Tag Archives: Privilege

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.

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Post the Eighty-Third or On Where I Stand

The following is a bit of reflexivity that I feel I needed to own up to on my blog. I think its important that I articulate my social location because it affects what I see and where I am coming from when I write. I’ll probably repost this in my about page, as well. Enjoy!

I am a pansexual, Pagan, kinky, able-bodied, neuro-atypical trans woman of color. I am a first generation american. My mother emigrated here without documents from Colombia shortly before I was born and my father was born in Florida but raised in Puerto Rico. I was born into a working class family but have recently joined the middle class due to my mother’s employment at a bank. I suffer from major depressive disorder and I am a recovering alcoholic. I was born and raised in Boston.

I went to one of the best public high schools in Boston and got many scholarships to attend Northeastern.

I feel that I occupy a strange space within the classroom as well as in the world at large. I have been very, very fortunate. When I came out as trans, my mother did not kick me out of her home. I have a lot of educational privilege as well as class privilege. Thus, I have been able to escape much of the violence that my sisters are subjected too. I have never had to resort to survival sex work. I’ve never been homeless. I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve never been assaulted, although I have been frequently harassed. And I’ve had the time, energy and resources to pursue a college degree.

Because I have health insurance, given to me through my mother, I have been able to pay for the hormones for transition and have undergone some electrolysis. Three years into my transition, I read very well. The only ones, usually, who read me as trans are those who know what they are looking for; namely, other queers and trans people. Many of my sisters do not have that luxury.

I am also light skinned so while racism still affects me, I am treated much better than my sisters with dark skin.

My position as a queer, light skinned trans woman of color allows me to see the many ways that the various systems of power and oppression operate but my class and educational privilege allows me to mitigate the ways that they affect me. While I struggle against cissexism, racism, heterosexism etc, my middle class and educational privilege allows me some wiggle room. While it might be harder for me to get a job than a white man, I will still have the qualifications to apply. Because of my light skin and the fact that I talk “white”, folks with privileged identities are more likely to listen to me than they are to my sisters with darker skin and less access to education.

My experience is informed by my identity and my identity informs my experience. They are the two sides of the same coin. I cannot tease one out and say that one aspect of my identity as informed my experience the most. They are not separate strands of the same cord. Rather, I think that my identity and my experience are a multi-layered portrait. Its existence, and resultant beauty, comes from their unity. This is because I experience them all at the same time. The types of experiences that I have are, at times, a direct result of my identity. And my identity is a consequence of my experiences.

I think that my “purpose”, if you will, is to open the way for others like me to have their voices heard. I feel that because I’ve had the opportunity to study the work of feminist authors/philosophers/poets that have come before me, via my education, I am able to integrate their analyses into my cultural organizing. I want for other trans women of color to have a visible, articulated presence. I want to open the way for other girls like me to liberate ourselves and smash the systems that keep us oppressed. I want the radical theory, the radical vision for a new world to leave the academy and enter the hands of those who will use it to make this world a better place.

My job is not to educate or coddle white people, straight people, cisgender people. My job is not to convince would-be “allies” to “help” us. My job is not to be liked.

My job, as I see it, is to blaze a trail with poetry and art for a space for trans feminine people of color. My job is to work with other Q/TPoC and our comrades (whether straight or queer or PoC or white) to create a self-sustaining community that loves and affirms its own existence and struggles against all systems of oppression. My job is to hold people with privilege accountable. My job is to love myself and protect myself against those systems that would co-opt me, silence me and destroy me. My job is to surround myself by people who love me.

            My job is to struggle for the collective liberation of all people.


Post the Eighty-First or On Risk and Good Will

So in this final semester of school before I graduate, I am taking a class called Feminist Perspectives. In a nutshell, it is a class that goes over the different types of feminist theories that have been developed since the first wave. The class also seeks to locate those different feminist theories and place them within their historical context so that we can fully understand where the authors are coming from.

And for the most part, I really enjoy it.

