Tag Archives: Racism

Post the Tenth 2 or Remembering Trayvon

The judges gavel cracks

My head split in two

Not

Guilty

Innocent slain

Yet cleared of all charges

One more drop

In a swift moving river of blood

But this drop

Is an ocean

An expanse stretching back 500 years

Not the first nor the last

A steady stream of souls

Every 28 hours released

Slain

In cold blood

By jackals who fear majesty

He was just a boy

And we were just children watching

A farce on the screen

Knock knock

Whose there?

Motherfucker

His life was not a joke

And this is not justice

This is a travesty

A tragedy branded upon our scalps

I ask myself

Are you human?

Are you made of rock?

How do you not see this black boy slain

How do you not SEE

Take your face and press it against the glass

Of his coffin

Grab you by the wrist and force your hands to feel

The stillness of his chest

Pull your eyes open and show you what it looks like

To mourn life

I am driven mad

By this wondering

The knot in my throat

Pushing me to desperation

How is your heart so cold

Your mind so calloused

Your conscious so numb

That you don’t see these lives

Human

6 women

Representative of our world

That sees blackness

And cowers in perpetual fear

Sees blackness and thinks

Criminal

But they are not the ones

Who crossed the ocean

To burn and steal and kill

They are not the ones

Who subjugated whole people

They are not the criminals

These 6 women

And the lawyers

And the judges

And their whiteness

Are the criminals

Murderers all

Whiteness is a hell of a drug

But I refuse

To lose any more sleep

Worrying about white people

They don’t deserve my energy

Today

I worry about my Black sisters and brothers

Today

I wonder how we can eradicate anti-blackness

In our communities

In myself

Today

I will do what I can to keep my lover safe

Today

I remember Trayvon

Today

I fight for Trayvon

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Post the Eighty-Ninth or Why Most Non-Profits are Wack

So, I’ve been trolling Craigslist and other online listings for work since I recently moved back to Austin. And I absolutely hate being unemployed and looking for work. Its a type of stress that is not fun to deal with. Anyway, I found this ad for this organization called The Texas Campaign for the Environment that said they were looking for community organizers for an environmental justice campaign. My interest piqued, I applied.

A week later someone called me for an informational interview. The person I interviewed with was this very energetic white guy who talked about empowering communities through grassroots activism. I thought that this was something I could get down with so I agreed to go on an observation day.

I’m paired with this white woman who has been at this organization for 8 months (I noticed that none of the folks who I went out with had been there for longer than a year). I followed her around as she knocked door to door and gave the rap.

“My name is blah blah blah and I’m here with blah blah blah and we are here doing a fundraiser and letter writing for such-and-such campaign. The daily house hold contribution for a year is 60 and strong supporters give 120. Giving money is how you get involved.” Insert small talk throughout.

I noticed that the letter writing was often secondary to securing the donation. Giving the money is what allowed these folks voices to be “heard”. Half way through I knew that I had been lead here under false pretenses. This was not community organizing and none of these folks were being empowered by emptying their checkbooks. We were not organizing communities or getting them involved in activism or showing them how they can create systemic change. We were not mobilizing collective action.

We were knocking on doors in a mostly white, affluent neighborhood. We were knocking on a neighborhood that does not need empowering because most of the folks there are already in power. But the demeanor of the white lady that I was tailing changed whenever a person of color answered the door. One particularly striking example of this is when the door was opened by a tired looking Black man (the only Black man we talked to). She gave her usual spiel but instead of saying that the standard contribution was 60, which she has said for every white person, she said that the standard contribution was 52, with stronger supporters giving 102. He gave $25.

An icy rage seeped through my body.

As coolly as I could I asked, “Why did you tell him 52 when you’ve been telling everyone else 60?”

“Oh, I just had this feeling that he wouldn’t give anything if I said 60.”

“I see.”

