Tag Archives: anti-racism

Post the Sixty-Ninth or On Why Exotic is NOT a Compliment

The other day I was working at my coffeeshop and this white hippie woman comes in. She had two short braids and a number of necklaces adorning her neck and chest. She orders a double espresso over ice and as I take her money she says, “You are very beautiful.” I smile and thank her for the compliment but she wasn’t done. “Yeah,” she says, “You are so exotic looking. You have a very exotic beauty. Where are you from?”

It was like a record needle screeching to a halt. I blinked twice. How did this “compliment” start off so lovely and end so disastrously? I give her what she is asking for, if only to get rid of her, “My mother is from Colombia,” I say.

She replies, “Oh yeah. Your people are so magical. They really had it figured out. I went to South America to study with some shamans…”

At this point, it’s all I can do from throwing scalding hot coffee in her face and tell her to go fuck herself.

This is just one example of the objectification and commodification of PoC and non-Western cultures for the easy consumption of white folk. By labeling me “exotic” and calling my people “magical” she was otherizing me and my people. I’m a fucking first generation American, not some noble Native princess. In trying to give me a “compliment” she only succeeded in stripping me of my humanity and reduced me to a caricature. She completely erased all of my struggles, fears, triumphs, hopes and dreams and placed me in this tiny little box so that she could feel comfortable with my brownness. My otherness challenges her whiteness and so she erases my personhood to feel comfortable with me.

The reason for this is because being “exotic” means that you are not natural. My brown skin, full lips and wild hair are all aberrations from the norm. I am not white, so I must be from some mystical, far-flung land. I am not strange or unique. And most importantly, my brownness makes me an object to be consumed by my white counterparts.

And she did this to not only me but also to South America and all of its inhabitiants. Because, you know, we are all magical and different countries/nationalities don’t exist when you are magical!

And she can do this because she has the societal power of whiteness.

I am so tired of being a stranger in a land that, in all honesty, I have more of a right to than these white folk whose ancestors colonized mine. And the worst part is that if I called her out on her racist bullshit, she either would have started crying or get defensive or turn and call me racist! And that is one of the most egregious aspects of white supremacy today; if you call bullshit, the white folk deny that they are complicit in it, and they call you a racist for accusing them of racism! It’s so hard to engage with white folk on their racism because they have been taught to not see it. And so when it’s pointed out to them, all they can do is point it back at the victim. Its a fucking catch-22. You grind your teeth and bear it with silence or you call it out and get your experience erased.

Either way, headaches and heartaches will ensue.

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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 Forty-First or On Magickal Anti-Racism

The neo-pagan movement has seen an amazing resurgence in the belief of a Goddess or even the belief in many deities. It has inspired many to break away from traditional and oppressive forms of worship and find their own way to relate to the divine. This resurgence has also created a space for the revival of the magickal traditions from all over the world. The magick of many of the institutionalized religions have lost their power. Either because those branches have been erased or because the mainstream nature of the religion make magick largely inaccessible. Whatever the reason, more and more people are turning to witchcraft and paganism for their spiritual and religious needs.

One of the things that I really love about magick is that, historically as well as presently, it gives access to power for the powerless. Magick allows oppressed people get ahead, whether through casting a spell to get a job or calling upon a spirit for justice, it makes life easier. I know that in my experience, magick has helped me a lot and I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t relied on it. And I know countless people who have used magick to do anything from escaping an abusive john to healing the wound that was caused by rape. And these were things done by those who don’t have access to the “mundane” channels of power. In many respects, it levels the playing field.

But despite this, it seems that the neo-pagan movement as a whole is mostly white. When I enter pagan spaces, it is predominately white and a white person is usually leading the ceremony. What’s worse is that many times these white pagans will appropriate deities and ceremonies from magickal traditions that are not only still alive but also practiced by mostly people of color. For example, I was at a ritual where the mostly white circle were invoking the loa without context or understanding as to what they were doing. They seemed to fail to realize that the reason the loa came to be is because of centuries of colonialism, diaspora, and religious persecution. I’ve also been in space where white people were invoking Native powers and traditions without acknowledging that they were occupying stolen land. Not to mention the fact that there are no authors of color in the mainstream neo-pagan movement, which I know for many is their only way to access this knowledge.

It’s no wonder that people of color are turned off by it because their is no space for them and many times the rituals are actively racist.

Moreover, since we live in this diasporic context it’s sometimes very difficult, if not impossible, to have access to the traditions and magickal practices of our ancestors. In many cases, those traditions have been erased or so bleached of their power that they no longer work for us. Speaking for myself, as a first generation American, I don’t have access to the ancestral land of my foremothers nor their spiritual traditions. However, the need for this sort of practice is needed, if not vital for my well being.

