Tag Archives: organizing

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.

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Post the Forty-Fifth or Experience v Opinion

There is a big difference between experience and opinion. When you experience something, you know it on a much deeper level then someone who read about it or was told about it second hand. The difference between reading about sex and experiencing sex is clear to almost anyone. When you experience an event, all of your senses are engaged and to forms a memory that is much more tangible and reliable then opinion or hearsay. Don’t get me wrong; opinion is all well and good. We certainly wouldn’t be able to have many conversations without opinion and conjecture. But if you are gonna do brain surgery, you need to have the experience of study and practice and not just an opinion about it.

Why is it, then, that white people think that their opinions on racism are more valid then the experience of a person of color? Or cisgender people thinking that they know better then trans*people as to what is and isn’t offensive?  I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me that such-and-such isn’t offensive because they know better and why are you so sensitive? Can’t you just take a joke? And those people are usually ones with privileged identities who haven’t actually experienced that form of oppression but rather, they have an opinion about how that experience looks and feels like. They don’t actually know and they will never actually know.

The thing that most people fail to realize is that their opinions carry less weight than the experience that someone has. More often then not people who have opinions not based in experience are just wrong. This is because they just don’t know what they are talking about. And when they insist that they do, or they insist that their opinions exist on the same level as those with experience, they are perpetrating those systems of power and oppression that started the discussion to begin with. It’s a vicious cycle where the perpetrator can deny the existence of not only the crime but also of its consequences. And the perpetrator can do this because they already have the institutional power to do it.

Moreover, the mark of a good ally is that they are willing to admit that they don’t know. They admit that they will never truly know and that they can never truly understand what it means to go through that. But that doesn’t stop them from advocating for justice and working along side those effected by oppression. That doesn’t stop them from acting strategically to end white heteropatriarchy and capitalism. The mark of an ally is someone who does what they can to mitigate their privilege.

However, the fight for liberation will not be won with allies and it certainly won’t be won with opinions. It is only through experience that we can learn how to most effectively dismantle those systems of power and oppression. Hard earned experience is the teacher we need to fight back. The reason for this is because experience is real. It is tangible and you can hold on to it. Opinions are none of these things. And it is experience that gives birth to radical theory and action. And when radical thought is grounded in experience, it is the most insightful and most effective. The fight for liberation will only be won by those who suffer from oppression and even then only with radical action and radical thought.

So if experience is vital to know how to fight oppression, then what class of people generally experiences the worst forms of oppression? In other words, which class of people knows the most about fighting oppression? And what do we mean by oppression anyhow?

I would argue that any definition of oppression has to be grounded in the material experience of the oppressed. It is not enough to have theoretical ideas of how oppression and power manifest. It is not enough to have theoretical ideas of who experiences oppression and who has power. It needs to be real. And it needs to be situated within its own context. For example, I can’t count how many times a white gay man has cited their gayness as being the reason why they are so oppressed. And while it is true that their gayness makes them susceptible to certain forms of oppression, the fact remains that they are still white men. Moreover, for the most part, being gay doesn’t show on the surface and so they can skate by with just being perceived as white men. The oppression that they “feel” isn’t real.

With that being said, what does oppression look like? I would argue that someone who experiences oppression is someone who has markedly less access to resources then other people. By resources I mean not only money, jobs and education but also social capital, access to public space and access to a safe living environment. This includes an environment that is free from pollution, toxins, and violence (both violence directed at the person and violence in general). This lack of access is rooted in white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism but it can manifest in ways great and small. From not being hired because of skin color to white people coming up and touching your hair without consent to being bashed for being perceived as the “wrong” gender. Obviously, gay white men do not fit this bill.

I would argue that the class of people that experience the worst aspects of oppression are transwomen of color. If you are fat, disabled and/or poor, even worse. Transwomen of color literally get the shit end of every stick. Transwomen of color often have very few opportunities to get a decent education or even find a job. They are often kicked out of their homes and forced to do sex work to support themselves. On top of that, they often killed by their johns for their trouble. Transwomen of color are assaulted and killed more often then their cisgender and white peers. And even if they survive their assault, the police and healthcare professionals often ignore or write-off the attack. Often times, the police themselves are the perpetrators of anti-trans violence and they act with no reprisals. Whether its through anti-sex worker policing or racial profiling, transwomen of color are often arrested or assaulted by the police for doing nothing but trying to feed themselves. What’s more is that if they aren’t physically assaulted, they are verbally harassed. They are denied their identity from almost every class of person. Whether its the Christian right or so called radical second-wave feminists, the existence of transwomen of color is erased time and again. What’s worse is that if someone doesn’t kill them, the stress of living such a life will. I know of no transwomen of color who have reached old age.

