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Becoming Diasporically Moroccan: how conversational categorization makes a new category

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Contrary to the typical imagination of discriminatory speech being direct and obvious, othering or categorizing statements often happen more subtly through microaggression. It can be understood as the ways underlying stereotypes about race, class, gender, and other social attributes are reproduced in casual encounters – like the experience of the woman in this pic, from photographer Kiyun Kim’s project on microaggressions in a NYC university. (For more testimonies, see the Microaggressions Tumblr or this nice video at Quartz with examples from film and TV.) Microaggressions can be found anywhere, and experienced by anyone who might find their own sense of identity and belonging inadvertently or purposefully stereotyped by someone else. As they are becoming more widely researched and recognized as fostering social divisions, universities around the US are mandating that incoming students learn about the negative impacts of microaggression on their peers.

Yet, the existence of ‘microaggression’ is falling under attack by media and researchers, who question many of the claims made about potentially negative impacts of subtle speech. In Becoming Diasporically Moroccan, I try to show how the very subtle communicative and embodied modes for categorizing others do have an impact — not necessarily a direct and immediate one, but a cumulative and collective impact, as whole communities can come to feel ‘othered’ by the repetition, across members and over time, of small speech acts that create distinctions between us and them. This book doesn’t concentrate on how ‘othered’ groups feel harmed; rather, I try to focus on how othering contributes to evolving ideas of membership, participation, and a sense of belonging in an emerging group.

Let me take the example from the photograph above to illustrate how categorization happens in ordinary conversation.

No, where are you really from?

This is a question I hear quoted all the time by my research participants as one of the most troublesome ones they receive. While they are Moroccan-origin individuals who grew up in Europe, they share the problem of many migrant-origin individuals around the world of somehow not being allowed to be ‘from’ the place where they grew up.

The person asking this question may be on a genuine quest for information, but the includes layered, embedded assumptions that make it microaggressive. It is, firstly, context-specific, and depends on local knowledges and shared assumptions about what is ‘normal’; what should a person who is from somewhere look, sound, or be like? That leads to a second factor: that statement takes into account some kind of visible embodiment as categorizable in a combination of place (e.g. the somewhere she is from) and descent (or, the family lineage she comes from). This statement makes an assumption that place and descent map onto each other following a ‘normal’ category. Asking where she is really from implies that her claim to be from that somewhere is impossible. When these assumptions work together, they perpetuate this kind of (maybe unintentional…) microaggression, where this woman may feel like she has to justify being from the somewhere she feels she is from.

No wonder she is rolling her eyes…

Categorization at ‘home’

In Becoming Diasporically Moroccan, I pick apart face-to-face interactions where similar kinds of categorizing talk takes place, but in a different kind of context. Instead of looking at how Moroccan-origins manage their categorization in their European homelands – which might be compared to how lots of other minorities and migrant-origin groups have to deal with microaggression within an dominant (often ‘white’) group – this book looks at how these categorizations take place between Moroccans who live in Morocco and Moroccan-origin adults who visit Morocco from Europe. Like some other communities that develop in one place and can trace their familial descent to another place, Moroccans have a chance to regularly visit ‘home’. When they do, however, they often feel ‘othered’, in the opposite way to how many feel ‘othered’ in Europe.

By looking at individual examples of interactions in marketplaces, between resident Moroccan vendors and Moroccans-from-Europe, I show the subtle conversational details of how this ‘othering’ works. My conclusion, however, is not about how one or the other party may be doing wrong… Instead, I advocate that we start to think about how individuals like this – who grow up connected by descent and place to multiple homelands – together create new categories that help us evolve our thinking about where anyone might ‘belong’.

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UCL Mellon Programme Presents Three Short Films by Shahrzad M. Davis

davis1Dr. Saeed Talajooy and Sanaz Raji would like to invite you to a film screening and UK premier of three short films by Iranian-American film-maker, Shahrzad M. Davis on Wednesday, 25th of March 2009 at 5:30pm, Engineering Building, Malet Place, Room 1.02.

The films all deal with aspects of migration, identity, and sexuality. After the screening, there will be a Q&A session with the film-maker.

About the Film-maker:

Shahrzad M. Davis is a polyglot activist anthropologist hailing from California- the land of golden dreams. Making her Iranian mother and Anglo-American father proud, she received a master’s degree from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies with the support of a Fulbright Scholarship upon her graduation from UC Berkeley. True to the fabled woman inspiring her name, Shahrzad likes to retell stories from the diasporic frontiers through the pen and video camera.

For full details visit: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/mellon-program/seminars/2008-2009

We warmly invite you and please pass the message around to those who might be interested.

