By now you have gathered that I did not think much of Pokhara. I found myself wondering "what the hell is the fuss all about?" You know the feeling. I was just talking to a Pakistani doctoral candidate and she said that seeing Cairo and the Sphinx made her wonder too what the fuss was about.
The bus ride to Pokhara from Bandipur was enjoyable. People get on and off the local bus. It stops every five minutes it seems. For this reason, it took a little short of five hours to travel just under 90kms. But like I said, you see stuff on the local buses that you miss on the air-conditioned tourist-only buses. At each stop there are folks who sell peanuts, water, and cooked food through the bus windows. Sometimes they board the bus till the next stop, all the while pestering folks to buy. And people do. So the bus always smells like an eatery of sorts.
If you don't fall asleep, and I never do (too much of a control freak), there are interesting towns all along the way. This picture is typical of the little towns that dot the way between Bandipur and Pokhara.
At the bridge entry that leads into Pokhara this little house sits precariously between the bridge and road. The man in the picture did not seem too concerned as he went about household chores.
Don't get me wrong dawg, the Phewa Tal (in Pokhara)is the second largest lake in Nepal and it was cool. It is said that the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas are often reflected in the tal when the water is calm. Honestly, I did not stick around to check it out, or the World Peace Pagoda built by the Japanese. I was not feeling peaceful!
I gazed at the mountains from the store fronts set up for tourists before rolling to Tansen. There were not too many around though. Folks say that since the ‘unrest' many tourists, Americans in particular, have taken Nepal out of their travel plans. Now is that not just heart-breaking? And yet there were enough of them to piss me off more than just once.
Ok, so what specifically pissed me off? I was walking down the main street in Lakeside East where my budget hotel was located when I stumbled across a white woman sitting alongside a group of Tibetan craft-makers/sellers. They were sitting on the edge of the road where passers-by could see their wares. Nothing unusual about the scene except that the white woman had adopted an Indian-Nepalese accent of sorts and was dressed like she just stepped out of Kipling's racism. Her husband/partner was standing close by with an infant in his arms.
I did not really want to know the context but the scene stuck out like a sore thumb. In a very real sense it looked and felt like Saturday Market in Portland. There you can find all kinds of 'liberated' folks who have adopted 'exotic ethnic identies',or collages of appropriated eastern 'influences', as an identity.
My attention was thus informed by 7 Portland-induced years of amazement and resentment at the intrusion that folks like this woman wage without a second thought to the racism perpetrated. My ears burnt as I listened to her patronizing and sick attempt to sound like a Mother Teresa of sorts. She was gesticulating like a bollywood star to empasize her contrived effectations. She looked stupid and sounded whack. I thought "damn where does one have to go to escape these folks?" Their reach is everywhere and the "small world" they operate in is a damn Disney factory that spits out images they can relate to no matter the nuances of culture, history, or politics.
I remember telling my students in my Racism class at PSU that in the 'post-colonial' age the purpose of whiteness is to construct the Other as irrelevant and invisible. I am not of course assuming for a moment that the Other exists independently of white imaging. The shame is that as whiteness demands disfigurement of the people it Otherizes, it also perpetrates a wider identity genocide. The full effect is erasesure of those outside of whiteness.
This is dangerous territory made worse by the power of market capitalization that enforces disfigurement into 'commonsense' in a Gramscian sense. See link for information on Gramsci: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Gramsci
For this reason I am not surprised at the child purchases that Madonna and Angelina have been doing. I read yesterday that Angelina and Brad want to adopt an Indian child. Why not? It would fill out the racial/ethnic collage they have constructed as a family. I used to point to the American store CostPlus as a great place to get worldly ‘ethnic' crap when furnishing your apartment/house. CostPlus seemingly scours China and Taiwan for artefacts that symbolize frozen images of culture the world round (well the Disney version of the world). So Amy and Brad can be Disney-worldly without actually ever leaving Portland or Beaverton;) See CostPlus World Market website at: http://www.worldmarket.com/home.jsp
Angelina and Madonna saturate the world as represented by the stories that cover them in the South African and Indian media. As 'global ambassadors' and close friends of the 'I am the world pimp', Bono, they can choose to assemble living CostPlus artifacts to compliment their image as product. Buying a multi-racial/ethnic family is live cosmetic-ethnic arranging (a by-product of liberal multiculturalism gone mad). This arrangement ploy is a kind of product differentiation. It helps Angelina sell an image of contrived inclusivity (unnatural selection if you like). And it sets her apart from her peers in an industry that posits Hollywood and whiteness as 'commonsense'. Finally, it also releases her collective guilt (a prominent marker of whiteness).
The kids are therefore hardly central to this essentialized arrangement. Makes me think of all those people who will only adopt pedigreed dogs so that they look cool in the park. Buying a Black/brown child is not unlike buying a pedigreed dog. It is a lifestyle choice with apparent market value. All that collecting of melanin-soaked skins is an ordering that can only be conceived of inside production-line whiteness (like collecting colonies in the not-too old days). The arrogance and self involvement that would posture this racist nonsense as progressive is power for the course. The inherent racism is however not too far from the surface.
In the not too distant future we may need a kind of Berlin Conference to administer the "scramble" to buy Black/brown kids. I wonder if African and Asian sales-people will be represented at this latter day Berlin Conference? We may even have to produce a child-colony map with geographical markers to point to where Madonna or Angelina (and others) have adopted 'free-slaves'. Maybe Bono would agree to play the role of Kaiser this time. The map here shows colonial thievery in Africa by 1913. See the link below for a discussion of the 1884/5 Berlin Conference that led to Africa's fragmentation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Conference
Just yesterday (November 16, 2006) in Mumbai Angelina's bodyguards roughed up parents of the kids at a school where she was filming. The parents are livid because her bodyguards referred to them as "bloody Indians." What these parents obviously did not realize was that they were standing in the way of Angelina's world ... a world where 'Disney ethnics' should bow humbly and allow the conquerors to rule. Dammit don't these people watch the Simpsons?