Here was this white woman, who considered herself an activist, thinking that she was empowering communities and organizing folks for collective action when all she was doing was getting donations to support a non-profit. Here is a white woman who thinks that she is progressive and working towards justice when she is, in fact, perpetuating the very systems that she is supposedly fighting. You can’t empower communities and be racist to the folks who need the most empowerment.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not surprised. But what frustrates me is that this is what passes for activism. This is what the mainstream thinks will bring change. This type of non-profit, and the non-profit industrial complex in general, does nothing to challenge and interrupt systems of power because its existence is predicated on the subsistence and support of the system. Non-profits such as this are selling a product just as much as any business. But what they are selling is not tangible, it is not a consumer good in the usual sense of the term. What they are selling is the assuaging of guilt and the luxury of not being accountable to the continued degradation of the planet. Give us your money and you too can be safe in the knowledge that you are not responsible for destroying the environment.

Non-profits like this create activism into a consumer product. It co-opts the language and discourse of community organizing so that folks are duped into thinking that they are creating systemic change. They “organize” such-and-such amount of money. We win campaigns by getting folks “involved” at the small price of hundreds of dollars. They “empower” communities by making sure you get at least $150 a night. Non-profits like this are the Wal-Mart of activism.

Non-profits like TCE take the fire out of our movements. They away our radical vision for a just and equitable society. They take our struggle, butcher it and wrap it in hypnotic wrapping paper and sell it to mainstream,”liberal” consumers.

The work that they are doing is important but the method that they use will do nothing to fix the root of the problem. Because, ultimately, the revolution will not be funded.


Post the Eightieth or Why “Oppression Olympics” is Problematic

In the relatively short time that I have been an activist and an organizer, I have often come across this concept of Oppression Olympics. Folks often say, “Let’s not make this a game at the Oppression Olympics.” The assumption here is that all oppressions are equal and that to compare them against each other is divisive and fails to the see the point. The point being here that we all need to work together regardless of the different oppressions that we struggle under because at the end of the day we are all the same. It is pointless to compare them or talk about the difference because they don’t matter in the work that we do.

This is problematic for two reasons.

The first reason is who often employs it and for what reason. In my experience, and in the greater context of the phrase, it seems that folks with relatively more privilege use it to silence the concerns of those with relatively less privilege. For example, I got into an argument the other day with some folks on accountability and the importance that allies be held accountable for unintentional acts of oppression. After the argument, someone that I really look up to said that we can’t be wasting our time with Oppression Olympics because there are more important issues to deal with. This really frustrated me because she, an older white lesbian, was basically telling me, a queer trans woman of color, that my concerns were not valid because they were divisive and they were divisive because they compared my experience with others. I felt silenced and put down. Because there are greater concerns, why are you bothering us with yours?

The second reason why this is problematic is because it ignores the very real differences between people and the oppressions they experience. It flys in the face of all intersectionality theory. It ignores the fact that folks exist in different social locations. Statistically speaking, people of color are poorer than white people (and yet are less likely to be on welfare). Statisically speaking, men of color are more likely to be gunned down by police than white men. Statistically speaking, queer and trans youth of color are more often homeless than white queer and trans people. Statistically speaking, trans women of color are more likely to be murdered than white trans women. In almost all cases, if the only difference between two people is race, the person of color will have a harder time of it. These are facts. And the different privileges that we hold mitigate the ways in which we experience oppression. So while a rich person of color might not have it as hard as a poor white person, that rich person of color still has to deal with being oppressed because of her race.

And yet the claim that we shouldn’t make something into the Oppression Olympics would seek to erase those differences. It would have us all believe that we experience oppression in the same way and that to talk about these differences lead to further problems. But as Audre Lorde said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Colorblind ideology does not work. Assuming that we are the same does not work. Assuming that homogeneity is the only catalyst for unity doesn’t work.

What does work is a frank and honest appraisal of where we all are. What does work is acknowledging that we are all different and that our experiences are informed by the space that we occupy. What does work is understanding that we all need to be accountable for the ways that we benefit from systems of power and oppression. What does work is understanding that theories of oppression need to be grounded in the material reality of the folks living those lives.

What does work is giving space for all voices to be heard.


