Category Archives: Social Justice

Post the Ninth 2 or On the State and Activism

It has been a hard week.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court gutted the Voters Right Act. They basically said that the high voter registration of people of color and the fact that we elected a Black president means that we no longer need to ensure that people of color are not disenfranchised. Now, states do not need to submit their voting regulations to the federal government for approval. This means that states have the autonomy to change their procedures as they like, like instituting literacy tests and having a voter ID. It is the a huge blow against all of the work that the Civil Rights Movement built. It amazes me how so many decades of struggle can be undone in one day. It amazes me how many people died in Selma and other places in the South to try to vote and how easily the Supreme Court spit on their legacy. Our elders went through hell to pass that bill and in the blink of an eye it is gone.

Already, several states in the South have vowed to implement voter ID laws and early voting restrictions that were prohibited by the sections of the VRA that the court struck down. Because thats the thing; as much as the State and the Media would like to tell us, we are not post-racial. We do not live in a world that doesn’t see color. And anyone who tells you that is a fucking liar. The evidence that racism is still institutional is plain to see. From higher incarceration rates for Black and Brown folks, to Native families still being torn apart, to the higher rates of violence and murder to trans women of color, to the constant attack on reproductive rights, one can plainly see that racial justice has not been served. Almost 50 years since the start of the Civil Rights Movement, we are still not free. We are still struggling against colonialism and genocide.

But even though it is plain to us, it is not plain to white people. Because they don’t have to experience it like we do, they do not need to look at it. In fact, the system is set up so that white people can ignore it. This is called systemic white ignorance. In a nut shell, this means that white folks are choosing not to believe that these things still happen because to do so would admit being a guilty for the subjugation of others. On top of that, people of color are dehumanized at every turn and so white folks can more easily ignore the injustices made against us because we are not seen as fully human. They choose to ignore it because they can.

One of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement was to gain full access to State participation. They were struggling for recognition as full fledged citizens of the United States. They wanted to be fully protected and equal under the law. They were organizing to have full voting access, to be represented in legislative bodies. And I want to honor their struggle. I know that I am here because of them. I want to honor their legacy. However, if I’ve learned anything in these short years of my life, it is that the State will not protect me. The State, which is one of the biggest perpetrators of racial, gender and class violence will not fix the problems that it created. The State is predicated on colonial, patriarchal and genocidal logic. You cannot fix a system that was never broken. The system was designed this way. It was intentional.

The only reason why SB5 didn’t pass last night in the state legislature is because over 2000 people were holding the State accountable. Otherwise, they would have passed that shit, no problem.

So as I see the State continue to legislate against Black and Brown bodies, against women, against queer and trans people of color, I am continually reminded that the Masters tools will not dismantle the Masters house. I am recommitting myself to the revolutionary actions of my ancestors. I am recommitting myself to the collective liberation of all people. I am recommitting myself to dismantling the Masters house from the outside, using art and collective struggle across difference to bring down those systems that want to destroy me.

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Post the Eighth 2 or On Juneteenth and Modern Day Slavery

I want to start this by saying as a non-black Latin@ that I have less of a stake in this. While my people today are subject to increased targeting by the prison-industrial complex, my people were not subject to slavery in the North. As a mestiza from Colombia and Puerto Rico, I am unsure of what legacy I have with colonization and slavery. I write this for my non-black sisters and brothers, so that we can talk about the ways that slavery still effect us.

Today is Juneteenth. It is the day that commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas. While the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal in all of the United States in 1863, it didn’t roll out to all of the states until 1865 when the Union army came to Texas to enforce it 2 years later. In fact, Texas down right ignored the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union army had to take over the Texas government to make it happen.

Today is a day of celebration. It is the marking of a great victory. The liberation of a people from bondage. It is a commemoration that change can happen. And that often the change only comes at the point of a gun. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Union army, or even Abraham Lincoln, freed the slaves because the believed in the liberation of the slaves. It was all about winning the war and having Texas conform to the federal law. Lincoln himself said that if he could have won the war without freeing slaves, he would have.

