Monthly Archives: March 2012

Post the Sixty-Second or On Real Social Change

As many of you know, or are soon to find out, I am living in Boston right now to finish my degree. I cannot tell you how very excited I am to graduate and be back in Austin, but for now I’m here in Boston. And here in Boston our public transportation system is called the T. It includes busses, trains, light-rail trollies, commuter rails for those coming into and out of Boston, and ferries. The T, like public transportation elsewhere, is primarily used by people of color, young people and people who live in poor neighborhoods. They can’t afford to buy a car, so they have to take the T. It is literally the only way to get around the city if you don’t have a car because bikes cannot access some parts of the city.

Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the T is consistently underfunded and in debt. This is because all of the debt that the Big Dig (an expensive feat of unsurpassed magnitude in the field of tunnel engineering) accrued, which benefits mostly white middle and upper class car owners, is dumped on the back of the T and, by extension, the riders of the T. Young people, people of color and poor people end up paying for Big Dig debt. So how do the managers of the T propose to close that debt gap? Well, increase fares and cut services of course!

In the face of all this, T riders and those invested in making life livable for POC, poor people and young people (three groups which overlap immensely!) are doing massive organizing to push back against the hikes and cuts. Everyone from the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, to the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (a youth-led organization), to the T Riders Union to the T workers themselves have held protests, rallies and teach-ins. They call for a sustainable way to deal with the debt that doesn’t involve vital service cuts or hikes that make it inaccessible to those that need it most. They call for a reasonable, just and supportable way to handle the debt. They are asking for solutions that involve long-term sustainability and not band-aid fixes. They are asking that the state make the T a priority.

Basically, what they are asking for is that the government prioritize the needs of people of color and poor people. They are asking for economic justice.

But the government won’t do that.

Not because it’s not sensible or feasible. Not because they lack the resources. Not because it is too difficult logistically. No, the reason they won’t do it is because they have no reason to do it. They, the politicians and government, are in the pocket of corporations and Big Money. There is no reason for them to invest in the empowerment of oppressed peoples. Why would they invest in that when they can just continue to remain in power? There is no incentive for them to invest in the T because in doing so, they cut their profits and empower those people who are oppressed.

I know this sounds really pessimistic of me but think about it. In the past couple years, we have seen a consistant cuts against those safety nets that keep us afloat; from food stamps, to grants for higher education, to affordable housing and access to healthcare, just to name a few. And this during a time when companies are reporting record profits! Prices go up but we aren’t making any more money. Trickle down economics doesn’t work because we need more than just a trickle, we need a goddamn river! But the government will continue to ignore our needs because of all the money and lobbyists that those big corporations pour into the State House.

Real social change isn’t going to come from the State House nor from those who we elect. We have tried reforming the system and it hasn’t worked. Real social change will only come when we completely revolutionize and radicalize the way our society work so that power is truly accountable to those who are the most oppressed. Where power and resources are equitably shared.

It’s time we rise up and take matters into our own hands.


Post the Sixty-First or On the Unbearable Whiteness of College

It is a documented fact that poverty coincides greatly with skin color. By the measure of the last Census, the percentage of white people living in poverty was 14%. The percentage of Black people living in poverty is 36% and for Latino people it is 35%. That is more than half times more than the percentage for white people. The reason for this is manifold and outside of the scope of this piece. Suffice it to say that it is due in large part to an inheritance of enslavement and genocide. The point I am trying to make here is that more people of color live in poverty than do their white counterparts.

Education is often cited as the way out of poverty. People with bachelor’s degrees earn more than those with high school diplomas. People with master’s degrees earn more than people with bachelor’s and so on. With higher education, people say, one can make a better life for one’s self, especially if one grew up in poverty. Education is the price of admission into Middle America and the American Dream. There is no better way to pull yourself up by your bootstraps than going to school.

If this is the case, why are most college campuses so white? Here at Northeastern, 28% of the student body are people of color that were born in the US. In other words, the student body is primarily white. If education is the key out of poverty, why aren’t college campuses flooded with people of color?

My Advanced Writing class. There are 2 POC, including myself, in this class of 9.

