Tag Archives: white privilege

Post the Ninety-Eighth or On Family Dinners and Whiteness

Family dinner is something that my community does regularly. The host of family dinner rotates and everyone brings food, booze or cash. They are integral to community building and safety. At these dinners, we talk about everything from radical politics to what art projects we are working on to the escapades of the night before. We share stories about ourselves and connect with each other in authentic, life-saving, world-changing ways.

I’m not sure how we got onto the subject, but at the last family dinner we talked about the problematic nature of transnational adoption and how white folks are just not equipped to raise Black and Brown babies. The main reason for this being that white folks are socialized to be racist by default. They live in a world that privileges them over people of color and they often cannot, or will not, see it. So, they are just not prepared to teach a Black or Brown child about the harsh realities that this world will subject them too. Further, there is nothing to stop a white parent’s subconscious racism from harming their child of color. Case in point, there was an article in a magazine recently that talked about a white dad caring for his Nigerian daughter by combing her hair out with a fork. A motherfucking FORK.

Needless to say, we all agreed that transnational adoption is the wackness.

However.

There was this white Latina there who asked, “But what about all of the Black children in foster care who need parents?” Basically, she was asking why Black folks don’t just take care of their children.

This lead to a shit storm of frustration and trauma. Instead of having a nice pleasant dinner with familia, we had to spend the whole time trying to get her to shut up. She even had the audacity to say, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you do something about it?” As if building community and coming together in solidarity and talking about our experiences wasn’t “doing something”. Because its not like we live in a world that wants to silence and erase us. Its not like speaking our truth to one another is not a revolutionary act. No, according to her, we were just sitting there with our thumbs up our asses griping about the world.

She went on to say that the solution of racism is education and that she, the daughter of two Mexican immigrants, worked hard to get scholarships to go get an advanced degree. She, a teacher who works at a private school, thinks that if we all got our education we would be just fine. She worked hard for what she had and if she could do it, why couldn’t everyone else?

The only thing I could do at this point was laugh because she was so ridiculous.

The thing is, even though she is Latina, she was still hella light skinned. In fact, I didn’t know she was Latina until she told us that she was Mexican. And it was clear by the bullshit she was spewing that she walked through the world being perceived as white.

That’s the thing, just because you are Latin@ doesn’t mean that you don’t have white privilege. White Latin@s are a thing. They exist. And white Latin@s benefit from white supremacy. Their prosperity is often made on the backs of Black and Brown Latin@s. And more often than not, white Latin@s take up space in the ways that Anglos do. They have been socialized to think that they are entitled to all spaces so that when they do enter PoC-centered spaces, they often are the ones fucking up. They are the ones dominating the conversation and what was once a safe space is now a battleground.

So I implore my fellow Latin@s, check yourself.

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Post the Sixty-First or On the Unbearable Whiteness of College

It is a documented fact that poverty coincides greatly with skin color. By the measure of the last Census, the percentage of white people living in poverty was 14%. The percentage of Black people living in poverty is 36% and for Latino people it is 35%. That is more than half times more than the percentage for white people. The reason for this is manifold and outside of the scope of this piece. Suffice it to say that it is due in large part to an inheritance of enslavement and genocide. The point I am trying to make here is that more people of color live in poverty than do their white counterparts.

Education is often cited as the way out of poverty. People with bachelor’s degrees earn more than those with high school diplomas. People with master’s degrees earn more than people with bachelor’s and so on. With higher education, people say, one can make a better life for one’s self, especially if one grew up in poverty. Education is the price of admission into Middle America and the American Dream. There is no better way to pull yourself up by your bootstraps than going to school.

If this is the case, why are most college campuses so white? Here at Northeastern, 28% of the student body are people of color that were born in the US. In other words, the student body is primarily white. If education is the key out of poverty, why aren’t college campuses flooded with people of color?

My Advanced Writing class. There are 2 POC, including myself, in this class of 9.

The racists among us would cite the inherent laziness, stupidity and criminal nature of people of color. And while most people wouldn’t cop to that in those words, I can’t tell you how many times people have used coded language to say just that. For example, implying that so-and-so wouldn’t have gotten in if it wasn’t for affirmative action or, worse, that affirmative action is racist against white people. I remember once, after a presentation, a white classmate told me later, with surprise in his voice, “You are so articulate!” As if being articulate was a trait reserved for white people. Or saying that so-and-so isn’t, like, “stereotypically” black because look at the way they dress and they are doing so well in college!