Which brings me to today. Yes, we should celebrate. Because something is better then nothing. However, our work as abolitionist is not done. We are not yet free. You see, when Lincoln wrote the 13th amendment, he outlawed slavery except when it was the punishment of a crime. Slavery is still legal. And the prison-industrial complex is the logical extension of chattel slavery. Black and brown people are still being targeted at an alarming rate for incarceration. The sentences that black and brown people face are much harsher then for their white counterparts. And all too often they are convicted of crimes that were necessary for their survival. The inheritance of slavery is still plain to see in the generational poverty that Black folks have and the generational wealth that white folks have access too.

Whats more, folks who are funneled into the prison system then become virtually free labor for multinational corporations. Companies like Victoria Secret, Microsoft, Forever 21, Boeing etc all use prison labor to make their products. And these prisoners make pennies a day. On top of that, private prisons are booming and the prison industry is now a many billion dollar industry. The government and corporations are still reaping profit from the bodies of black and brown people. And it starts young. Young people of color are being targeted at alarming rates by schools and are being funneled into the prison system. And once in, it is very difficult to escape.

The prison-industrial complex is the result of 400 hundred years of colonial, patriarchal and capitalist violence. It is the tool of the state to continue to commit genocide against black and brown communities. Instead of private ownership, bodies are now owned by the state and given to the profit of corporations.

The other thing that is interesting to me is how the movement against human trafficking has capitalized on the term “modern day slavery” to paint women who are trafficked as helpless victims. Don’t get me wrong, I think that human trafficking is a terrible thing that should be stopped. No one should be forced to do things against their will. However, the response that anti-human trafficking advocates have is to further criminalize sex work and to rely on state power and incarceration. This not only makes things harder for sex workers who aren’t trafficked but also doesn’t address the underlying reasons for human trafficking, namely colonial and state violence. All of the solutions that the mainstream anti-trafficking movements advocates for actually make the lives of trafficked women harder. All the while obscuring the very real ways bodies are being owned here in the US. Because the anti-human trafficking movement frames the problem as something that happens in other countries and not here in the US. And that the way to save all of those poor brown women is through imperial violence and conquest.

But the state will not protect you. You cannot solve a problem with the problem. And we are none of us free, until we are all free.

(Check out this post for more information on prison abolition and anarchist people of color.) 


Post the Seventh 2 or On Social Capital and the Queer Community

Last Monday I helped organize a town hall about race, class and transmisogyny in queer performance in Austin. The weeks leading up to it were stressful and frustrating. We, as the organizers, were getting a lot of push back and critiques on how we were organizing the event. And often times, we were down right harassed and called names. It was hard for me to continually get updates from the Facebook event page with mostly negative responses.

But we pulled together and really carried each other through each moment. It was a very intense bonding experience and I have grown to appreciate these people in ways that are profound. I know I would not have been able to get through it if it were not for them.

Something that really struck me through this entire process was the amount of social capital involved in creating this event and in calling out the folks who were being fucked up. Social capital is loosely defined as the relationships and networks that people have that allow them to do certain things. Conversely, it talks about the way that the social networks that we have allow us to avoid doing certain things, like survival sex work etc. It also defines the ways in which certain folks have access to social capital and social support and what that access looks like. And in a lot of ways it talks about who gets a pass on certain kinds of behavior and who doesn’t.

Of course, we as organizers had access to social capital in order to organize this event and get people to show up. We definitely reached out to our friends and networks in order to mobilize folks to come and to speak. The fact that we were the organizers gave us a measure of power over how the event looked like and what was gonna go down.

However, on the Facebook page for the event, there were constant demands for transparency in the organizing team. Those folks with greater social capital in the community came for us about our accessibility, what our intentions for organizing this event were, and who we were. There were even calls to postpone our event so that full community accountability and participation could be achieved.

Don’t get me wrong; I think community accountability  transparency and participation is hella important. And in many ways, we as organizers strove to be all of those things. My issue, however, is that other organizations and events, and even the person who was posing most of these questions, are not being held to such a rigorous standard. Nobody was asking the organizers of Poo Poo Platter or Queerbomb to be fully transparent about their intentions, who their organizing team is, to ensure complete safety and community participation.

