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Black or White: So long as you are FAIR

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In light of the recent Oscars #Ohsowhite campaigns and views, Sneha Gray writes that racism or colourism and perception of beauty in the media is not as clear-cut as black or white and that this trend exists not just in Hollywood but movie industries across the Globe.

 Growing up as a child in Southern India it was made clear to me that I would never be considered exceptionally beautiful or stunning…No one needed to overtly say it…It was just there…the rectangular box at home constantly had moving images of white and/or fair skinned people, fairy tales stories about characters like Snow White, and tips on how to be “fair and lovely”. I remember auditioning for a school play once only to be told by a teacher that another girl that was so “fair and lovely” was chosen for the part.

As a tom-boy child I loved playing cricket and soccer. This also meant that the harsh Indian sun darkened me considerably. I remember being told by well-intentioned people that I would never find a nice guy or be respected if I was dark. To be fair to them, in the world we lived in then (and perhaps now too), it was probably true.  I remember trying to remove the tan by trying to scrub out the dark skin tan under the shower in the hope that scrubbing hard with soap will remove the dark tan. More than racism, I call it colourism. This exists in most media industries, not just in Hollywood but also in Bollywood and other film industries across Asia and the globe.SNEHA GRAY BW

While beauty is only skin deep, its human nature to be the best we can be and that’s a good thing. It’s important to look and feel good and be fit to the best of our ability. But when we’re told either by words or deeds constantly by the film industry that fair or white is the ONLY way to be beautiful or talented and successful, then it becomes an issue.

Following the 88th Oscars just gone two strong thoughts prevail: On the one hand are those that suggest that there needs to be more variety and diversity of actors; the other group think its political correctness gone wrong and that if white actors performed better they should win the award.

While I agree with those with the latter view that the best person should win the award regardless of what their skin colour is, the point this group fails to realise is that if more talented, skilled and just as visually presentable darker skinned actors are given the opportunity to be cast in lead roles then more of them will be able to win the award. Proponents of this view, myself included, are not suggesting that the pendulum should swing the other way to say that ONLY dark-skinned is beautiful or talented, but that there would be balance so people of all skin-tones who are good actors and suit the role can have equal opportunity to be successful.

Hollywood has boldly taken a stance at changing negative perceptions about various social issues. Perhaps it’s time for the Academy to take a stance against racial prejudice or prejudice based on colour. If Hollywood takes a lead then perhaps other film industries like Bollywood will change their biased attitudes towards people that are darker skinned.  For instance, Bollywood and North India is still very biased against darker skinned people. Indian media do not hesitate to put down Hollywood and blame them for bias against Indian actors, but fail to realise that in their own right they put down the darker skinned Indian actors who are equally beautiful and fit and just as talented.

The Indian film industry is just one example of an Asian film industry that is biased against darker skinned people and actors. Many other Asian countries like China, Philippines and Thailand have been criticized about the same issue.

As long as the world exists there will always be some of us that are better looking than average; sing better than average; and act better than average.  For instance, personally, I may never look as aesthetically presentable or elegant as Cate Blanchett or Brie Larsen but there are many darker skinned girls that are just as beautiful and talented and can win the Oscar if they are only given the right opportunity.

Equally, it’s not fair to blame every white actor or singer as being racist or biased. Unless you are in a situation it’s impossible to understand how the other person feels.  Now that the issue is out in the open perhaps Hollywood can take the lead towards making this necessary social change where all men and women regardless of colourtone can have equal opportunity.

It’s easy to brush aside the issue and say it’s not that big a deal. However, Until this happens, there will always be subtle racism or colourism worldwide and girls like me will still be trying to scrub hard under the shower to wipe away our tan.

Come on Hollywood! Take the stand and make a difference.

Stop attacking the Prime Minister; he’s got a choice too

Before you abuse me let me just get it out, I voted for the current flag. While I wasn’t anti change, I needed a reason for the change and I felt that perhaps now was not the right time, and I didn’t feel a connection with the new alternative (especially didn’t quite think the beautiful colour black suited a flag).

In saying that, I am fed up of people abusing the Prime Minister, threatening him and calling the proposed flag “John Key’s flag”. If one were to have an opposing point of view, then do so with respect and have a logical debate.  While everyone is entitled to an opinion, all opinions don’t always become fact. Fact is that the Flag Change debate was started by many prior governments, including the Labour Government.