Post the Seventy Eighth or On Racism and Rape Culture

Last Friday, a white gay man grabbed my ass. I was so startled that I just glared at him and walked away. Later that evening, I run into him again and he whistles at me. I very clearly state that I do not want him to touch my ass and instead of respecting my desire, he laughs and grabs my ass anyway.

This triggered all sorts of memories of past sexual trauma and I felt panicky and depressed the rest of the weekend. More than that, though, I was struck by the blatant disregard for my boundaries and my body. This white gay man thought my desire to not be touched so ridiculous that he laughed. He felt so entitled to my body that he did not care what my wishes were. My right to self-autonomy meant less than nothing to him.

But it gets worse.

I posted on my Facebook about what happened and I specifically named the whiteness of my assailant. And while I had many of my friends write messages of support, I had several white “friends” interrogate me as to what “race had to do with it”. They varied from “race has nothing to do with it” to “why are you so racist?” “quit playing the race card” to “any Latina that I know would have slapped him” to “if you don’t like white people, leave America”.

This is the additional way that rape culture manifests for people of color. On top of street harassment and victim blaming, which tells people that they are responsible for being sexually assaulted and puts the onus of proving their assailant’s guilt on the victim. On top of rape jokes and the sexualization of rape in the media, women of color are silenced when they name the whiteness of their attackers. They are interrogated as to why they were victimized by a white man. They are accused of being racist for exposing the way white supremacy attempts to own brown bodies. And even at the same time that it denies that race exists, it thrusts racial caricatures on to the victim.

If I had written gay man, instead of white gay man, everyone who read that status would have assumed that he was white. This is because white is the “natural setting” for any human and anything different is automatically other. In order for one to know that someone is talking about a Black man, one needs to say Black man.

But when I name my assailants whiteness, when I interrupt the assumption that people are naturally white, it is suddenly I, the victim of sexual violence, who is in the wrong. The conversation, which should be focused on what kind of support I need, instead focuses on their demands for me to educate them on the role of whiteness in sexual harassment.

And this is rape culture at its finest because it compels me to give more of myself, of my experience, to my oppressors. Under the guise of debate, it claims a right to my victimization as theirs. The racialized nature of rape culture also allowed them to completely ignore my pain/needs as a survivor of harassment and place priority on their hurt feelings; despite the fact that this was never about them. It also allows them to ignore the systemic and historical factors that play into the sexual assault of brown women by white men.

The reason for this is because rape culture is really all about ownership. It is about arbitrating who owns whom and who has power of whom. In this case, rape culture lays claim not only onto women and gender non-conforming bodies but also any bodies that are not white. Further, rape cultures seeks to erase itself and does this by masking itself behind the Purity Myth.

In class, we saw the movie the Purity Myth that, among other things, talked about how Western society’s obsession with “virginity”. What was particularly interesting to me was how this myth of virginity promulgates rape culture. This is because the standard that Purity demands is impossible to attain or attainable by very, very few women. For one to be Pure, one must at the same time be sexy but not sexual, white, thin, cisgender, able bodied and neurotypical. Purity demands that you divorce yourself from many things that make you a living creature. And at the root of this is patriarchal control of desire.

This reinforces rape culture because when women inevitably fall, and it is inevitable, it creates a feedback loop that proves that women “deserve” to be sexually assaulted because they are not Pure which than reinforces the myth.

But a person of color can never be Pure, because Purity is predicated on whiteness, so that means that women of color always deserve to be raped. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Lorena Garcia’s article, “Now Why Do You Want To Know About That?”. In it, she details the experiences of several young Latina women when they received sex education in public school. More often than not, the sex educators assumed that young Latinas were already experienced in sexual matters. They assumed that their partners weren’t going to use protection and thus didn’t need to learn about it. They were also not encouraged to ask questions because that was perceived as being “too interested” in sex.

The underlying assumption here is that Latinas are hypersexual and thus always sexually available. Their bodies are public property and consent need not be given for any sort of sexual interaction. Young brown bodies are further commodified by their representation in the mainstream media, which is controlled by white men.

And it is this, which forms the foundation that justifies the rape of Latinas (and other women of color), which is in turn supported by rape culture.