The other thing that was occurring was that the folks that we were calling out, the folks who had racist or otherwise fucked up elements in their performances, were being commended for their bravery. They were commended for the fact that they were present. And while I definitely recognize that it takes courage to show up to something you know is going to be uncomfortable and challenging, I can’t help but wonder how much of this adulation is actually deserved. When I step on someone’s toe, I don’t get a special award for apologizing or being present for someone else’s pain. This is just what decent human being do when they have harmed another. So why are they praised so highly for doing something that should just be expected?

The answer to this, I think, is their access to social capital. As prominent and well liked performers, they are going to have access to much more social capital then we have. As folks with more community power, they are going to be able to get away with much more than we would. Moreover, as mostly white or light-skinned folks, they are going to be seen in a more sympathetic light than we were.

The other thing too was that we were painted as divisive. We were the ones who were causing the trouble. While at the same time, it was the fucked up performances that started these conversations and isn’t that so great? The feats of intellectual acrobatics to hold both of those things is rather boggling. We are at the same time held as the source of the problem and the ones reacting to the problem.

I was also amazed that through this whole process I was, arguably, the most fiercely attacked of all of the organizers. Detractors were calling me out by name, saying how much of a liar I am, how I had an agenda against the folks we were calling out and how I should be removed from the organizing of this event because I am not a credible source of information. I was the only trans woman of color on the organizing committee and I got the most shit.

Over and over again, in the town hall, I heard white queers say, “If we don’t come together to have these conversations than nothing will change. If we stay segregated, nothing will change.” And it frustrated me because that again elides the fact that we are not on a level playing field. White and light skinned folks have greater access to all kinds of capital than people of color and dark skinned folks. Those in power will have more leeway and be able to dictate the terms of the conversation. We cannot come together to talk about these things without acknowledged the differences of access and power.

The biggest lesson that I learned through this whole process is that I cannot commit my energies to talking to white folks. I cannot focus on trying to change them because I can’t. And because it just creates more trauma for myself, for my partner and my community.

What I need to focus on is creating community with other queer people of color. Because in pouring my energy into that, I can begin to heal and start to form those networks that contribute to my survival and my flourishing.


Post the Sixth 2 or On The Labor Movement and Transmisogyny

Another Black trans woman was found murdered the other day. The details of her death are so similar to the other deaths, that I avoided reading about it for a while. Articles like that upset me for many reasons and once I get drawn in, its hard for me to surface again with hope.

But I cannot run forever.

So I read the articles. And of course there was mispronouning, using wrong names, using mug shots, delving into her past that might be relevant as to why she was murdered (i.e. the fact that she was harassed and brutalized by the police)  but completely missing the point and only serving to further dehumanize her.

Even in death, the way we are spoken about by the mainstream cishet world is traumatizing and violent. Even in death, trans women of color cannot escape the trauma of colonialism and genocide. And I can’t help but think about trans day of remembrance  which is almost always all white trans women organizing and present for it and almost all trans women of color dead and being “remembered”.

Our bodies are exploited by white trans and queer folks to further their assimilation into colonial power. They use our deaths to justify their inclusion in heteropatriarchy.

I can’t help but make connection between this and May Day. May Day is International Workers Day. It is a day that marks the successes of the Labor Movement here and internationally. It is a recognition that globalization and capitalism exploits billions of people for the benefit of very few.

The bodies of trans women of color are exploited in a similar manner. We do not own our own labor, our own deaths. The labor of our deaths are exploited by the mainstream queer rights movement to prove why assimilation, inclusion the military and the strengthening of the prison industrial complex will keep white queers safe. Our deaths are exploited to sell shit like marriage equality. We are not allowed the dignity to determine what our deaths will mean.

It is amazing to me just how different forms of oppression intersect and interact with each other. I’m constantly learning just how deep this shit goes and it confirms for me even more that we will not be free unless we take down all of these systems simultaneously.