One aspect of the class that is particularly interesting is the execution of the feminist classroom as a style of teaching. This involves many different things, but the one aspect that I want to focus on here is the formation of agreements. Agreements are ground rules for the class that everyone agrees on and that help facilitate communication. One of the agreements that we all “agreed” to was that we would all enter the space assuming that everyone has good intentions.

This bothered me. It bothered me because for those in positions of privilege, there is no risk in assuming good intention. Straight white men don’t have to worry about being assaulted by microagressions or being subjected to language that is harmful. They can assume that everyone has good intentions because they are the least likely to be hurt in those situations. But for those in positions of less privilege, there is a lot of risk in assuming good intentions. I can’t assume that you are coming with good intentions because you, as well as I, have been socialized to act and think in ways that are oppressive and harmful.

People in positions of privilege will fuck up. It is inevitable. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that people in positions of privilege are inherently bad people. Its just that they don’t know any better. They’ve been given these scripts and there privilege allows them to take those scripts at face value even if they are really harmful. And they are harmful regardless of whether or not the person means it to be harmful. Intentions are not magical and if you say something oppressive, it is going to cause damage regardless of whether or not you didn’t mean it that way.

So there is a lot of risk if I assume that you are coming with good will because regardless of whether or not you are, what you say will affect me. Further, having good will doesn’t absolve you from the harm that your words cause. Because what matters is not whether you meant it to be hurtful or not. What matters is what happened and the consequences that result. If I run over you with a car, even if I didn’t mean too, you are still gonna be laid out. And I’m still held responsible for the action.

When discussing topics such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, cissexism and/or ablism, its super important that folks who are privileged in some or all of these areas check themselves. If you think it might be oppressive, think twice. And if you do say something oppressive and someone calls you out, listen. Listen and don’t do it again. These conversations need to be had, to be sure. But the needs of the oppressed must always be centered.

 


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 Ninth or On Social Justice and God

I am a social justice activist. I live and breathe social justice. It is my lifeblood. It is probably the biggest part of my identity. I live for the days that I get to open eyes and raise awareness about the true nature of world we live in and its stark realities. I live for the days that I get to teach people how to fight oppression and achieve a more equitable world. And I live for the days when others teach me. When we get together and share knowledge and strategize on how to make the world a better place. I live for those days when I find out that your liberation is bound up with mine and that we must fight together to make a difference.

I’m a social justice activist because it is work that needs to be done. It is often times overwhelming, exhausting and thankless. It is easy to get discouraged because its hard to see any immediate results. Not only that but dealing with the backlash. Few people enjoy being faced with their privilege and how they were bred into a system that kills. Few people like facing the truth. But I feel it needs to be done because if nothing changes, nothing changes. If I don’t do it, who will?

At the same time, I am a very spiritual person. I have felt and seen things that, for me, can only be miracles. From getting sober to escaping a queer bashing by making myself “unnoticeable” to money manifesting from nowhere, I have come to believe that there are powers greater than me and that said powers have my back. And whether this is ultimately a delusion or not is unimportant because its real to me. Moreover, spirituality as taught me that I am powerless over so many things and the only thing I have power over are my own actions. It has taught me that the only way to effect change in my community and in my world is to act and act in the right ways, whatever right means in each context.

These two sides of my identity are constantly at war. The spiritual side of me is constantly trying to reassure me that the powers that be will take care of me. That my needs will be met and that I will be safe. That I will lead a successful, happy life with wonderful friends and a partner (or two) at my side. And to turn over those things of which I am powerless to control. And yet the social justice side of me understands the harsh reality of the body that I have and the oppressions that it subjects me too. It knows that my body is a battleground for almost all of society’s baggage. The fact of the matter is, transwomen of color frequently get the shit end of every stick. Whether it be because I’m brown or because I defy what society says a person with a penis should act and look like or both, I have a harder time finding places to live, places to work and people who love and support me for who I am.