The racists among us would cite the inherent laziness, stupidity and criminal nature of people of color. And while most people wouldn’t cop to that in those words, I can’t tell you how many times people have used coded language to say just that. For example, implying that so-and-so wouldn’t have gotten in if it wasn’t for affirmative action or, worse, that affirmative action is racist against white people. I remember once, after a presentation, a white classmate told me later, with surprise in his voice, “You are so articulate!” As if being articulate was a trait reserved for white people. Or saying that so-and-so isn’t, like, “stereotypically” black because look at the way they dress and they are doing so well in college!

Or worst yet, “28% of the students are people of color? That’s so diverse!”

Yeah… I have to keep Advil in my bag at all times, just in case.

I would counter these subtle, or not-so-subtle, racists that the reason why college campuses are so white is not because people of color are lazy or stupid or criminal but rather because of the systemic injustices that our education system has. There is very little support for people of color, who live in predominantly poor urban neighborhoods with shoddily funded schools, to get a decent high school education. Let alone a good one. Not only that but brown children, especially brown male children, are routinely disciplined much more harshly then their white counterparts. They are constantly being told that they are lazy, stupid and criminal. They are already written off as failures before anyone even says go.

And then there is the School to Prison Pipeline, which siphons underperforming youth into the juvenile justice system.

And even if they go to a decent school, with supportive and affirming teachers, the violence that often permeates their lives (which is due to more structural injustice) often prevents them from applying themselves to their studies and doing well. When one is worried if one will survive the walk home, it’s kinda hard to care if you are gonna pass a math exam.

Look at the all beautiful white people...

All in all, the deck is stacked against you if you are brown.  There is little to no support to help you succeed if you are a person of color. And most white people can conveniently ignore this because it doesn’t affect them; so who cares, right?

College campuses, including Northeastern, are mostly white because there is little to no investment in getting brown people to college. Those in power are not interested in empowering the disempowered and so the support is not there.

The other reason why Northeastern is so white is because this school does not provide enough financial support for low-income students. People of color and low-income people might get in, but without scholarship and grants, they cannot hope to afford to come here. Since middle-upper class and upper class families are usually white, it makes sense why they would make up most of the student body. When money is spent to build and power some foolish

Holy crap! Two black women! It seemed that all the POC on campus moved in groups. Strength in numbers!

piece of engineering “artwork” and finance a million dollar home for the president, it’s clear to see where the financial priorities of the university lay. I’ll give you a hint: not with students of color.

At this point you might say to me, “None of this is news, Morgan. Why write about it now?”

I write this now because even though none of it is news, it all bares repeating. Here at Northeastern, on a mostly white campus, it is exceedingly easy to ignore and write off the issues that don’t directly affect some of us. But by ignoring these issues, we are only contributing to them. As Desmond Tutu, the South African activist, once said,

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

I write this critique to spark conversation and engage this student body to move away from its lethargic, apolitical nature. For far to long we have languished in this space of “neutrality”, of aligning with the status quo through inaction. For far to long we have failed to interrogate and challenge not

One of the many quads. Trying to spot POC is like playing "Where's Waldo?"

only Northeastern administration but also those greater systems of power that keep us oppressed. College campuses used to be the center of social change and gave so much power movements that worked for change; The Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the Queer Rights Movement, just to name a few. Students have been at the forefront of so many movements. But that no longer seems to be the case. That main concern of students today is not how can we make this world a better place but where the next pseudo-frat party is.

I write this critique, also, to tell my Black and Brown sisters and brothers that they are not alone. I know that, for myself, the sense of isolation that I feel when people who do not share my struggle surround me is very corrosive to my spirit. I get discouraged, apathetic and frustrated. So I write this to not only remind myself of the importance of the struggle but also to remind you, dear reader, that you are not alone.

One thing is certain, however: to remain ignorant in the face of these struggles is to be part of the problem.


Post the Sixtieth or Like This

I remember her like this

Black hair, nappy and natural

Wrapped in a gaily colored scarf.

Like this

The way her body moved when she spoke

As graceful as a pirouette

As powerful as a hurricane.

Like this

 The way her laugh would start in her belly

Move through her body

And shake the whole room.