Post the Fifth 2 or On the Boston Bombings and Drone Strikes

First of all, my heart goes out to all the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing. I am so, so grateful that my family and friends are safe. I can only imagine the fear and a deep-seated apprehension that must have settled all over the city. I’m not sure what I would have done if I was still in Boston. But I do know that I would be writing.

Writing helps me sort through my thoughts and bring order to my mind. I’ve had a lot of emotions running through me the past few days. Fear that my family had been hurt. Worry that more attacks my come. And yet I am not surprised. This type of violence is common in many parts of the world. US imperialism is constantly waging war against Third World people. This state of fear is common place in areas like Pakistan, Palestine and Yemen. To me, this seems like another manifestation of imperialist violence. Another bomb in a long line of bombs stretching back to Columbus.

There has been such an outpouring of love and support for Boston and the victims of the bombing. It is amazing to see the bravery of those folks who witness the disaster first hand and do what they can to help. All over my Facebook and Tumblr, as well as in person, I have seen people express deep sympathy and solidarity with Boston. I have seen so much rage at the people who did this. But I wonder, where is all of this rage and love and solidarity for the victims of drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen? Where is the outcry for the dead innocents aboard?

And I wonder if that 8 year old boy had been Black, would he have been as mourned as he is now?

Of course, I already know the answer to these questions. Its natural to react more strongly to things that happen closer to you. It is easier to dehumanize that which you will never see or interact with. And our culture of systemic white ignorance keeps most people from realizing what is happening or even caring. But this does not make the reality any less disheartening.

And I worry about what sort of racist backlash we are in store for. Already, a Saudi student was accused of being a suspect by the media, when in actually he was injured by the blast. Two men were taken off of a plane because they spoke “Arabic“. A “be on the lookout” alert has gone out for a “tall, dark-skinned man wearing a black hoodie and a black backpack”, which is probably the vaguest, and most lethal, description ever. I have many friends who fit this description but none of them are, of course, involved  But that is not going to matter. What is going to matter is the racialized panic that is going to envelop Boston and make like much, much harder for brown folks, especially folks who “look” Muslim.

Already I am seeing on my Facebook patriotic calls for revenge. And that scares me more than anything because that patriotism is under girded by white supremacy and imperialism. And patriots rarely care if their victims were actually responsible for the crimes that they are accused of.

I also wonder how this will affect victims of domestic violence. Almost always, disasters put victims of DV at greater risk.

I don’t say this to minimize the pain or the suffering or the fear that is going on in Boston right now. Rather, I encourage us to hold all of these truths together. I encourage us to stand in solidarity with all victims of violence and understand the ways in which we are complicit in imperial violence here and abroad. I ask that you remember the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and the victims of drone strikes.  I ask that my friends in Boston, and elsewhere, resist the urge to buy into the panic that the media will be selling us.

Most importantly, take care of yourself. Take care of each other. If you feel like this stuff is getting to you, reach out. There is a Disaster Distress Helpline that can help you through this. It is times like these that really show the mettle of our character. I would hope that we can act out of compassion rather than fear.


Post the One Hundredth or On Radical Compassion

This is for the anon who asked what radical compassion means. For me, the common understanding of compassion is that we sympathize with those who are suffering and seek to ameliorate their suffering. Because of their suffering, they are deserving of our pity. We feel bad of them and so we do what we can to help. And while this is all well and good,  there is a very shallow understanding of the root of suffering or why people suffer. Put in another way, regular compassion just seeks to make someone feel better. It is a Pollyanna, “lets all just get along”, “you poor thing here is a cookie” response to suffering. It is individualistic and fails to see the bigger picture. It sees suffering as an unfortunate occurrence that exists in a vacuum that lacks context. Regular compassion is silent on why people suffer.

And those who experience suffering have access to this type of compassion only if they behave in appropriate ways. In other words, you only get compassion if you play nice and don’t make anyone uncomfortable.

