’, he’s not speaking as a representative of the majority of BIPOC, he’s speaking as someone who has been sheltered by his relative privilege by playing a Model Minority role. He’s made his career doing exactly what he was told to do, to make a buck, because there weren’t any other options. To challenge that would be to potentially threaten his good standing as a model minority with his agents, employers and audience that ensure that Terry has income, a house and relative safety as a visible black man in the USA. For Terry to even see or admit that, for example, racism was prevalent at AGT would be to say ‘I was treated better than Gabrielle Union because I behaved like a good little performer and just took whatever I was given (whereas Gabrielle challenged use of blackface and prioritised her own health e.g. by asking staff not to smoke inside), I looked in the other direction at injustice, also because I’m a man with higher social currency in the toxic hierarchy of male-dominated media’. Can you see why that’s a self-reflection that this Model Minority man would want to avoid?


This is why, especially in terms of intersectional feminism amongst women and within BIPOC communities, we have our own micro-challenge of addressing toxic patriarchy or racism stemming from our model minority figures. It’s not as simple as ‘stand up for your own’, it involves working through one’s self-identity as someone who has benefited from privilege, taking into consideration how different life may have been without that privilege.


As a white-passing woman of colour, I know that I have benefited hugely from proximity to whiteness and privilege going all the way back to childhood and schooling, especially in direct comparison to Aboriginal and Pacific Islanders in my cohort. So when I reflect on my ‘success’, I know that it’s not just my own hard work but also the privilege of not being excluded. Even now, almost half of my audience and client base is white and indeed many are men. This gives me a responsibility to educate, lead and advocate specifically because I can access these people in ways that many other BIPOC cannot, and also because as a white-passing person, I am privy to what people do and say and enforce when they don’t realise a BIPOC is around. One thing that I - and Terry Crews, and any other Model Minority, cannot ever do - is use that privilege as a weapon against other marginalised people by dismissing their voices.


Model minorities are often deliberately exceptionalised, not to inspire or learn from, but to weaponise them against any dissent. Make no mistake, this is used to shut up marginalised people, to dismissed their lived and proven experiences, and to create division within their own communities. One of our core needs as human beings is to feel safe and for many model minority people to admit that their friends, employers or even family have only accepted them on the basis of their performing correctly and doing what they’re told, is too frightening and destabilising to even think about. This is exactly why we have black men like Terry Crews, or anti-feminist women or even, within our own families, BIPOC elders who verbalise anti-blackness. It’s frustrating and disappointing, but it’s also helpful. It reflects back to us an area that is in need of change, a situation or a dynamic that has grown old and no longer fits.


The work continues, on personal and public levels. The first step, for many, is challenging the Model Minority Myth.

Years ago, I did a study that involved watching a lot of footage of diagnosed psychopaths, cult leaders and child m**esters.

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When asked how they had managed to ensnare and fool so many people, their answers were all the same:

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“If you want people to follow you, you just tell them that they’re smart and make them feel special”. One guy added “most adults are just kids who weren’t loved enough and are dying to hear something good about themselves”.

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Think about that.

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I find it incredibly sad that in 2020, so many of the “spiritually awakened” community have become avid, obsessive conspiracy theorists. In the same breath they’ll tell you that racism/sexism/pollution isn’t real, but that the former President is a lizard with a microchip in his brain and that YouTube Agents are out to get them personally. They’ll ignore the signs of abuse in the young people in their community, but tell you about a celebrity cabal of p*****philes (especially among the LGBTQ+ community and including everyone from Hilary Duff to Michelle Obama) that can only be taken down by one Tonald Drump (Despite his own s*xual abuse allegations).

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But at the same time, I get it. Because a huge amount of adult “spiritual” folk WERE those children once who went unloved, who didn’t feel smart, were divorcees or corporate burnouts who came to spiritual practice for solace & guidance. And when someone (psychopathic) comes along and says “Oooh THIS is SECRET CLASSIFIED INFORMATION JUST FOR SMART PEOPLE!”, they fall right into it. It feels good to be special and know “secret information” for once, right? It’s nice to feel clever. It’s even nice to feel like you have some powerful supporters when you’ve previously felt weird or alone or bullied.

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So it doesn’t matter how horrible, how outrageous, how inhumane or totally disproven the conspiracy is, these people will CLING to it and defend the person that made them feel special, with their LIFE. Because what they’re really clinging to is the belief that finally they are special, smart and they’re in on the secret for once in their life. Which is why they don’t respond like adults.

I asked one “if you are so obsessed with this elite p*****phile ring, why don’t you turn in that p*****phile neighbour of yours? Why don’t you become a children’s social worker & help them? Or maybe a fundraiser for a children’s therapy clinic? Or join the Emergency Services?“


They weren’t interested in doing any of those things other than telling me over and over again that “they knew the secret!”.

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But I realised it wasn’t about saving children, to them. It wasn’t about anything but *their* wounded inner child howling “pick me!” which was a red flag to a bull for those who would take advantage. And when left alone on the Internet, without the constant schooling that explains how things like algorithms, Internet safety, advertising platforms, clickbait, non-peer-reviewed-sources and how bots work... well, down the rabbit hole they go and out they come as a hardcore, extremist conspiracist. And there’s so many in the spiritual community because it IS a haven for the vulnerable.

