Tag Archives: people of color

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.

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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 Fifty-Fifth or On the Necessity of Space

We all need space to survive and thrive. Living space in which we can rest and recuperate. Working space in which we can produce. Recreative space so that we can enjoy ourselves. Many of these different kinds of space can, and often do, overlap so that our living space can also be our recreative space or working space or both. There are, obviously, many other divisions and manifestations of space that I haven’t mentioned but you understand what I’m getting at.

Space is holistic. By that I mean, the different kinds of space that we occupy effect one another. What happens in one space, effects the rest. What happens at work, you bring home and what happens when you are enjoying yourself is brought to work. They are all interrelated and interdependent on each other. Obviously, one can compartmentalize one’s spaces so that the external factors don’t effect each other but they are all still connected within you. The internal factors, namely your thoughts, emotions and reactions to the space all effect each other.

There is one type of space in particular that I would like to explore here. That is, what I like to call, social space (if there is a better term I would love to hear it). Social space is the energetic, emotional, psychic, and physical space that allows individual’s voices to be expressed and heard. It allows for an articulation of a specific experience and a platform from which that experience can be articulated. This space is, more then all the others, is vital for the thriving and longevity of those who occupy it. It is through this space that we meet others like us, where we see our stories reflected in each other and where we can find our spiritual ancestry, our elders. This  space can manifest many ways, from an anthology of writing or media program to a party to a protest.

For many folks, social space is given to them. Especially if one is white, male, cisgender, able-bodied, straight etc. The more privileged identities that one possesses, the more space society gives you to live and express yourself safely. Conversely, the fewer privileged identities that one possess, the less space one is given. Further, not all privileges are equal. The privilege that you get for being white, and thus the space that you are given, is a lot larger then the lack of space that one experiences if one is gay (especially since the rise of Gay, Inc). Put in another way, one experiences more privileges for being white then disadvantages to being gay. If one is white and gay, one still has it pretty good.

And yet the ones who need to most to even survive are often denied it. They have to carve that space out for themselves from the margins of society. They have to fight tooth and nail to not be subsumed by those elements that would rather that they don’t exist. Those spaces are hard to find and when one does find them, they are often hard because they need to be for their continued existence.

I write this piece to, hopefully, start the conversation about having a space for trans feminine people of color. If this was the 80s and I lived in New York, I would just have to go to the Balls to get that space. Or I could be a street-based sex worker to get that space. But these are both not open to me for many reasons. These spaces, while at the same time life-saving and risky as hell, are tucked away and inaccessible to those who don’t live in a major city. Further, it seems that where there is community and space for trans feminine POC, there is no articulated body politic about what it means to be trans feminine and brown in this world that is male and white. (If this isn’t the case and this exists somewhere, PLEASE TELL ME.)

Past movements have created spaces for themselves. The feminist movement, both WOC and white, have created spaces for themselves. White mainstream lesbians and gays have also created spaces for themselves. The Chican@ and immigrant’s rights movement have created spaces for themselves. Trans masculine POC have created a space for themselves. The list goes on. And trans feminine POC have existed in the fringes of each of these movements but have never, to my knowledge, had an articulated presence. Even in the beginning of the queer rights movement which was started by trans feminine POC, the difference between trans* people and gay people was not articulated until gay people expelled trans* people from their movement.

I want to help create a space for trans feminine POC that envisions a radical restructuring of the world where power and resources are shared equitably. I want a space where our stories, our narratives, our spirits, our desires will be heard, understood and celebrated. I want our art, our poetry, our writing to have a platform from which others can hear it. I want our fucking to cease being fetishized and freaky. I want my sisters to stop being killed for their desire. I want a space where we can develop our body politic for ourselves, not by outsiders. I want to bring our elders out of hiding or create a space for elderhood to exist.

But most of all I want to know that I am not alone.


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 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.


Post the Twenty-Ninth or On Why You Need to Mind Your Business

I have a profile on OkCupid, which is a free dating website. For not having to pay for it, its pretty good. Their matching system is decent and there are a lot of hot queers who use it. I’ve been on a number of dates from that site and, while none of those dates developed into something more, neither were they horrible. All in all, I’ve had a good experience with the site.

However.

Once or twice a month or so, I will get a message from someone asking me something like, “So, were you born a man or a woman?” or “You should probably change your gender to male so that there isn’t any confusion.” or “For a woman with a penis, you are really pretty!” Despite the fact that I clearly state in my profile to NOT message me with foolishness like that. I don’t know if its because they don’t read past the part where I say I’m a big ole’ tranny or if its because as cisgender people, they feel entitled to ask/tell me whatever they want in regards to my gender because I am so freakish and unnatural.