Like this

The way her voice would

fill with passion

When talking about teaching

Or the flute

Or beauty.

Like this

How she always found the brilliance

In anyone

Regardless of the mess left by someone else.

Like this

How her eyes would brighten with fury

At instances of injustice

How she would rage at the racism, sexism and queerphobia

That claimed the lives of those she called Family

How she would rant about the brokenness

Of America’s Public School System

And still pour her heart

Soul

Mind

Into trying to save just ONE brown child

From that monstrous machine that would grind us to dust

And jail the entrails.

But I also remember her like this

Body ravaged by the harsh toxins of Chemo

Hands, pale and peeling

Hair, graying and thinning

Eyes, fearful and sad.

Like this

How she showed up to teach every day that

She wasn’t felled by that life-prolonging poison.

Like this

How she lay in the hospital bed

Mind racing faster than the Hadron Collider and yet

Impotent to speak

Breathing labored harder than the contractions of revolutions and yet

Holding on to life with every last ounce of power left in her.

She told me once

I thought I would die alone

I took her hands into my own

(They were already cold)

And I told her

Never

You saved this brown child and you will

Never be alone.

I remember her like the warrior she was.


Post the Fifty-Ninth or Mi Madre

I wonder what it must’ve been like

For her tongue to wrap itself around

Foreign sounds

white sounds.

Calling her sisters

And telling them she was going to a home

That wasn’t surrounded by mountains

And trees of

Aguacate y Mangos

Tomate de árbol y Plátanos

A home that wasn’t encircled by

Fields of caña de azúcar y café

A home that wasn’t blooming with

Orchids and Magnolias.

But was instead surrounded by

Trees full of bare branches and heartache,

Soil barren with concrete and frustrated dreams,

Kitchen tables ringed with coffee stains and memories.

I wonder what it must have been like

To be chased out of a country

Only to steal into a nation that hated you

For being a victim

Of circumstances set up by that same state.

I wonder what it must have been like to try and

assimilate into the fabric of Middle America

Where barriers of language and skin make

assimilation impossible.

 To swear to never have kids

Never go to america

And then eat your words.

I wonder what it must have been like

To give birth to a boy

And have her grow up a girl

To watch her change

Like an artist perfecting their work

Seeing her manifest more fully

Into her body

In ways that might frighten

Her for the realness of it.

I wonder it must be like

To live in ameríca

Having all the comforts that the West can offer

And only want to go back

And eat from the tree

That fed her when she was young.

Life is full of contradictions and

My mother is a strong woman.


Post the Fifty-Eighth or My Body is NOT Public Property

Before my transition, when I was presenting as male, I could walk down the street or take the train late at night relatively free of fear. No one turned their heads as I walked pass or undressed me with their eyes. No one made unwanted or unreciprocated advances. No one followed me home. Unless they were homophobic and read me as gay, I usually walked through the world free of the fear of harassment.

Now, 3+ years years into my transition, I am almost always read as a woman. I have a lot of passing privilege and a lot of pretty girl privilege. And I’m certainly not complaining about that. I love the way I look, the way I present myself today and I know that it is only because of my relative class privilege that I was able to transition early and have access to the health insurance necessary to transition safely and effectively. Not to mention the fact that my family didn’t disown me or kick me out of my home, which is a HUGE blessing. I don’t know where I would be today if that weren’t the case. I have been very, very, lucky.

What I am complaining about, and what frustrates me to no end, is the fact that now that I am read as a woman, I’m getting harassed nearly everyday! I can’t tell you how many times someone has assaulted me with their eyes or made unwanted advances all with the unspoken assumption that I MUST reciprocate, validate and want that attention. I cannot enumerate for you all the occasions in which some cis, straight, man (both white and brown) has harassed me in public. Obviously, some are worse then others (I’ve only been followed home once but being stared down happens almost everyday) but they all contribute my general sense of dis-ease and wariness when I’m out and about. What, then, is the under lying cause of this?

It is because brown women’s bodies are considered public property.