All systems of power and oppression are interdependent and nowhere is this clearer than in white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. These two bedfellows must be challenged simultaneously if any lasting change is going to be effected. I will continue to name whiteness when it must be named. I will continue to expose the ways in which white supremacy tries to disguise itself. I will continue to challenge whiteness, especially if it makes white people uncomfortable, because my survival and the survival of my people is bound up in the eradication of white supremacy. I will continue to interrogate whiteness even if it scares me.

      I refuse to be a victim any longer.


Post the Seventy-Forth or I Refuse to be Silent

The other day, one of my white facebook friends posted on my wall saying that being “hateful” against white people is “racist” and that its just as bad as what white people do to people of color. This lead to an over 150 comment thread with multiple people weighing in. She insisted that we were being racist. Apparently for her, holding white supremacy accountable for its crimes means that we hated white people and that we were racist. Needless to say, we are no longer friends.

What I want to talk about here was a specific comment that was made from another person that we will call Georgia. Georgia (who is a white lady), at first, used one of MLK Jr. quotes saying something to the effect that love is good and we should all love each other. My friend’s bullshit detector went off and quickly supplied her with many, many, many other quotes from MLK that backed us up. She then replied that “negativity will only spread negativity” and that “we all bleed red”. This was after over 100 comments where we clearly disproved this. So, I flippantly replied, “Where is your reading comprehension? Want me to help you find it?”

At this point, the original post had been taken down and all of the subsequent comments with it.

But.

This white lady messages me something to the effect of, “Don’t make fun of me. You are a meany and the biggest racist I’ve ever met. White people suffer too. I’m not responsible for genocide or your oppression. I know myself but you seem pretty lost. It’s a shame that your powerful voice is wasted because you are so angry.”

This made me so angry. Like, the kind of anger that gets you thrown in jail for trying to choke someone out. The kind of anger that makes most people want to run in the opposite direction. The kind of anger that gets me into trouble. Thankfully, I was at home with no fragile and expensive objects within reach. Well, except for my laptop but I need that.

The reason why this made me so apoplectic is because this white lady, who insisted that she had suffered SO much, was deciding for me that it is pointless to speak on my experience because I was so angry. Her message was so condescending, paternalistic and steeped in privilege. She thought herself the Supreme Arbiter of Effectiveness, apparently, which somehow gave her the authority to say that what I was doing was a waste of time. Being angry about white supremacy, calling out people on their racism, saying it unapologetically and refusing to placate white people’s ego is, according to her, a waste of time. This because they won’t “hear” me because my anger and resentment has clouded my voice.

This is symptomatic of the attitude that “well-intentioned” white liberals have. They support you as long as you make them comfortable and don’t challenge their authority. They think that they have the “objective” and “logical” stand point and often refuse to see the privileges that white supremacy gives them. It is astounding how seemingly smart individuals suddenly throw all critical thinking skills out of the window when it comes to matters of race. Like a slippery eel, their minds just cannot seem to grasp the concept that white people have power over people of color. I’m starting to think that they are just willfully ignorant.

Further, since my voice does not “conform” to her vision of “love” she can suddenly decide that nothing I have to say is worth listening too. The underlying assumption here is that she has a right to dictate to me the form in which my voice manifests. She has a right to tell me what to do with my voice. Since whiteness is the pinnacle of “logic”, “reason” and “validity”, anything that strays from that is wasteful. Since I am not white and my anger is in total opposition to whiteness, that means that I have nothing good to say. She assumes that she has ownership over my voice and my body.

And if I would just be nice to her, and by extension all white people, they would just listen to me and relinquish their power and privilege. If I ask politely, massa will give me my rights.

But this totally misses the point, doesn’t it? Because this analysis of racism assumes that racism, and other forms of oppression, are just psychological processes that need to be eradicated through reform and education. Its an interpersonal, individual problem that needs to be fixed with polite discussion where the oppressed educate the oppressor. But this completely erases that institutional and systemic causes of racism. It erases the very real, very desperate, very lethal forms of racism that exist. It puts the onus on the oppressed to fix it and washes the oppressor of any responsibility to do anything. There is no need to protest or be angry or revolt because once we educate white people they will learn the error of their ways and everything will be fine! And you can’t say anything mean or angry because thats just reverse racism and it means everything you have to say is wrong.