Or worst yet, “28% of the students are people of color? That’s so diverse!”

Yeah… I have to keep Advil in my bag at all times, just in case.

I would counter these subtle, or not-so-subtle, racists that the reason why college campuses are so white is not because people of color are lazy or stupid or criminal but rather because of the systemic injustices that our education system has. There is very little support for people of color, who live in predominantly poor urban neighborhoods with shoddily funded schools, to get a decent high school education. Let alone a good one. Not only that but brown children, especially brown male children, are routinely disciplined much more harshly then their white counterparts. They are constantly being told that they are lazy, stupid and criminal. They are already written off as failures before anyone even says go.

And then there is the School to Prison Pipeline, which siphons underperforming youth into the juvenile justice system.

And even if they go to a decent school, with supportive and affirming teachers, the violence that often permeates their lives (which is due to more structural injustice) often prevents them from applying themselves to their studies and doing well. When one is worried if one will survive the walk home, it’s kinda hard to care if you are gonna pass a math exam.

Look at the all beautiful white people...

All in all, the deck is stacked against you if you are brown.  There is little to no support to help you succeed if you are a person of color. And most white people can conveniently ignore this because it doesn’t affect them; so who cares, right?

College campuses, including Northeastern, are mostly white because there is little to no investment in getting brown people to college. Those in power are not interested in empowering the disempowered and so the support is not there.

The other reason why Northeastern is so white is because this school does not provide enough financial support for low-income students. People of color and low-income people might get in, but without scholarship and grants, they cannot hope to afford to come here. Since middle-upper class and upper class families are usually white, it makes sense why they would make up most of the student body. When money is spent to build and power some foolish

Holy crap! Two black women! It seemed that all the POC on campus moved in groups. Strength in numbers!

piece of engineering “artwork” and finance a million dollar home for the president, it’s clear to see where the financial priorities of the university lay. I’ll give you a hint: not with students of color.

At this point you might say to me, “None of this is news, Morgan. Why write about it now?”

I write this now because even though none of it is news, it all bares repeating. Here at Northeastern, on a mostly white campus, it is exceedingly easy to ignore and write off the issues that don’t directly affect some of us. But by ignoring these issues, we are only contributing to them. As Desmond Tutu, the South African activist, once said,

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

I write this critique to spark conversation and engage this student body to move away from its lethargic, apolitical nature. For far to long we have languished in this space of “neutrality”, of aligning with the status quo through inaction. For far to long we have failed to interrogate and challenge not

One of the many quads. Trying to spot POC is like playing "Where's Waldo?"

only Northeastern administration but also those greater systems of power that keep us oppressed. College campuses used to be the center of social change and gave so much power movements that worked for change; The Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the Queer Rights Movement, just to name a few. Students have been at the forefront of so many movements. But that no longer seems to be the case. That main concern of students today is not how can we make this world a better place but where the next pseudo-frat party is.

I write this critique, also, to tell my Black and Brown sisters and brothers that they are not alone. I know that, for myself, the sense of isolation that I feel when people who do not share my struggle surround me is very corrosive to my spirit. I get discouraged, apathetic and frustrated. So I write this to not only remind myself of the importance of the struggle but also to remind you, dear reader, that you are not alone.

One thing is certain, however: to remain ignorant in the face of these struggles is to be part of the problem.


Post the 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-Second or On Pretty Privilege

How many times have you interacted with a person and they did something annoying but you let them off the hook because you thought they were cute? Or smiled and put that little extra nutmeg in someone’s latte because you thought they would notice and it would get them to talk to you? Or open the door for some hot young thing to check out their ass? Or took that flyer because the canvaser was hot?

What you were doing then and in so many infinitesimal interactions is something that I think isn’t talked about enough. I think that it’s called pretty privilege. Those that are deemed attractive by society are often given an easier time. Whether through forbearance of punishment for bad behavior or through getting a job over someone else, pretty privilege is a big deal!

The other thing that I think is interesting to note is how much correlation pretty privilege has with white privilege, cisgender privilege and class privilege. This is because those classes of people all adhere most closely to the general societal standard of beauty. Who do you see that are models, actors and superstars? Mostly white, cisgender, rich people. To be sure, there are many POC who are those things but they are a drop in the bucket and, more often then not, those POC are prized for their “exotic” look. It is just another manifestation of tokenization. Moreover, they are the exception that proves the rule.