The reason for this is because we exist in a racist, sexist and cissexist society that places ownership on, and strips agency from, anything that is not white, male, cisgender, straight, able-bodied etc. From the exotification of Black and Brown women in the media (you know, the Foxy Brown Lady who constantly oozes sex and wants to sleep with EVERY white guy) to the majority of sex workers being Black and Brown, it’s clear that our bodies are free-game to whomever wants a grab.

If you are a brown transwoman, then you are doubly fetishized not only as “exotic” but also as “freaky” or “strange” or that you are not truly a woman, so that the man that you have to sleep with will get “best of both worlds”. On top of that, if a white person is dating a brown woman then  he has “jungle fever” and will eventually leave her for a civilized, marriable white woman.

And we must never forget the long, brutal, history of white slaveowners raping their black slaves. The long brutal history of white conquistadors abducting and raping Native women. All of them thinking that this was the right and proper order in “God’s” world because brown people are inferior and white people must manifest destiny.

This is not a thing of the past, either. This system that is alive and well today strips us of our agency and appropriates our sexuality as it’s own. In the minds of most white men, especially in a subconscious level if they haven’t interrogated their own privilege, our sexual agency and freedom of choice is in their hands and they call the shots. And to deny them results in retaliation and physical/sexual assault. This all might have gone underground but it still manifests in subtle, insidious ways.

And while the sex-positivity movement and the sex worker rights movement has done a lot to challenge this and articulate the need for consent, most of these primarily white movements have failed to incorporate the effect of white supremacy into their power analysis. Many women of color can’t find power in the world slut, for example, because of what racism as wrought on their bodies. Claiming the identity of slut will put us in greater danger because we are sluts by default and our sexualities are not our own. Much of the sex worker activism is done by white, hotel- or home-based sex workers who are, in many ways, free of harassment and are able to take only the clients that they want. Little is done to reach out to poor, street-based sex workers of color, both transgender and cisgender, or to represent and advocate for their needs and concerns.

How, then, do we interrupt, interrogate, and begin to dismantle this system of power? The first thing is to shed light on to this unspoken problem. We start by talking about it, with each other. We share our stories with one another for solidarity and healing. We share our stories so that we know that we are not alone and we can begin to organize. And by organizing, we can start to manifest a world in which EVERYONE can walk through this world free from harassment.

I would invite all of my brown sisters of any gender to share their stories in the comments, if they so choose. I would also encourage everyone to watch the video below and visit Meet Us On The Street to find out how to get involved in International Anti-Street Harassment Week.


Post the Fifty Seventh or Familia

They lay next to me

The both of them

One dark

One light

And I somewhere in Between

Their skin pressed up against the other

Each of us holding

Those parts of ourselves

That needed to be held

In that silence

I could hear their blood pump

And I wonder

What does it mean to be family?

Is family

Those with whom you share

Ancestry

And blood?

Is family

Those with whom you share

Spirit

And Narrative?

Is family

Those people who

Make your soul sing

With concertos of beauty

Who still the cacophony

That governs our lives?

Is family

those people who

Birthed you

Raised you

Held you when you scraped your knee

Who sweated, bled and cried so that you

Could have a better life?

Is family

Those with whom you

Are rooted

In common struggle

Or common land?

But how great is the difference between

The blood that runs through my veins

And the blood that courses through my lover’s?

Family is the blood that we

choose.


Post the Fifty-Sixth or Bound

I’m flying

Hurtling through the air at speeds

That would break even the Fiercest of

Falcons

I used to dream of flying

The freedom, I imagined, would be unlike

Anything else

Free from the destruction

That (wo)man inflicts on herself

Free from the racism, transphobia and misogyny

That so frames my life

And yet

I feel nothing but chained

Bound to a destination not of my

Choosing

Constrained by a system that demands

Letters

After one’s name in order to be

Heard

Fettered by the longing

To be with him

To be pressed up against him

Like pages in a book

To smell the softness of his skin

And feel the tenderness of his gaze

To reach across the bed without looking

And know that he was there

To feel his kindness against my

Bitter wound

A healing balm that

Eases my cynicism

I long for him

Like the moon longs for the sun

A longing that binds us both

through forces governed by

Mother Nature

Herself

Gravity always pulls us into the

Center