Radical compassion, on the other hand, stands in solidarity with those who are suffering. It examines the interpersonal, systemic, institutional and structural reasons for suffering. It seeks to locate the individual sufferer within the greater social context. It understands that suffering is systemic and that those under more axises of oppression generally suffer more. Radical compassion seeks to challenge these causes of suffering and allows the sufferer the freedom to react and engage with their suffering in anyway that they see fit. In other words, those who are suffering are allowed to rage and scream and be angry and still receive compassion. Radical compassion does not pity the sufferer. Rather, it seeks to fight with the sufferer to end suffering.

Radical compassion seeks to end suffering on a systemic level. Regular compassion just seeks to help out the individual sufferer. And that is ok, as far as it goes. But I don’t think it goes far enough.

Another way to describe radical compassion is by saying that it is fiercely gentle. It has your back and understands where you are coming from and seek justice with you.


Post the Ninety-Ninth or On White Atheists and Knowledge Production

I recently reactivated my OkCupid account because my partner is out of town and I get lonely. So far, however, I’ve gotten mostly douchebags messaging me. One in particular bothered me. I messaged this guy because I thought we had a lot in common and might get along well. He replies by saying, “I’m not interested in people who believe in pseudoscience.” I was confused, what did he mean by “pseudoscience.” So I asked him and he replied, “Astrology and tarot cards.” Mind you, this person only knows what I wrote in my profile and so I’m a little bewildered why he would write me off so quickly.

I look at his profile again and written in big bold letters is, “I am an Atheist.”

Of course.

I reply, “Wow. Ok. Well, enjoy your patriarchally assigned designation of what is and isn’t valid.”

He then accuses me of being ignorant and that I should go take an upper level physics course.

That’s the problem I have with atheists, and white atheists in particular. They think that their way of viewing the world is superior to all other ways and that if you do believe differently, you are somehow unintelligent and inferior. Only simpletons would believe in such superstitious nonsense! But the thing is, science and knowledge that is produced by the West has just as much dogma as anything else. It is subject to biases, prejudices and injustices. But white/western atheists would have us believe that they are the only ones who are truly “objective”.

Atheist are quick to dismiss any world view that does not agree with their own and yet

The other reason why it bothers me is because white folks/the West is positioned as the arbiters of knowledge. Knowledge is only considered valid if white folks produced it. From academia to medicine to law, the only knowledge that matters is the kind sanctioned by the white establishment. How many times have we seen studies that say, “Hey! Racism is still a thing!” published by white folks? And of course the the only people who are shocked are other white people.  People of color have been talking about that shit forever, but only until it is approved/stolen by white people does it have any “credibility”.

So when white atheists look down their narrow noses on “superstitious” brown people like myself, I know that a lot of that is couched in the white supremacist ideology that knowledge produced by white people is the only objective and valid kind of knowledge.

Further, the kind of knowledge that black and brown folks have access to is considered inferior. PoC, and particularly WoC, are underrepresented in the sciences and the academy. Either because we don’t have the social capital to be visible or we just can’t afford it, a lot of PoC cannot afford to go to school. But that doesn’t make them less intelligent. They just need to learn from different sources, whether that be from the streets or at the knee of their abuela. The knowledge and knowings of survival and hustle that is produced by poor and working class people of color is undervalued and under appreciated.

The production of knowledge by white institutions have constantly invalidated and erased people of color, women of color, queers of color, etc. And many times, the white establishment has stolen wholesale from communities of color and patented knowledge produced by people of color as their knowledge. This is one of the ways that white supremacy, capitalism and heteropatriarchy hold on to their power. Because the people who produce the knowledge, that says what truths are valid, control the way we think and what we believe.

If we want to create a world that is free from marginalization, than we need to take the production of knowledge into our own hands. We need to realize that there is more than one way to view the world and that just because they are different doesn’t make one inferior over the other. We need to theorizing about our own lives and speaking truths that make sense to us. Most of all, we need to throw away the idea that if you are educated in certain things that you are more objective, more intelligent and more worthy of being listened too. We need to realize that we are all intelligent and creative people.