I think one of the most radical things we can do, as oppressed peoples, is reclaim our bodies as our own and reject those normative standards of beauty. We need to see our bodies, our lives, as beautiful. We need to not only be ok with our bodies but also celebrate them for their difference, their gorgeousness. We need to look in the mirror and be able to masturbate to our own image. We need to see our wild, natural hair and our thick thighs and see them as the epitome of splendor. We need to be able to dance in the street and shout that we are fucking hot!

Is this easy? Hell no! We need to deprogram decades and decades of messages that tells us that we are ugly, worthless and unworthy of love. This is hard work! And it is only done with the gentleness of a community of people that love and affirm us. Because otherwise, the constant batter of hatred that we face in everyday life will convince us that we are ugly, worthless and unworthy of love. We need to have the place to come home to to heal and recover and remember who we are.

And if no one has told you yet today; You are absolutely beautiful.

PS I’m so sorry for the lack of posting lately!! I’ve been working on a semi-big piece and I’ve also moved back to Boston and started school. There is just a lot of craziness right now! But I promise to start posting more regularly!


Post the Twentieth or On Understanding Intersectionality

I went to an Out Youth event last night and it was fucking amazing. There were many amazingly talented young queers and a warm fuzzy sense of community. It showed me once again why it is that I do what I do. It reaffirmed my belief that inspiring queer youth voices is life-saving and life-changing. And it was really nice to have everyone like my poem.

There was one problem, however. Well, there were two problems but I’m only going to go into one of them. That problem was the emcee. The emcee was a gay white man, and from what I could tell he was middle-upper class. This emcee, who’s name escapes me at the moment, made two comments that really bothered many of us, and he was mis-pronouning our trans youth left and right. The first comment went something like this:

Performer:”This song is about a chicken.”

Emcee: “Is it a Chinese chicken? You know, like chickity china the Chinese chicken?”

And the second comment went something like this:

Emcee: “Just a shameless plug for my event blah blah blah which happens at this place on the east side. Its on the corner of 7th and homeless! No really, the ARCH center is right down the street.”

At that point, I had had enough of this guy so I booed him and told him that the “homeless” comment was not okay. Those two “jokes” were inappropriate because they were racist and classist. Moreover, the audience was mostly queers and a lot of them queer people of color. Homelessness and poverty effect queer young people, and queer young people of color more strongly than their white and straight/cisgender counterparts. That makes the comment even worse because some of the young people there that night have been, or are presently affected by, homelessness and poverty – either because they were kicked out of their homes for being queer or trans, or because they were raised in impoverished neighborhoods.

The other comment is also problematic because of the way it objectifies and dehumanizes Chinese folks, and, by extension, all folks of color. It exotizes Chinese people, which, in turn, perpetuates the exotification of different cultures and all people of color.

This behavior is endemic to the gay white male community. The reason for this is that since they are gay, they think that they are an oppressed group. And rightfully so because gay people are oppressed. However, the problem lays in the fact that because of their gay identity, most of them fail to understand that they still possess a whole hell of a lot of privilege. They still have the privilege that comes with being white and being male. And since they don’t examine their privilege, they think it’s cool to make racist and classist comments; not to mention giving transfolk all kinds of shit from mis-prouning to invalidating their identities.

This, then, is where intersectionality comes in. By understanding that the multiple identities we hold can afford us different privileges, or subject us to different forms oppression, we can see how they interact to keep each other in place. Let me make one thing clear: this is not about comparing dick sizes. This isn’t about seeing who can win “the Most Oppressed Game.” This is about understanding the realities of the world we live in and how different forms of power and oppression work together to keep them in place. It is about how we all contribute to the status quo in one way or another. And by achieving that understanding we can attack those systems that keep us all oppressed.

Another thing that I think must be understood is that the emcee in question is a product of our society. He can, of course, go through the transformative process necessary to fight against these systems, but it would be very difficult to do that on his own. I don’t write this as a personal attack to anyone. In fact, nothing that I write should be seen as an attack. Rather, it should be seen as a critical call to action for all of us so that we can continue to grow and, in the process, save lives.

Understanding and dismantling power and privilege is something that needs to be done everyday. It is something that needs to happen if we are going to change this world for the better. This is especially true of ourselves. We need to understand our own privilege and how it manifests in order to dismantle power.

We need to understand that we are all in this together.