But fuck all of that bullshit. I am the only one with the right to my body. I am the only who can decide what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate for the use of MY OWN VOICE. I have a right to my anger and goddamn it I’m going to feel it. I am going to express it. I am going to shout it from every single rooftop and post it all over my Facebook and write every single blog entry about it that I want. I am going to keep talking about until I don’t want to anymore and anyone that has a problem with that can go kick rocks. White folks have colonized my land, committed genocide against my people and continues to consume my culture and I’ll be damned if they have anything else of mine. They will not have my anger. They will not have any other parts of me.

I refuse to be silenced.


Post the Seventy-First or On Rewriting Narratives

This week is Boston’s LGBT Film Festival. Held over many days and in many different theaters, the festival screens films that celebrate and shed light on the queer experience. And while most of the films are centered around white queers, there were a number of films that featured QPOC only cast. Yesterday, I saw one of those films. It’s called Leave It On the Floor. The program billed it as a black gay musical inspired by the groundbreaking documentary Paris is Burning. There were gorgeous boys and sickening queens, voguing and lots of singing. And, for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was the perfect mix of campy realness and torrid love affair drama.

About half way into the movie, however, one of the characters dies. I’m sure you can guess what her identities were. She was a poor, black, trans woman. And this really, really bothered me. And while she wasn’t murdered, she died in a car crash, it still frustrated me. She was also the only character in the movie to die. Why is it that many, if not most, portrayals of black and brown trans women in the media have them dead? Without fail, when a trans woman of color is introduced into a film or TV show they are dead before the end of the movie. Even in the news, we never hear about the victories or successes of trans women of color. We only hear about their murders, if we hear of them at all.

On top of that, the protagonist of the movie was kicked out of his home for being gay by his mother. Her character was completely one dimensional. She was callous, completely unremorseful that she was sending her kid to the streets.  She verbally assaulted and insulted the protagonist for being gay. She was written in such a way that her only defining characteristic was her hatred for her son.

The reason for this is because that is the narrative that society has given to us. The script, if you will, that is given to all trans women of color. We come out, we get kicked out of our homes and we are killed. Since PoC, apparently, have the patent on homophobia and transphobia, there is no other result to our coming out. What is particularly egregious about this instance is that the writer and director of the film were both gay white men. These two men were not only operating from two of the worst of QPoC narratives but they were also doing so with complete lack of analysis as to why they are problematic. It is an extremely sneaky form of racism because for all the audience knows, this film was a production for black queer and trans* folk for black queer and trans* folk. The cast was entirely black. And this makes it easy for the audience to miss the implicit racist stereotypes.

We need to be rewriting this narrative. We need to take our stories into our own hands and rewrite it to reflect our own lives. We need to be telling our own stories for ourselves, for others like us. We need to stop blindly accepting the messages that white supremacy, heteropatriarchy and capitalism would have us consume. We need to start telling stories that demonstrate our lived lives. We need to write poems, short stories, plays, screen plays that celebrate our identities, that reflect our experience has survivors. We need to make art and space that is meaningful for us. That accurately represents us. I’m not saying that we should erase the hardship that surrounds our lives because that would be just as bad. What I am saying is that we need to be talking about our victories, our loves, our hopes, our accomplishments.

What I am saying is that we need to rewrite the narrative so that we become human and not just corpses.

My story used to end with my early death at the hands of transphobia. I had no doubt that it was a question of when, not if. And that is because I accepted the narrative given to me. I won’t lie to you; I still often worry about that and I know it is a very real possibility. But it’s different today. I know that I am given that narrative so that I give up before the fight has even started. And I know might story might still end up that way, but I am determined to make sure that it isn’t a certainty. I am determined to rewrite the ending so that women that come after me can have hope.

I am determined to rewrite my narrative for myself.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, headaches and heartaches will ensue.