Tag Archives: Power

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 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 Forty-Forth or On the True Nature of Racism

The other day, I got into a huge Facebook fight about the nature of racism. (As a side note, this shit seems to happen to me ALL the time. Although I must admit that I have a hard time letting things slide). To the white commenters, racism is individual. It is one person, regardless of color, hating another. One person in particular was complaining about being discriminated against because he was white. And oh those mean brown people, how could they do that? How could they be so mean? Don’t you know who I am?

I was struck, not the first time, the difficulty of talking about racism with white people. Especially white people who don’t recognize their privilege. I often get very frustrated, angry and hurt. Frustrated because they don’t understand where I am coming from, angry because it’s just another manifestation of racism and hurt because it reminds me how fucked the world is. Moreover, it seems that I have these conversations with people I consider friends and it hurts me to be so invalidated and ignored. Most of all, however, it hurts because they are often implying that I’m the racist for calling them out on the white privilege and that is the king of ironies.

The other thing that struck me was that there was a part of me that wanted to agree with them. There was a small voice in my head that said, “What if they are right? What if I’m the racist one?” I quickly called someone to talk about the experience and was brought back to myself in short order. It reemphasized for me, however, the importance of being surrounded by a strong community. For like the sea beating upon the shore, if I don’t have some sort of insulating and protecting factor, I will be washed away like so much flotsam. The medium of racism that all people of color exist in is caustic to our being and personhood and if we hang out in it unprotected by community, our identities, our-selves, are quickly washed of any definition. We become a round, indistinct blobs that have no purchase and no personality. And the result of that is a soul crushing alienation from our-selves. At least, that is my experience.

So, for the record, racism is a system of oppression (that is given power by white supremacy) that privileges people of European/white decent over Third World people/people of color/brown people. It is the marriage of prejudice and power. It is a complex system that manifests in ways as audacious as apartheid to as subtle as everyday interactions. Racism is the reason why the poverty rate for Black and Latin@s is more then half then that of their white counterparts. Racism is the reason why Black people make up 39.4% of the total prison population and yet make up only 12.6% of the total population in the United States. Racism is the reason why young people of color go to college less then their white counterparts.

But more then that, racism is the reason why people of color experience a deep alienation from themselves. Racism is the reason why we feel disaffected, dissatisfied and depressed. There is a reason why Black and Latin@ have elevated rates of depression over their white peers.  Racism is why we have the soul consuming anger that we constantly have to surpress because otherwise we get ostracized at best or jailed at worst. Racism is a daily reality for people of color. It is inescapable.

The other point I want to make is that racism can only go one way. This is because people of color don’t have the institutional power oppress white people. People of color can’t be racist because they don’t have the power to do so. Can they be prejudiced? Absolutely! But even then the context is different. When I say that I am tired of dealing with white people, I’m not saying that they are inferior to me or that I hate them or that I want to commit genocide on their people. What I am saying is that after centuries of being hated, called inferior etc, I just don’t want to deal with it anymore. And anyone who thinks that that is unreasonable needs to go take a long walk off a short pier. If we lived in a post-racist society then I would totally be in the wrong. If those power differentials didn’t exist, then I would need to revise my position.

But that is the thing; we DO NOT live in a post racist society.

Racism is still real, today. Ask anyone at the Rez if genocide is being committed. Ask anyone who as lived in low income communities for generations if colonization still isn’t happening today (read: gentrification). Ask anyone stopped by the police if Jim Crow is still alive. Ask any families separated by ICE if racism is still real.

So before you go complaining about how you are oppressed as a white person, remember that you will never have to worry about the things mentioned above. And you might not like it seeing all this. This might be painful. It’s hard to look in the mirror and see someone who is implicated in the death of generations of people. But trust me, it is better then the alternative.


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 Ninth or On the Importance of Labels

Labels are the way that we communicate with other people about ourselves. They save us time and processing power when we are telling others of our experience. Its much easier to say that I’m queer then it is to explain all of the things that are involved in that word. Labels are the maps that we can show others so that they can see where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. But, like a map, the label does not fully convey the essence of the person. It gives a general outline but if one is going to truly see and know what is there, one needs to be on the ground exploring. And I feel that folks forget that labels are just tools or maps to be wielded and that our actions don’t need to always “reflect” those labels. The terrain doesn’t need to match the map exactly and in fact such a project is impossible. Not only do labels act as maps but they also act as boundary markers. When I assert that I’m queer, I am making space for my experience and narrative. I am rejecting the normative narrative of heterosexism and say that I am not that. I am defining myself in relationship with what I am not.

Moreover, labels are empowering. This is because by owning that part of your self, you come to a greater understanding of who you are as a person and you are able to love yourself on a much deeper level. By seeing that part of yourself for what it is, and embracing it, you are rejecting the normative and oppressive ways of being that need your complicit thoughtlessness to continue. By being thoughtful, you are better able to reclaim your power and take action against those systems of oppression.

The other interesting aspect about labels is that many of them aren’t chosen by us. They are placed on us by how society perceives us. For example, the fact that I have brown skin makes it so that people perceive me as a person of color. Regardless if I identify with that label or not, that is still a label placed on me and that is apparent by the way that people and society treat me. Another example is being trans*. Nine times out of ten, I can pass as a cis woman. It is only when I out myself as trans* that folks treat me in a different way because of the way that they perceive me.

