Tag Archives: voice

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.

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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 Seventieth or I Want to Live

I used to be gagged by

Fear

My mouth stuffed with

The white cloth of silence

Stifling my screams

Sometimes it felt like I was biting more than I could chew

A constant, overwhelming, emptiness that filled my mouth

Othertimes it felt like my very soul was being pulled out

Inch by agonizing inch

To be consumed and erased by those who say

I’m colorblind. Can’t was just love everyone?

And then

I looked up at the night sky

And saw myself written in the stars

I looked down at my feet

And felt the fierce gentleness of my Mother

I looked behind me

And saw the many miles that my ancestors walked

I looked into my lover’s eyes

And saw myself reflected in his love

He reached into my heart

Eased the knot that constricted my spirit

And my voice

Burst out fierce, blisteringly hot, and blazing with a power

That moves to tears

And makes white supremacy uncomfortable

A clarion call for revolution

A challenge that says

I won’t be silent any longer because

Silences equals Death

And I want to live

She told me that she supported me

But that I was too angry

And wouldn’t it be better for everyone if you just toned yourself down?

I told her

My anger is a result of my experience

And wouldn’t it be better for everyone

If you just gave back the land that you stole?


Post the Fifty-Fifth or On the Necessity of Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Post the 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