Posts Tagged ‘anti-racism’

Turnabout and Fair Play

September 16, 2010

I know that I’m not the only one who wishes she could respond to ignorance more quickly and with more cleverness.

All too often the only response I have to someone (this is in meat-space, mind you; I feel pretty satisfied with my online responses to jackassery) is a shocked look, a stammer, or a mumble. Despite the fact that I SHOULDN’T be surprised at someone’s rudeness, I frequently am. And it’s not because I didn’t know that people could be such jerks; it’s just that I rarely expect that level of upfront rudeness until it’s smacked me in the face. And then even after it’s happened, in the moments afterward I wonder if I could simply be taking it the wrong way. I wonder first if there’s something wrong with ME rather than THEM.

While we were on vacation last month, a strange white woman started cooing at Eve, who was toddling about in her little blue peace sign flip flops. She asked her in a high-pitched lilting voice, “Can I take you home with me?” I personally think it’s weird to ask to take home someone’s kid, even jokingly, but enough of my friends, family, coworkers, and complete strangers have done it by now that I figure it’s normal enough. So I didn’t mind that; in fact, I was smiling because Eve was smiling at the woman.

Then things got genuinely bizarre. The woman added, “You want to come home with me? Do you want to do my dishes? How about wash my laundry?” My mouth dropped open, Eve just smiled at her, and before I even had time to fully process the fact that this white woman had pretty much just asked my black child if she wanted to be her domestic servant, the woman had already turned tail and disappeared.

In mere seconds, the interaction had gone from casually friendly to racially fucked and I said nothing to defend my child. My brain was still going “Wha-?” as the woman’s back turned, and by the time she was gone, I was already questioning myself and doing whatever mental acrobatics I needed to do to convince myself that THAT HADN’T REALLY HAPPENED.

I’ve never been very good at defending myself against the microaggressions that I receive from whites. Most of the time it happens too quickly for me to process and respond, and the times that it isn’t, I’m not able to just flippantly tell the jerk about hirself. Every time it happens, I must weigh the consequences of my possible responses, because people of color do not have the option of standing up for themselves without paying a price. Sometimes I deem that it’s worth it: I won’t get fired, hauled into HR, thrown out of the organization, or blacklisted in my field for speaking up or speaking out.

Most of them time I decide that it’s not worth it. I could say something, but I don’t, because I need this job, I enjoy this organization, I really want to work with the local lactivists even though they’re overwhelmingly white and therefore bound to sideswipe me with their privilege.

I don’t think that it makes me a bad person, choosing not to fight those battles. But I do wonder if it makes me a bad mother.

I don’t actually think of myself as a bad mom, for the record. I just can’t help but wonder how many times the damage to Eve caused by my inaction outweighs the perceived benefits to myself.

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Link Love: Abagond

July 30, 2010

Did you know that there was a statue of an old black man bowing and tipping his hat in passive subservience erected in Natchitoches, Louisiana for the purpose of “grateful recognition of the arduous and faithful services of the good darkies of Louisiana”?

Yeah, me neither. To learn a little bit of history about it and to see a photo of the statue (which is exactly as bad as it sounds), check out Uncle Jack the Good Darky by Abagond. I just discovered this blog and it is filled with fascinating articles about black history and anti-racism.

I also recommend The Space Traders, Malcolm X: On Afro-American History, David Myers: a black boy who thought he was white, and Do whites have a culture? just for starters. Seriously, there is enough good stuff here to keep my mind and eyes busy for months!

Shake the Shit Out Of ‘Em!

July 29, 2010

Fuck Feminism.

Guest blogger Mai’a said a lot of things in her post entitled “ain’t i a mama?” on Feministe yesterday, but for some reason, “fuck feminism” seems to be the only thing that a lot of people heard. 

The notion that feminism might not be such a great and awesome force for ALL women (and not just middle class, cis, white, able-bodied ladies) seemed to blow many minds, to the point that they bounced from the site altogether, never to return (or so they claimed). The idea that feminism might actually be an OPPRESSIVE movement and a THREAT to many women (ESPECIALLY trans women! Exclusion of trans women from feminist and women-friendly safe spaces is actually super fuckin’ common! And do I have to start listing the radfems who have actively called for their genocide?) caused many a Well Intentioned White Liberal Feminist to literally shit themselves with rage!