It really frustrates me, then, to hear folks say things like “I hate labels. I’m just me.” More often then not, these people are white, straight, upper-middle class, cisgender etc. They usually hold many privileged identities and labels. And they reason they can just “be themselves” is because the labels and identities that they hold are the societal norm. They have never had to think about their identites and labels because they don’t need to define themselves against the norm. There is no need to delineate that space because society has already given them that space. Moreover, it is very invalidating to people with oppressed identities because it says to them, “I can just be me. Why can’t you just be you?” And the fact of the matter is, I can’t just be “me” because of the history of oppression that surrounds and defines my existence as a human being. The me that I am is informed and created out of that oppression.

Not only that but saying that “I’m just me” reinforces the false idea of individualism. Put in another way, it says that we all exist in alone in a vacuum and that we don’t effect one another. It insists that there are no greater systems of power at work in our lives. It says that we are the sole mover in our lives and that our success or failure relies only on how hard we work. It also downplays the individual’s role in upholding and perpetrating systems of power and oppression. But that isn’t the case, is it? The fact of the matter is, there are systems of power and oppression at work that make being successful easier or more difficult depending on the kind of body that you possess. The world is much more complicated then just individuals moving through the world. Society takes and forms us and we have more agency in this world if we are white, rich, male, straight, cisgender etc. Individualism, and by extension the denials of labels, fails to see that.

Saying that you “Just want to be me” is one of the biggest sign of privilege and lack of awareness as to how the world works. It speaks to an absence of recognition of one’s relation to the world. And it’s just plain ignorant.


Post the Thirty-Second or Rooted

The History of the World

He said

Is held in my hair

The roots

Digging deep and thick into my scalp

Into three different lands

The long black curls

flowing strong down my back

A river

Connecting African slave

with colonized Indígena

and white conquistador

That meeting

that Connection

That blending

is what makes

me

My hair

strong

It is that Mestizaje

That frames me

As my hair frames my face

It is this body

rooted in so many places

that frames my existence

And gives power

to my Voice


Post the Twenty-Fifth or On the Merits of Community Organizing

com·mu·ni·ty

[kuh-myoo-ni-tee]  Show IPA

noun, plural -ties.

1.a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.

2.a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived orperceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the).

or·gan·ize

[awr-guh-nahyz] , -ized, -iz·ing.

verb (used with object)

1. To form as or into a whole consisting of interdependent or coordinated parts, especially for united action.

2. To enlist or attempt to enlist into a labor union.

Community organizing is about recognizing the power that we have as a people. It is about recognizing the immense spiritual and emotional power that we have. It is also about taking different forms of power back into the hands of the people. Whether that be institutional power or the power that comes from being visible, from being recognized as a people. Community organizing is the act of getting people mobilized to make systemic change in their communities and in communities beyond.

I am a community organizer. Nothing gives me greater joy than to see a group of oppressed folks get together and talk about how we can make our space not only safe but also transformative. Nothing is so healing for me than seeing my people gather together for a common cause. To see relationships and coalitions build around me to create change. This kind of work heals me because it demonstrates to me that I am not alone. It shows me that there are people like me, who think in was similar to mine and who are invested in making the world a better place.

This world constantly oppresses us in many subtle and corrosive ways, and one of the most damaging messages that we receive is that we are alone. That we are are abnormal, freakish and strange and that we are the only ones in the world that have this sort of existence, this sort of body. And for many oppressed folks, myself included, this message is so ingrained in our personal and collective psyches that we often think that we are, in fact, the only ones.

The reason why community organizing is so healing for me is because it dispels that myth. It rewrites the programing of my psyche so that I can fully reject that message of isolation and know it to be false. It shows me, quite viscerally, that I am not alone and that these people share my story in ways that may not be specific, but are similar in tenor and tone. The other reason why it is healing is because it allows me to take off the armor that I have to wear in my everyday life. It allows me to take off an armor that I have been wearing for so long, I have forgotten that I am even wearing it. Because of our shared experience, I am able to be vulnerable in ways that I cannot allow myself to be when interacting with people that have privileged bodies. And that vulnerability allows me to grow and expand in ways that would not be possible because of all the armor that I must wear to survive.

Community organizing is more than just healing work, it is transformative work. When oppressed communities organize by themselves for themselves, movements are created. Change is enacted when oppressed people work together in concert. Spaces are reclaimed and power is taken back.

When communities organize, change occurs.

Those in power are terrified of this change, of the power that we hold if only we claim it. And with good reason. For once power is reclaimed and shared, they lose their ill-gained and oppressive power. I was fired last week for this work. I was one of the louder and more visible member of a community of people who wanted to revolutionize the way my organization was run, which was from a top-down management system to a bottom-up member vested management system, where the power resided with the constituents and they were in charge of the direction of the organization.

I was fired because I threatened the status quo and challenged those in power.

But they cannot fire all of us. And least of all the young people. I might have been fired but the movement continues and I would encourage all those involved to double their efforts to keep those in power accountable and to create the change that they want to see. They fired me because we were getting to them, we were being effective. They wanted to derail our movement. Do not let them do that.

The biggest merit of community organizing is that if one falls, many take hir place. Community organizing is about communities and what communities wants. All it takes is momentum. All it takes is for people to step up and recognize that we are never alone.