Monthly Archives: June 2012

Post the Seventy Eighth or On Racism and Rape Culture

Last Friday, a white gay man grabbed my ass. I was so startled that I just glared at him and walked away. Later that evening, I run into him again and he whistles at me. I very clearly state that I do not want him to touch my ass and instead of respecting my desire, he laughs and grabs my ass anyway.

This triggered all sorts of memories of past sexual trauma and I felt panicky and depressed the rest of the weekend. More than that, though, I was struck by the blatant disregard for my boundaries and my body. This white gay man thought my desire to not be touched so ridiculous that he laughed. He felt so entitled to my body that he did not care what my wishes were. My right to self-autonomy meant less than nothing to him.

But it gets worse.

I posted on my Facebook about what happened and I specifically named the whiteness of my assailant. And while I had many of my friends write messages of support, I had several white “friends” interrogate me as to what “race had to do with it”. They varied from “race has nothing to do with it” to “why are you so racist?” “quit playing the race card” to “any Latina that I know would have slapped him” to “if you don’t like white people, leave America”.

This is the additional way that rape culture manifests for people of color. On top of street harassment and victim blaming, which tells people that they are responsible for being sexually assaulted and puts the onus of proving their assailant’s guilt on the victim. On top of rape jokes and the sexualization of rape in the media, women of color are silenced when they name the whiteness of their attackers. They are interrogated as to why they were victimized by a white man. They are accused of being racist for exposing the way white supremacy attempts to own brown bodies. And even at the same time that it denies that race exists, it thrusts racial caricatures on to the victim.

If I had written gay man, instead of white gay man, everyone who read that status would have assumed that he was white. This is because white is the “natural setting” for any human and anything different is automatically other. In order for one to know that someone is talking about a Black man, one needs to say Black man.

But when I name my assailants whiteness, when I interrupt the assumption that people are naturally white, it is suddenly I, the victim of sexual violence, who is in the wrong. The conversation, which should be focused on what kind of support I need, instead focuses on their demands for me to educate them on the role of whiteness in sexual harassment.

And this is rape culture at its finest because it compels me to give more of myself, of my experience, to my oppressors. Under the guise of debate, it claims a right to my victimization as theirs. The racialized nature of rape culture also allowed them to completely ignore my pain/needs as a survivor of harassment and place priority on their hurt feelings; despite the fact that this was never about them. It also allows them to ignore the systemic and historical factors that play into the sexual assault of brown women by white men.

The reason for this is because rape culture is really all about ownership. It is about arbitrating who owns whom and who has power of whom. In this case, rape culture lays claim not only onto women and gender non-conforming bodies but also any bodies that are not white. Further, rape cultures seeks to erase itself and does this by masking itself behind the Purity Myth.

In class, we saw the movie the Purity Myth that, among other things, talked about how Western society’s obsession with “virginity”. What was particularly interesting to me was how this myth of virginity promulgates rape culture. This is because the standard that Purity demands is impossible to attain or attainable by very, very few women. For one to be Pure, one must at the same time be sexy but not sexual, white, thin, cisgender, able bodied and neurotypical. Purity demands that you divorce yourself from many things that make you a living creature. And at the root of this is patriarchal control of desire.

This reinforces rape culture because when women inevitably fall, and it is inevitable, it creates a feedback loop that proves that women “deserve” to be sexually assaulted because they are not Pure which than reinforces the myth.

But a person of color can never be Pure, because Purity is predicated on whiteness, so that means that women of color always deserve to be raped. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Lorena Garcia’s article, “Now Why Do You Want To Know About That?”. In it, she details the experiences of several young Latina women when they received sex education in public school. More often than not, the sex educators assumed that young Latinas were already experienced in sexual matters. They assumed that their partners weren’t going to use protection and thus didn’t need to learn about it. They were also not encouraged to ask questions because that was perceived as being “too interested” in sex.

The underlying assumption here is that Latinas are hypersexual and thus always sexually available. Their bodies are public property and consent need not be given for any sort of sexual interaction. Young brown bodies are further commodified by their representation in the mainstream media, which is controlled by white men.

And it is this, which forms the foundation that justifies the rape of Latinas (and other women of color), which is in turn supported by rape culture.

All systems of power and oppression are interdependent and nowhere is this clearer than in white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. These two bedfellows must be challenged simultaneously if any lasting change is going to be effected. I will continue to name whiteness when it must be named. I will continue to expose the ways in which white supremacy tries to disguise itself. I will continue to challenge whiteness, especially if it makes white people uncomfortable, because my survival and the survival of my people is bound up in the eradication of white supremacy. I will continue to interrogate whiteness even if it scares me.

      I refuse to be a victim any longer.

Advertisements

Post the Seventy-Seventh or On Accountability

For those of you who don’t know, I used to work for an organization called Out Youth. As you could guess, Out Youth is a queer youth organization that strives to “promote the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social well being” of queer and trans* young people. In other words, they seek to empower queer young people so that they can become leaders in their community. Out Youth is a crisis prevention organization because it gives young people the tools and community necessary to survive. It gives some young people the access to family, support and community that might not be offered at home. I know Out Youth has forever changed my life.