For those that sing the John Key wasted money mourn, while the suggested amount may seem like a lot of money, in the context of a bigger picture and putting it in perspective of the annual Government expenditure it is minuscule. Finding our true identity is priceless and we cannot put a price on it. To ascertain our identity, it was essential to have a debate and this flag debate has done just that. It has brought to light the passion people have for the country and this is something we cannot put a price on it.

AMERICAN FLAGThere may be many things about America that does not sit right with me, but one thing we can learn from our American brothers and sisters is their patriotism. One only needs to drive around America to see their flag hoisted from schools, homes and other buildings with pride and people actually sing their national anthem regularly.

So I say to you, instead of being negative and throwing stones and abusing the Prime Minister, take pride in the flag, fly her high outside your home and take positive pride in this beautiful land we all call home. This way if or when the time comes for us tnzflag flagpoleo change our flag, we will do so with unity and purpose.

 

A new look at teenage boredom

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In early February this year (2016), media articles and social media sites were flooded with differing views on who’s to blame for the deaths of two teenagers in #Masterton following a police chase. Amongst the varied views, a few opinions that jumped out at me came from those that blamed the police, parents and the community.

Let’s first consider the views of those that blamed the police for the crash. I’d be interested to know what the alternative was? Aside from the fact that the police had stopped their chase prior to the crash, what would have happened if the police had ignored the obviously speeding car and these lads had crashed into an innocent driver on the way to work for an early morning shift? Had the innocent driver been my loved one – father, mother, uncle, aunty, cousin, son, daughter, husband, wife – I certainly would have blamed the police for not stopping these lads when they had the opportunity.

Then there is a core group of social media commentators who have strong views on why they think the parents are to blame. While sometimes that is the case, it will be unfair to speculate and throw hurtful words at the parents, without knowing the facts. Unfortunately we seem to have created a culture where the rights of normal parents to discipline their kids and teenagers seems to have been taken away at the expense of a minority of child beaters and abusers. This sadly means that many parents are “threatened” by their unruly teens that they would call the police and make a complaint if the parent tries to discipline their child. For instance, I know of a normal regular kiwi parent who had a phone call from the school that their teenager had not turned up to school. As a responsible parent, this person had driven around town, found the teenager, held their arm and asked them to get in the car. Another teenager made a complaint to the police that this responsible kiwi parent was abusing their child which led to the police knocking on their door. This parent felt that they had lost their right to even discipline their child. What then is the solution to “disciplining” unruly teenagers?

The third group of commentators felt that it was the community’s fault. Well intentioned social worker Alan Maxwell was “angry” that “these kids have such limited choices and the community is so apathetic to it all.” He went on to say that that they were just “bored” and that if “we” don’t give them things to do they make “stupid choices.” In my view, however well-intentioned and passionate his point of view is, this only instills a kind of quiet arrogance amongst teenagers that they can get away with anything.  I remember once observing a friend who politely spoke to an unruly teenager who was dumping rubbish at a private building and dirtying the walls. A person who called themselves the “elder” suggested to my friend that we had no right to speak harshly or “put down” a young person because that would “hurt” them. !!!!!!!

Kids and teenagers need to be loved, protected and feel secure. However, this is not achieved by providing them freedom without boundaries. Mr Maxwell says that “At some point, as a community, we have to take responsibility, otherwise these kids are not going to be the only ones [to die] this year.”  In a way Mr Maxwell is right. As a community member I do think we need to take responsibility.

We need to take responsibility and change the airy fairy way society is asked to handle teenagers. Let’s work toward creating strong, free, honest, ethical and responsible teens. This means that we are allowed to tell them firmly where their boundaries lie and enforce the boundaries; direct them to the amazing opportunities available to them and encourage them to put their minds to use so they don’t get “bored”; teaching them that stealing (cars or anything else) is not the right thing to do; advising them that the choices they make as teenagers can have a lifelong impact not just on them but their families too.

Let’s get responsible by giving back responsible parents the right to discipline their children in a safe manner. Let’s give them the right to give their teenagers a strict curfew time. Let’s give them the right to make them get their teenagers into the car if they are out past their curfew time. Let’s give parents the right to say No to their teenagers.

Let’s get responsible by not making excuses that the teens were “bored” but point them to the abundant boredom tackling opportunities available in New Zealand’s door step. Let’s train youth workers to teach teens that they can indeed go for a walk, swim in the river, climb trees or go for a push bike ride (things we did when we were kids and when no one needed to keep us from getting “bored”). Perhaps then come 10 pm tiredness will set in and the only place a teenager will want to go to is to bed.