And I wonder that if this greater power really had my best interests at heart, wouldn’t she have put me in a white straight man’s body? Or better yet, would she not create a world where people were equal regardless of the bodies they possess? Why give us this fucked up world where people, thanks to systems of power and oppression, live fruitless lives and die ignoble deaths?

These are questions that I am constantly grappling with myself. And the answers that I have come up with are not always happy.

I can come to the conclusion that, despite my experience, there are no powers above or below that help us and guide us. That we are utterly alone and that our problems must be solved with our own solutions. Nothing and no one else will help. Another conclusion that I can come to is that while a creatrix might have gotten things going in the beginning, she is no longer involved now and that is why things have gone to shit. Still another conclusion is that the reason why our world is fucked up is so that we can learn to be better human beings. Its like a huge cosmic game that is being played so that we can advance as spiritual beings. The final conclusion, and the most attractive by far, is that greater powers exist but they have a limited sphere of influence. They can only effect this world in subtle ways and sometimes, or oftentimes, that is not enough. And because of their limited influence, shit like greed and oppression are allowed to occur.

All the conclusions have draw backs. The first and second one are devoid of hope, which is so important. The third conclusion is also problematic because if greater power could create a world in which we must learn and grow why not just make all of us automatically as spiritually advanced as we can be and avoid the suffering? Is there something intrinsic in suffering that makes it so that we learn? But again, if she has all this power why make it so that it is painful? Why not make it so that learning comes from joy? Moreover, what does that say about people who have easy lives? That they are spiritually advanced enough that they don’t need to struggle as much as those with hard lives? That seems to me to be erroneous.

Lets look at the final conclusion once again. If the greater powers can only influence us in those subtle, coincidental ways are those than enough to keep us afloat? Or perhaps because we are oppressed we are given greater access to those subtle powers? That since we are oppressed we have a better ability to move and shift those subtle energies? And how are we to trust these things when not only does mainstream culture invalidate it but also when they are so intangible?

I would argue that yes, the greater powers that be might not be all powerful but they can and do help us. That we as oppressed people must trust, more than those who aren’t, that there are powers out there who want what’s best for us even if they can’t always get it. My experience has shown this. And we must believe if only because it gives us, it gives me, hope. And hope is vital. It is critical. It is so fucking important. The battle is already lost when hope has already fled. Even if its an opiate, its an opiate that has kept me alive through times when I thought I would never survive.

But just because there might be greater powers out there helping us out doesn’t mean that we get to rest on our laurels and not fight. Just because they have our back doesn’t mean that they are gonna fight our battles for us. Social justice is the work of the people and the people must work it.

None of these conclusions are airtight nor are they all positive but its the best that I’ve come up with so far. But I suppose uncertainty shall always be a part of life.

The only thing I know for certain is that I’m here to leave this world better than I found it.


Post the Sixth or On how Poor People aren’t Lazy

This is the status that I’m seeing posted around Facebook these days.

Thank you Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri, which are the first states that will require drug testing when applying for welfare. Some people are crying and calling this unconstitutional. How is this unconstitutional? It’s OK to drug test people who work for their money but not those who don’t?… Re-post this if you’d like to see this done in all 50 states.

And it pisses me off! What pisses me off about it is the underlying classist assumption that poor people are lazy. The underlying classist assumption that all you have to do to be successful is work hard. That if you are poor or struggling that all you have to do is pull yourself up from your bootstraps and give it the ole’ college try.

This is an incorrect assumption!

Its incorrect not only because poor people are the most hard-working people but also because all their hard work amounts to little. People who are poor NEED to work hard because otherwise they go hungry. People who are poor have to do the shittiest jobs because they don’t have any other choice. They need to work their shitty jobs to get by to pay rent, food etc.

Some might cry at this point, “But Morgan why don’t they just go get and education! That’s the way to get ahead!” To which I would reply that going to school is all well and good and education is the quickest path to liberation. However, people who are poor often can’t afford to go to school. Either because the high school they were educated at was unable to educate them properly due to lack of resources or because they have a family to support and literally can’t afford to go school because if they do they aren’t able to work the hours they need to pay rent, food etc.