Some of these thoughts on appropriation and resistance ran through my mind as I made my way to a restaurant in Pokhara for my evening meal. I sat down and ordered pizza made with yak cheese. Can't say I liked it but the popcorn (don't ask) and french fries were OK. While sitting there I noticed a white man sitting alone at the other end of the establishment. At a later point a woman with an American accent walked in and the waiter asked her where she would like to sit. She was standing about a meter from my table. She said "I would rather join someone at a table" ... she looked at me and immediately started walking across to the white man's table.
Now don't get me wrong here, I did not want company and not that of a white American traveler for sure. But I thought back to the debates on Black men as rapists in the era after slavery in the US. I remembered how Angela Davis covers this mania in her earlier academic work. I am still impressed by the way she handled the racism underneath the "myth of the Black man as rapist." See this link for a background on Angela Davis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Davis
My Blackness not apparent in Nepal, the next best category I fit is that of predatory Asian man (just a slightly reworked stereotype anyway). The Asian man in Nepal and India preys on unsuspecting white woman who are thought to be sexually available. It is for this reason that Lonely Planet, and other guides aimed a western toursits, advise female travelers to wear a wedding ring. A wedding ring it is said will make Asian men believe that the woman in question is not avaliable. Additionally, they are advised not to make eye contact by lowering their gaze and to dress like the locals.
Your boy Ridwan, the globe trotting rapist, was that lascivious Asian beast in a restaurant in Nepal.
Given the choice that night to sit at a table with a sista/brother, or a white American tourist, I would chosen the former. My decision would be based on a well-worn history of racism and not some fake warmed-over post-slavery induced angst about the safety of my vagina (if I had one).
It really amazes me how some 'liberated' white women posture a politics of feminized political independence while still being so tied to white male genitals. I seethed that night but there was also the revolutionary recognition that what I knew was a conscious politics. What she perpetrated was a privilege born of brutality and bred in ignorance.
In my recent personal life I have also come to understand that when dealing with whiteness, the beast of privilege and ignorance does not die easily, if at all. It is for this reason that my political consciousness does not expect whiteness to be anything else but racist.
Even as I write these lines, I know that some of my white colleagues and friends will scoff at my audacity and point out that I am guilty of a misplaced reverse-racism. Whatever! The first step to undoing the ties that binds whiteness is to recognize the binary attachment of privilege and brutality to its essence. If anyone is pissed at these revelations it would be wise to look closer to home.
Truth is, I would hardly have to convince any person of color that race profiling is a mainstay of white identity. In fact, if one removed whiteness from being white what would be left? There is in essence no such thing as being white without the historical acceptance that whiteness is central to the identity. In this context, a white person cannot simply deracialize their identity. Being white, and accepting the historical marker of being white, is akin to being responsible for all the ills perpetrated. This makes it impossible to reform whiteness.
The alternative is more difficult and dangerous. Discarding white identity is the only way out. But, discarding the identity is more than appropriating someone else's culture or identity. The choice to discard must be more than just a reworked whiteness. What that will look like is not my business because I am not white. I refuse to be drawn into further service by providing models for white deconstruction. I do, however, know what it must not look like.
This then is why I was pissed off looking at that white woman trying to act like an Indian/Nepali in Pokhara. There is a conflict ridden history there that is a war whether recognized by its perpetrators or not.
As for the woman in the restaurant, well hell who expected it to roll any other way? Brothers everywhere know what it means to be marked as a sexual predator whether at rest or not. Some will remember me saying that in the world of whiteness, a brother who is not busy raping a white woman is simply resting for the next round.
This depiction sits well with the so-called 'radical feminist' Susan Brownmiller who argues that a Black 14 year old, Emmitt Till, consciously perpetrated sexual abuse against a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, when he whistled at her in public. For this 'innate-rapist' intention Till was brutally murdered by the town bubbas.
Mamie Carthan Till, Emmit Till's mother, spent her life seeking justice for her murdered son. In the face of denial and judicial obstruction, her attempts met with failure and the men who killed her son were not convicted. The "myth of the Black rapist" is a permanent feature of American life. So is the denial that ' free and rational' America contains such a scourge. See this link for background on Emmett Till: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmit_Till
The "myth of the black rapist" is exactly that, a myth perpetuated as an act of domination by whiteness (I am, of course, not talking about rape as an act of violence against women). American history is littered with examples where Black men have been lynched because they were deemed sexual predators. Frederick Douglas (pictured here) was among the first to illustrate the connection between the "myth of the Black rapist" and white political interests.
The Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot in 1921 is a devastating illustration of how the "myth of the black rapist" has been used to oppress and curtail the movement of both Black men and women. The race riot started with a falsified rumor that a young Black male, Dick Rowland, had raped a 17 year old white woman, Sarah Page, in the elevator of the Drexel Building on South Main Street in Tulsa. Though Sarah page refused to file charges against Dick Rowland, local news reports embellished the story. What ensued was a 17 hour race riot directed by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists against Blacks living in the racially segregated suburb of Greenwood. Some reports say that 300 Blacks were killed and more than 10 000 were left homeless as a result of the race riot. Even the Oklahoma National Guard was accused of assisting rioters. Today investigators are still working on uncovering mass graves where Black bodies were dumped. And not surprisingly, the case for reparations remains largely unresolved.
Now what kinda liberation is that?