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A Blog on Cultures of Migration in Italy

A friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Federica Mazzara, a fellow at the UCL Mellon Programme, has recently started a blog, entitled, Moving Boarders: The Aesthetics of Migraton. I had the opportunity to meet Federica this past December and in March, she organized a workshop on the Aesthetics of Migration at UCL which I had the chance to present a paper on the use of parody in photoshopped and YouTube clips by those who are 2nd generation Iranian in the diaspora.

I hope that you take the time to visit Federica’s blog as it has great commentary and links about Italy, migration and visual cultures.

Sanaz

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Nakba 60 Oral History Day

www.nakba60.org.uk

in association with SOAS Palestine Society and LSE SU Palestine Society

Present

ORAL HISTORY DAY

Saturday 1 MARCH 2008

(free admission)

Please book in advance at: rsvp@nakba60.org.uk

The Eye of the Spoken Word: Oral History and The 1948 Nakba

The Oral History Day event brings together scholars, filmmakers and oral history specialists to reflect on the narratives of the 1948 Nakba. Presenting the people’s voices, the speakers will further discuss the importance of oral history as an instrument for preserving the Palestinian collective memory and relaying the events that surrounded the 1948 Nakba and beyond. We will hear and see stories of both the survivors and the perpetrators throughout the day.

Registration: 11:00

Room G2

SOAS – School of Oriental and African Studies – Thornhaugh Street , Russell Square , London WC1H 0XG


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Weapons of Massive Laughter

I am a connoisseur of humor and satire. In fact, on those days that I feel blue and find life a bit overwhelming, I retreat into my room and watch a few YouTube clips of stand-up by Dave Chapelle (famous for his Comedy Central show, Chapelle Show), Margaret Cho, and Russell Peters among others. Sometimes, I’ll look up old Saturday Night Live skits from Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman. Friend have witnessed me on my own hilarious musings and I know that if a person is down in the dumps, nothing gets one out of their doldrums better than deep, belly-filled laughs!

I’ve decided to combine my love of humor into my own examination of the Iranian Diaspora, specifically how 1.5 and second generation Iranian diasporics utilize photoshopping to create digitally altered and humorous images poking fun of Iranian and US/UK politics, and Iranian culture in Iran and in the diaspora among other themes. I first presented a rough version of this at the Third Annual BRISMES Graduate Conference at Wolfson College, Oxford, and will expand the theme to explore how diasporic Iranians are also utilizing Youtube to make their own home-grown humor exploring such things as dating, inter-generational issues (i.e.: 1.5 and second generation Iranians versus how their parents act in daily life), and double standards in how parents treat young women and men in the diaspora. I’ll be presenting my findings at the Moving Borders: The Aesthetics of Migration, part of the Mellon Lecture Series at UCL. My colleague, Dr. Federica Mazzara has been marvelous in organizing the entire event and I am excited by all the interesting papers that will be presented, especially one by my friend Alpesh!

Perhaps another motivation for my recent interest into humor and parody in the diasporic Iranian landscape has a lot to do with how Middle Easterners are portrayed and essentialized as being either overly sensual/sexual or barbarically violent. In between these two massive stereotypes is the picture that Middle Easteners are also devoid of any humor or parody. Well, take away the stereotypical images usually presented and there is a very rich history of humor, especially in the Iranian context. I grew up on the parody short stories of Mulla Nasruddine. For the diasporic Iranian community, there is a plethora of talented stand-up comedians, such as Omid Djalili, Shappi Khorsandi, and Maz Jobrani to name a few. These comedians are answering back to many years of bigoted assumptions through the use of wit and humor. Who says that Iranians can’t appreciate a good laugh?

To drop you all a good WML (Weapons of Massive Laughter), I have included a few links to my favorite stand-up by Djalili, Jobrani, and Khorsandi.

Enjoy!

Sanaz

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Long hiatus, so let’s get this show on the road!

Dear reader:

It’s been a while since my last op-ed piece but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been exciting and interesting developments going on in need of debate and examination. My intention in the beginning was to create a once a week op-ed piece that would explore diaspora, migration and identity politics happening everyday, whether it be in the Arts, Politics, Literature, etc.

But, life always presents bigger challenges and for this reason I have been MIA. However, since a new year has begun, there is always a chance to redress my absence and start with a clean slate.

Therefore, apologies for my prolonged absence. I hope that I’ll be able to spark thoughtful debate and insightful commentary in 2008.

Best wishes:

Sanaz

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engineers-ireland.jpg

Please click on the image to find out more about the contribution of the Irish to the British construction industry.

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