The capitalist system that we live in keeps these people trapped in a vicious cycle where it’s all they can do to survive. And in this state of desperation we wonder why they do drugs. Why does anyone do drugs? For amusement, for escape. For people who are poor, drugs are often the only way to escape the despair that so often surrounds their lives.

And while I recognize the importance of taking responsibility for ones own actions and the fact that it’s a lot easier to deal with life and escape poverty if one isn’t addicted to drugs, I still think that legislation like this hurts poor people more than it helps. I would argue that we should be funding schools and MEANINGFUL job opportunities. I would argue that we should be organizing a grass-roots campaign showing people that drugs and alcohol are tools that those with privilege use to keep us oppressed. We need to foster a culture that show compassion for the downtrodden not by telling them to work harder but by working with them to liberate all of us.

And most of all we need to BUST the apocryphal nature of the American Dream. We need to educate those around us and show them that the American Dream is unattainable for most people for reasons that involve privilege and different forms of oppression. That it is the exception and not the rule. We have to liberate people from the delusion that the American Dream is real and show them instead how to organize and fight for their own liberation.

Liberation won’t come if we fuck other people over. Liberation won’t come for anyone if we continue to oppress each other in these small little ways. The bottom line is only this.

We all need to work together for liberation.


Post the Third or How to Check White Privilege

priv·i·lege

[priv-uh-lij, priv-lij] noun, verb, -leged, -leg·ing.

noun

1. a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most

2. a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities

I work for an amazing organization. It serves the amazingly brave queer youth of central Texas and I am proud to call them my family. It has a long standing history of fighting against oppression and standing tall against hate and budget cuts. I have the honor of serving with them and help create a safe space where these youth can fully be themselves. I get to watch these inspiring youth be themselves and have their own problems and come up with their own solutions. And I am humbled.

However, despite the fact that this organization is so amazing it is still rife with white privilege!

Its so frustrating and disheartening for me to face this. Not only because I, perhaps erroneously, expect a space like this to be free of it but also because it speaks to the insidious and pervasive nature of privilege. How do you fight against something so all encompassing that it infiltrates your family, your home? How can you have any hope of defeating a foe so powerful that it convinces you, the victim and fighter, and the perpetrator that it doesn’t exist? Moreover, where does one begin without putting oneself in harms way?

These are the questions that I struggle with on a regular basis. And there is no obvious solution that presents itself to me. No spells to cast or people to bribe or cocks to suck. It seems so hopeless sometimes.

And yet I’ve seen some brilliant people who have faced their privilege, owned up to it and are incredible allies. Not only in the sense that they have some understanding of what someone in an oppressed group feels like but also openly advocates for those groups.

How did they do that? Well here are some common elements that I have found.

  1. They LISTEN. They actually listen and take People of Color (POC) at their word. They understand that POC will always know more because they can NOT ignore it. It is part of the warp and weft of their existence.
  2. They don’t expect POC to educate them and they don’t dump their white guilt on POC. They don’t whine about how hard it is to be white.
  3. They hold the anger of POC. They don’t minimize it. They don’t invalidate it. And they don’t run over it by acting as if their white guilt is more important. They give POC space to be angry and get angry in turn. There is a lot to be upset about!
  4. They EDUCATE themselves. They don’t wait to be educated.
  5. They know that talking about race and checking white privilege is an ongoing process and not something that you become and expert at in the space of an hour and half workshop.
  6. They don’t act “color blind”. They recognize racism is still very much a part of life.
  7. THEY LISTEN.

None of this is easy. None of this is simple. None of this is something that is going to revolutionize the world. But it is important. It is necessary. It is vital. And little by little, if we all work on this, than we can make islands of safety for everyone.

If anything here bothered or confused you, good. If you don’t know what white privilege is or what it entails, Google is an amazing resource.