Over and over again I get random strangers asking me, after I come out to them, if I am going to get “the surgery” or “how far along I am” or “are those breasts real”. But that isn’t the only instance where people ask me about “myself”. I can’t tell you how many times someone who, having found out that my family is from South America, has asked me to say something in Spanish. As if I were some parrot who learned a new trick. As if because I’m brown or because I can speak another language, I need to perform that “trick” on command for some white English speaking asshat. Or my favorite, “Oh, you speak Spanish? I’ve never heard you speak it.” Yeah, because you don’t speak Spanish and what reason would I have to speak it with you? Just because I’m brown or speak another language doesn’t mean that I go around speaking Spanish at people who don’t understand it. Just like white English speaking folk don’t go around speaking gibberish at people, there is no point because there is no communication. Moreover, its this feeling of entitlement that white English speaking folks have to demand that folks like me “perform” for them.

Notice a trend here?

Good, because it’s a trend we all need to be aware of. Don’t get me wrong; if we are friends and we’ve gotten to know each other and you are curious about my experience, then by all means ask. However, we need to be constantly checking ourselves to make sure that we aren’t putting folks with oppressed identities and backgrounds on the spot and forcing them to “educate” us. We need to make sure that oppressed folks aren’t doing it horizontally either. If we are going to foster safe spaces and supportive communities, we need to make sure that we are responsible for educating ourselves about other folks. Because by asking strangers to “educate” us about their oppressed experience, we are focusing on that experience alone and we are reducing their personhood to that experience. We don’t see their hopes and their fears and their dreams. We don’t see what makes them fundamentally human. All we see is the baggage that our oppressive society has heaped on them. Not only that, but we are forcing them to relive that whole experience again for us. And when we force folks with oppressed identities to “educate” us, we are claiming their experience as ours. We are recolonizing and objectifying them, on top of the colonization and objectification that they have already experienced. This is the most infinitesimal and yet most profound way that we oppress each other.

So before you ask that question, Google it.


Post the Seventeenth or Dismantling Power Part I

The past few weeks have been an intense lesson in power and how it manifests. In many ways, this lesson is much more intimate and closer to home than the other daily subtle lessons in power for reasons I will mention later. Two events stand out in my mind. This post will address the first, stay tuned for the next one.

The first was Pride. The Pride parade was itself fun. We had kick ass young people and amazing volunteers and staff there. We had a phoenix puppet and a banner and I was equipped with a bull horn. We marched, we chanted, we rabble roused. There are three reasons, however, why that morning was a lesson in power. The first was the spectators, the second was the corporate sponsors and the third was the lack of people of color. The Pride parade was originally intended to be a celebration of queerness. It was to fly in the face of all the heteronormative institutions. It was one huge middle finger to heteronormative and cisnormative society because it said that we would not conform. It said that we would live out loud and that we demanded acceptance and celebration of our identities. And it was filled with trannies, people of color and poor people. Back then there were no spectators and no corporate sponsors.

The fact that there are now straight and queer people watching from the sidelines is very telling. It tells me that for many of those people, whether consciously or unconsciously, the battle is already won. We have assimilated into mainstream hetero culture. It tells me that they have accepted the privilege of heteronormative culture. To them, Pride isn’t about rejecting heteronormativity and class privilege. To them it is about showing het culture that we are “just like them.” It is about acceptance through assimilation.

The fact that there were corporate floats and corporate sponsors and the fact that you have to pay to get into the parade (and festival) shows me that our community has been in many ways transformed into a commodity. We are a community to market to and because of that there is a media illusion that most queer, or rather gay, people are affluent. Again, Pride isn’t a celebration of our myriad identities but rather an event where corporations can sell shit to middle-upper class white folks. Pride has become the biggest symbol of queer assimilation.

Not only were there a preponderance of corporate sponsors but there was also a dearth of people of color. This speaks to me the most because it says that in many ways we have forgotten or failed to take into account the intersectionality of identity and we fail to stand in solidarity with people of color. The fact that there were very few people of color and organizations of color marching in the Parade highlights the fact that Pride is not about queer culture but rather about white heteronormative culture that includes gay people. It perpetuates the illusion that the only gay people that exist are white. By not be people of color inclusive Pride perpetuates racism and classism which in turn supports heteronormativity and queer and transphobia.

You might at this point be asking what this has to do with dismantling power and I would argue that if we are going to dismantle power, if we are going to make a world that is truly equitable for all we need to recognize the privilege of those sitting on the sidelines. The very fact that they can is indicative of the kind of privilege that runs rampant in the gay community. And it is that privilege that keeps the status quo in place and keeps progress from happening.

In the struggle for liberation, there can be no spectators.