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I don’t know how to cure that generation of conspiracists. But I do know it’s incredibly important in the spiritual community that we address our own inner child, our own childhoods, fears, traumas, neglect (even privileges) so that we remain grounded, healed adults who can’t become weaponised for our vulnerability & technical lack of know-how.


Self-care is PARAMOUNT. Not just bubble baths & pedicures but real, deep, self-loving that repairs the soul. Therapy, journaling, volunteer work, accountability. We will create a spiritual community of humans that can heal themselves and each other more effectively.

Let's talk about a word that gets really misused and misunderstood in dialogues about equality. The word is:

"OFFENSIVE".


One of the easiest ways to parlay a request for justice into a no-holds-barred comment section whinge-fest, is to describe a group as 'easily offended' or a perpetrator as 'offensive'.


Offensive, as a word, says a whole lot of nothing. What it does connote, is privilege. If you are offended by something, it doesn't actually cause physical or emotional harm so much as it does displease your finer, less-urgent needs such as the need for recognition or friendship.


What a lot of people misunderstand is the difference between what is 'offensive' and what is actually, quantifiably racist, sexist or abusive.


The answer can be found by asking a question: Is this comment or action, systematic? Do I (or the person making the gesture) hold a higher level of historical, hierarchical power than the person on the receiving end?

When something is offensive, it is unpleasant, hurtful and may be gross or cruel behaviour. Where it becomes racist/sexist/abusive, is at the point where the offensive action becomes part of a system of unpleasant, hurtful, gross or cruel behaviour towards a group of people. Racism, sexism and abuse have scientifically, quantifiably measurable results on the groups that they effect. So the weight of an 'offensive' comment or action actually has the force of that system behind it, to harm or even kill a person.


Let me give you an example.


I could call our Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, a bone-headed doofus with a face like a dropped souffle. Offensive? Yes! Hurtful? Yes! Gross and unpleasant? Absolutely.


However, despite the 'offensiveness' of my comment, it does not have any systemic weight behind it. That is, the Prime Minister holds much more power than I do: He is a wealthy, white Christian male and therefore, statistically, in the top 2% of privileged groups in Australian society. He has a full-time security team, he has legal and social support that I don't have; and in effect, a comment like this would not in any way restrict Morrison's access to healthcare, employment, money or safety; nor would it incite others to violence toward him.




So that's an example of something offensive.


I reference now, the people who called Aboriginal sportsman Adam Goodes an 'ape'. Historically, and until very recently, BIPOC in Western countries were medically and legally considered to be 'sub-human', 'flora and fauna' (that is, animals) or 'cattle'. These medical and legal classifications were used to systemically kill, torture, enslave, rape, steal land, humiliate and decimate Indigenous communities, people, languages and practices as well as colonise their native land.


So already, the word 'ape' has huge historical weight. What we also know is that BIPOC (epecially Aboriginals in Australia) suffer from police brutality, reduced access to quality education, price-gouged food, poorer healthcare, little to no mental health support or reparations made for two full centuries of trauma. So not only has that word 'ape' been used as a weapon for over two centuries, it had the power to strip an Indigenous person of their social support, their home, their family or even their life. The systems in place that equated Aboriginals with 'apes' were the ones that murdered and displaced them. The football fans that called Goodes this slur are among those whose money goes into funding the game of football: so, by dint of being Anglo-Australian and ticketholders, they hold power and influence over Goodes livelihood, along with the historical and ongoing trauma of the colonial Australian legal and medical systems I've described.


In more complex social hierarchy, the 'face' of the 'Ape incident' was shown to be a young white female, who - while no doubt having learned the phrase from her parents - historically, takes precedence in social hierarchies over black males. For more information we can look at the case of teenager Emmett Till and others in the USA, who were brutally lynched on false testimony of white women. Studies in the US, UK and Australia show that in perceived social hierarchies, white men occupy the top role and power positions, while black women - followed by black men - occupy the bottom. So in public opinion, the words and privilege of this white female child are seen to be more valuable than of the Aboriginal man, adding even more weight and systemic cruelty to the slur, along with putting Goodes at risk of losing his income and danger of incurring violence if he were in any way to respond.


That isn't merely 'offensive', it's racist, abusive and injust. Because the word 'ape' is part of a centuries old system to kill, starve, harm and abuse Indigenous people.


Can you see the difference?




An easy way to derail conversations about anti-racism, and funnily enough, one employed by racists, is to suggest that survivors of racism are 'feeling offended'.


Likewise, its an easy and dismissive cop-out to apologise “for causing offence” when the person has actually committed harm.


This is important: When you read this, correct them.



When a person or group ask for justice, they are not asking because they are 'offended', or because what was said or done was 'offensive'. When you write about survivors of injustice, don't write 'they were offended', write that injustice occurred against them. If you are in a position of societal privilege (note I said societal privilege, not how privileged you consider yourself to be; it's not a statement on your own personal struggles or a suggestion that your life has been easy), then understand that your words have more weight and multiple systemic powers against people at the other end of the privilege spectrum


In short: Offensiveness is just you, on your own, being a dickhead. Injustice is when a whole system is behind you, enabling you to cause harm to life and livelihood.



© 2019 by Kelsey Avalon. All Rights Reserved. All medical, financial and legal enquiries must be directed to your prescribing medical health professional or legal representative.