Why is this? Why do transwomen of color experience such devastating forms of oppression? Because they exist at the deepest intersections of white capitalist heteropatriarchy . They are effected by racism, classism, sexism, cissexism, xenophobia, heterosexism, and if you are an immigrant, imperialism.

At this point you might say something like, “Ok Morgan. Transwomen of color have it bad. I see that. But what does that have to do with experience and knowing how to fight oppression?”

And I would reply that it has everything to do with fighting oppression. If we want to effectively tackle all those systems of power that keep us oppressed then we need to keep the concerns of transwomen of color central to all of our organizing, whether it is queer organizing or otherwise. Moreover, since the experience of transwomen of color is framed by such desperate oppression, they will intuitively grasp what needs to be done to make the world better. Being on the bottom, or near the bottom, they can look up and see the dirty, fucked up underbelly of society. They can see where and when to strike to topple that monstrous beast.

If we are to make this world truly equitable, then the needs of the lowest need to be prioritized.


Post the Fortieth or On Horizontal Oppression

Yesterday, I was at the bus stop doing what most people do at the bus stop. I was waiting for the bus. As I was waiting, a gale of laughter ripped through the air. I turned and saw that it was a group of teenage boys and that they were pointing at me. They were laughing at me. They yelled, “Hey, tranny!” I had the sense to ignore them but they persisted. They continued to laugh and some of them even took out their phones and began to take pictures and videos of me standing there. In hindsight, I wonder if some of them will frantically whack off to them or wish that they could some how inhabit the space that I was inhabiting. I wonder how much their jeering and laughter was really projected sexual desire. At the time, I felt humiliated. Like a freak on display. I felt like some grotesque aberration. And that my freakiness, my queerness, gave them license to do, act and say whatever they wanted. I wondered if that was going to be it. The time where I get beaten and bashed for daring to be freaky. And while it isn’t the first time I’ve been harassed, it was the first time in quite some time.

But despite all this, I could feel nothing but sadness and despair. Sadness because this was still happening to me. Despair because I wonder if this world will ever get better. If the wounds inflicted upon us by colonization, capitalism and patriarchy are ever going to heal. Because you see, these were young men of color who were harassing me. Young men who I know have been some of the gravest victims of the system that we live in. Who experience an alienation from themselves that I will never know. Who are marked almost from birth to live out their lives in prison or locked in poverty. Who do not even know how they are participating in their own oppression.

Because harassing me and humiliating me will not make their lives any easier. It will not change the amount of their brothers and fathers and uncles who are incarcerated. It won’t take them out of poverty. It won’t improve their opportunities for a decent education or a fulfilling job. It won’t alleviate that suffering and alienation of the soul that is a part of the wound that colonialism and diaspora inflicts on all of us. It only keeps us all divided.

Because these young men should be my brothers in arms. Instead of inflicting oppression on each other, we should all be working in concert to dismantle those systems that keep us all oppressed. Because that is the oppressor’s secret. The oppressor keeps us oppressed by keeping us divided and estranged because then we spend precious energy fighting one another and we fail to organize against the true source of oppression, namely white patriarchal colonialism.

And this division goes two ways. I can’t tell you how many headaches I’ve gotten by white queers thinking that the struggle for “equality” did not involve indigenous rights or labor rights or rights for people of color and poor communities. For them, the only issue they need to worry about is their queerness and getting “equality” for that. All the while not understanding that by fighting for “equality” they are just assimilating into the class of the oppressor and they actually aren’t facilitating any sort of systemic change. They are keeping themselves oppressed (because lets face it, liberal white colonial heteropatriarchy can only tokenize queers) and by refusing to acknowledge their brown, poor, differently abled, sisters and brothers they are only furthering the cause of oppression. Their unwillingness to see that our liberation is all bound up together will on keep us all oppressed (I’m looking at you HRC).

Sisters and brothers, I say to you now. United we stand a chance in bringing about a fully equitable world. Divided, there is no chance at all.