And it was, without a doubt, my favorite job. I got to work with amazing, inspiring young people all day long. I was constantly surrounded by a queer family that I knew had my back. I was working with some badass organizers who were working on the ground, creating safe spaces for queer young people all over Texas. I was working to empower young people to fight for the lives they wanted today and not just wait for it to “get better”. And I loved it. I would come in everyday and these young people would teach me what was really good.

Unfortunately, however, I lost that job. But it wasn’t because I was bad at my job or not meeting my goals. And it was not because the youth felt that I was oppressive or problematic and wanted me fired. I was fired for trying to hold the board of directors accountable. I was fired for organizing the young people against the board of directors. I was fired for trying to revolutionize the organization so that power was centered with the young people.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no saint. I certainly fucked up and made mistakes. I said several things that probably would have been better heard in a private forum. I’m a hothead and my sharp tongue sometimes gets the best of me. And I have a long way to go in learning how to engage to transform. However, nothing that I has ever said have been untrue. And I was always accountable to the young people that I served.

The board of directors, however, is anything but accountable to the young people that they purport to serve. And no action displays this lack of accountability more than in their recent hiring of Aubrey Wilkerson as the new Executive Director. This is the same Aubrey who was the board chair of Out Youth. You know, the same board that hires the Executive Director (I won’t even get into how shady that is). The same Aubrey who squandered a surplus, failed to raise enough money for the organization (despite being a professional fundraiser) and made only a token effort to include young people in the decision making process. This is the same Aubrey that talked down to and misgendered many youth. The same Aubrey who fails to address racial and economic justice at Out Youth and disrespected the only staff member of color on multiple occasions.

What’s more is that the hiring committee (which only had one youth member, even though a youth run and led organization would/should have had more youth than adult members on any decision making body) didn’t even recommend Aubrey to the board for consideration. When they recommended three different people, instead of picking one of those three, the Board went back to review applications and hired Aubrey. Let me repeat that again. The board of directors hired someone that had a direct influence on the decision because they were the goddamn board chair for 4 goddamn years. They hired someone that wasn’t even recommended.

I can’t even.

Now, I don’t claim to speak for the youth. Only they can speak for themselves. But from what I understand, in my time involved in Out Youth, Aubrey has never been liked by most of the youth. I have countless stories where Aubrey’s self-importance was very off putting, especially to trans youth and youth of color. I have so many stories of youth not even knowing who Aubrey was until Lisa Rogers was fired. I have so many stories of youth not feeling heard by Aubrey.

So, not only did the board hire someone who had a stake in the decision-making process (even if he “temporarily” resigned as board chair) but they hired someone who the young people don’t even like. I see where the board might be coming from. They hope that Aubrey will raise those millions that he did at his last job. But what good does millions do if there are no youth? Because that is what this decision is going to do. Its going to push youth out of Out Youth.

What, than, does accountability look like? It looks like changing the structure of the organization so that young people have more power than the adults. It means that all decisions must have final approval by the young people. It means that we empower the young people and give them the tools to drive the organization in the direction that they choose. This is more than just asking for their input. It means integrating young people into every decision making process and giving the young people the knowledge and tools to do that. It means that the adult allies must remain allies and act in support roles only.

But most of all accountability means that we, as adult allies with adult privilege, keep our privilege in check. It means that we don’t take up to much space, that we don’t dominate conversations. It means stepping back and allowing young people to take charge. It means we don’t treat young people like children or think that they can’t handle the responsibility. Accountability means that when we fuck up, because we will, we don’t get defensive. We apologize and don’t do it again.

Accountability means that we do not recreate the systems of power and oppression that exist in society within our own organizations. Within our own families.

So I call upon the Out Youth board of directors. Be accountable to the young people that you serve. Show your willingness to work with young people by renouncing your power. Show your desire to really empower young people by restructuring the organization to give them power. Show your dedication to social justice by being just.

And young people, never forget that they are nothing with out you. There is no Out Youth without youth. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. The people united shall never be defeated. Its time to take your organization back. Force them to be accountable to you. Its time to create something new.


Post the Seventy-Sixth or Who Knows Best?

They thought

They had trounced me

Forced me

To relinquish

My secrets

Bent me

To their blood soaked

Will

They thought

That their dun colored

Machinations

Could subdue me

Their corrosive pigments

Reduce me

Their all-too-human desires

Consume me

But I am forever

Dreaming

Of days filled with rainbow

Sunlight

I am forever

Sowing

Acorns of chaos-ridden

Rebellion

I am forever

Threshing

The chaff of stupidity

From the wheat of sagacity

Those children that resist

Exist

In the marrow of my bones

Gathering hidden

In moist dark corners

Growing

When seasons shift

Regimes die

And Mother always

Knows best