How, then, do we create a space for anti-racist magick? How do we practice our craft or transformation that has at it’s roots principles of social justice? If magick gives power to the powerless, how do we give the powerless access?

The first step, I believe, is to start talking about it. I think it’s important that we start having conversations on the legacy of colonialism and its very real impacts today. White folks need to start owning their privilege and their part in appropriating the cultural traditions of those that they have colonized. They need to realize that by appropriating those traditions, they are furthering the cause of cultural imperialism.

But beyond that, we need to start making a space for ourselves. We need to develop our own magickal practices and traditions. We need to take what fragments we have and create a system that is relevant to us today. We need to build collectively a system that serves our interests and our needs. We need to call upon and explore the powers that we have to create a community that not only learns together but also thrives together. We all need to pool our magick together to create something beautiful and healing and energizing. So that we can continue the work that we do.

The time to create something that can heal our wounds has to be now.


Post the Thirty-Third or On the Importance of QPOC Space

This world is not safe for most of us. For most of us, we are constantly being harassed, assaulted and otherwise harmed, either overtly or covertly. This world is constantly attacking us; through messages from the media, through small, seemingly harmless words. Through physical murder and rape. Through the continued colonization of Third World people, both here in Ameríca and abroad.

Moreover, we are constantly carrying the baggage that that history of oppression, colonization and subjugation gives us. And we always have our armor in place. Armor that chafes and restricts us from growth. Armor that keeps us from making a true connection with other people, people like us. But it is an armor that is absolutely necessary. For without it, we are defenseless against those everyday assaults. We are naked before the sword of oppression. And we are torn to ribbons. There are many draw backs to that armor, and it isn’t a perfect defense, but it at least keeps us safe, keeps us from losing our minds in this world that hates us.

And most of us don’t even know we have it until the opportunity to take it off presents itself to us.

We’ve had this armor on for so long, since our earliest childhood days, that it becomes normal. The armor becomes a seamless part of our being. How could it not, when it has always been there? Perhaps we feel its tightness when we get close to someone, feel the armor scrape against someone else’s but its so commonplace and so subtle that we dismiss it. We fail to realize the way we restrict ourselves.

In my case, it wasn’t until I entered a space that held only Queer People of Color that I finally realized the heaviness of the armor. It was only when I was surrounded solely by people who have experienced the same type of oppression that I had experience, who had baggage and armor similar to mine, that I realized how much SHIT I carried around with me everyday.

And in that space, I was finally able to put it down. I was able to let go of the armor and the baggage and allow myself to be vulnerable. It was in that space that I was able to grow and expand in ways that I never thought would be possible.

This is why QPOC only space is so important. Because it allows a healing that is not possible when white, straight, cisgender people are present. This is because even if they are the staunchest of allies, even if they are the most amazing of anti-racists, the history oppression and colonization that they hold in their skin, a history that cannot be erased or forgotten, is made apparent in many, many subconscious and subtle ways. Because we have been socialized since birth to place white people first, whether it be the first helpings of a meal or the most space in a conversation, we do not even know that we are doing it (and at times neither do they). And this subconscious knee-jerk reaction makes it impossible to put down the armor and baggage and allow for growth and expansion.

Now, I know what you are going to say. You are going to say, “Morgan! You are being a reverse racist! White is a color too!” And to that I would respond that reverse racism is impossible. It is impossible because racism is a system that involves institutional power. That power is held by white people. I can’t be racist against white people because I don’t have the systemic power to be racist. The other reason for the exlusion of white people, other than the ones already mentioned, is because every space that one walks into is a white space. This is because white is the societal default for people, spaces, things. When I say person, the image that pops into your head automatically is a white man (specifically heterosexual and cisgender). So it is with spaces. When I say “we all got together at my place”, the hypothetical “we all” is primarily, or all, white.

For that reason, it is important to state that it is a POC space. We need to carve out that space for ourselves because it is not given to us. We need to delineate those boundaries because no one else will do it for us. Not only that but any space given to us by white people is not a claiming of safe space. It is a segregation and ghettoization. It is relegating us to the back of the bus. When we claim that space for ourselves, by ourselves we creating a thorny island within the greater, mainstream, white context.

And if we are going to do the work that needs to be done to transform this world into the truly equitable world it needs to be, then we need these safe spaces. We need them to recharge, to facilitate self-care and healing. We need these spaces to regroup and come together as family so that we can be effective and transformative in our work.

We need these spaces to live and thrive.