This entire saga is sad in so many ways. Naughty though they may have been, it’s devastating when young people go before their time. I am not suggesting that we become so strict that we create robotic kids that are “perfect”. We have all made mistakes as teenagers but for most of us the kinds of things kids these days think they have the right to get up-to was not tolerated by society. Life had more boundaries. These boundaries kept us safe.

Perhaps, contrary to what Hollywood portrays, teenagers are not “mini–adults” and we need to become more “responsible” and create more boundaries to keep these teenagers safe until they become mature. This way they can have a lifetime of adventure without having their life snuffed out in their prime because of a life lived without boundaries.

Let’s find that middle ground where teenagers can create positive fun filled child-hood memories and live to tell the tale.

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TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK – You don’t need to agree with me but happy to encourage positive, healthy, non-abusive debate.

(Sneha Gray is a writer and dream catcher who currently lives in the Sunny Bay of Plenty)

 

The child with two home-lands: The flag debate from an immigrant’s perspective

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My mind’s been working over-time over where I stand in the flag debate? As a foreign born New Zealand citizen who faithfully took an oath to observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand citizen, I decided that it was my duty to seriously consider the flag under which not just me but my descendants will hopefully make a positive difference in this world.

While I do love our current flag, I love the silver fern. If I were to choose a new design, it is my view that Kyle Lockwood’s red triangle with silver design could in future have helped us look back and remember the founding of the Treaty of Waitangi and our Commonwealth connection. To me the red represented both the British and Maori forebearers and the life-giving blood that flows through every New Zealander regardless of what country they originate from; the multiple points of the fern leaf of course representing multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards represents that we are all one people growing onward into the future.

The black triangle of the same flag brings to mind unfortunate pictures of pirate ships and the ISIS militant group. No matter how hard I want to I don’t feel the colours work well together for a flag. But the democracy has voted and perhaps I will grow to love it, should the flag be chosen.

To have an open mind, I have tossed and turned, researched various viewpoints before coming up with a considered decision. Trolling through several writings and opinions in the media, the battle of the flags (existing or new) is fought on two fronts. Those that do not support a flag change say that the existing flag has meaning and history. Writers like Bruce Logan put this case forward well and explain that the Union Jack in the top left-hand corner recalls our historical and legal origin. It reinforces the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Southern Cross tells us where we are.

On the other side of the spectrum are those that believe that now is the time for change and as a stronger, newer and more vibrant nation we need to move forward. We are no longer under the roof of Mother England, they say.

Both points of view have their pros and cons; both sides of the argument moving me from one side to the next.

We all know that change for the sake of change is not of use to anyone. Research shows that countries that have changed their flags had a reason to do so. Canada changed her flag at a time of turmoil and threat to unify her nation. India (my birth land) changed her flag to symbolize that she was free of the tyranny and the control of the then British Government.

Unlike Canada, we are not under internal threat; unlike India, Britain is no longer the strong, arrogant and stubborn power she once was. However, if a majority of New Zealanders want to change the flag, then we should get on and move forward.  But let’s do it with a purpose that is stronger than “Because our flag is too similar to Australia” (Why then can’t Australia not change her flag), or “Because we are not under Britain anymore” (Technically we are, should we therefore become a republic first, and is there any benefit for us in doing so at this point in time), or “the All-Blacks represent the Black colour and the fern, and so our flag should change.”

If the current alternate design is the flag that we choose, let’s come up with, and explain to our children the true meaning of the fern and the Southern Cross.

One of the clearest messages of the meaning of a flag, or the need for a flag that represents a land, came from Mahatma Gandhi, a true hero and a peaceful warrior who took on and defeated Mother England.  When India was going through a flag debate he said this: “A flag is a necessity for all nations. Millions have died for it. It is no doubt a kind of idolatry which would be a sin to destroy. For, a flag represents an Ideal: The unfurling of the Union Jack evokes in the English breast sentiments whose strength it is difficult to measure. The Stars and Stripes mean a world to the Americans. The Star and the Crescent will call forth the best bravery in Islam…It will be necessary for us Indians –  Muslims, Christians Jews, Parsis, and all others to whom India is their home-to recognize a common flag to live and to die for.”

Change for the sake of change is not of use to anyone. If we were to change, I say to you New Zealanders, young and old, immigrants or not, black brown or white, religious or non-religious, gay or straight, and to all others to whom New Zealand is or will be their home and the home of their children, let’s recognize a common flag that’s not just a marketing logo, but a flag that will instill in us a sense of positive pride, integrity and strength of character, a flag that we will be proud to live and die for.

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(Sneha Gray is a writer, former journalist and dream catcher based in the sunny Bay of Plenty)