The comments section of this post is absolutely golden. There is plenty of racefail, but there are many good and thought-provoking points (as well as some free education) that make it worth the ride. Here are some of my favorites:

From bfp:

I think it would be an *amazing* conversation to talk about why feminists will “reclaim” bitch and cunt, but find “mama” just too fucking goddamn offensive to even think about

IrishUp:

have we USians internalized some thing(s) about being a mama or mothering that might need unpacking? What about having internalized that mothering and mama = cis het female? The OP, and other commenters strongly identify with mami and mothering in the context of their social justice work and their sense of nurturing – myself included. That should be OK in a feminist space, and I think there is a lot to learn from the WHY’s w/r/t OP’s identification with mami over feminist.

Nanette:

My reasons may be different from that of others – to me, centering children means centering life. And it means centering *all* children – loving by any means necessary, as you say (I love that!). Imagine a world where the children were the center, and the parents/adults were the satellites – people would pull out all stops to make sure that no child went hungry, that they were not bombed, that no child was ostracized because they were gay, or trans, or gender queer, or not abled in any certain way, or poor, or of any particular color or ethnicity, or born to a certain group of people in a certain place, or… well, I could go on, but I think that’ll do. What a world it would be when they grew up – not perfect, because there is no such thing, but maybe… different.

And, by way of centering children, centering life, it naturally follows that women are centered. Whether they are biological parents or not – that is not really important (to my way of thinking) to the centering of life (not wombs, specifically, by the way).

Mamita Mala:

I chose and choose mami on purpose. I am not a mommy. I am not a mama. I am a mami : mami because it has been cooed at me by ancestros who have passed as a term of love even when I was a child and clearly not a mother. mami because as soon as decided to identify as a young woman of color it was hissed and yelled at me in the streets by men across racial/ethnic lines, mami because it has a sexual context attributed to women like me: poor single women who have had children and are struggling. Mami because my mentor helped me learn how to work in the streets with other mamis whose children had been murdered by police and racists (which usually have been one and the same). Mami porque yes, I have two hijas but oh so much more. Mami for all the white men who wanted to call me that as their way to trying to own my ass. Mami for all the men I give my ass to…

And for me mami is not gendered. I want to be clear on that. In my community mami is not gendered. Yes, I identify as a cis-mujer pero I can think of sooo many people whom I call mami with love and soo many people whom are called mami with love who are not.

One of the things that I learned from the post and the comments it sparked is that what I as a middle class American think of when I hear the word “mama” is not the same thing as what someone in another country or culture is going to think. The childfree discussion that is going on misses the point, in that for many cultures outside of the white American middle class demographic, “mama” is really not limited to who can or has borne or raised children.

I try to be aware of my privilege as much as I can, but my American privilege is one that I pretty consistently forget to check – the rest of the world does not revolve around me and my US-ness. It’s something I need to keep working on, and I’m grateful to Mai’a for giving me an opportunity to look at myself and my assumptions from a different viewpoint.

I also loved where Nanette was going: that if we stop oppressing children, we stop oppressing everyone. Having a goal of raising children in an environment that is free from transphobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, ableism, and classism means eliminating those things entirely – in which case, everybody wins. Challenging the memes and myths that are the building blocks of rape culture and slut shaming means starting early; it means respecting the bodies and lives of all children with the hopes that they will grow to become adults who respect the bodies and lives of others. Bigotry is learned behavior and if we ever hope to fully eradicate it from our society (which I know will never happen, but it’s still a goal worth pursuing), then that requires not just unlearning that bigotry in ourselves, but actively refraining from teaching it to the generations that follow us.

The title of this post comes from the movie Ink, in which one character asks another how he plans to wake up a child that has fallen into a coma. His answer: “Shake the shit out of her!” Of course he doesn’t mean this literally (and I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film), but I love the idea of shaking the shit out of someone – of giving them a rude awakening, taking them out of their comfort zones, and just doing what you have to do to snap them out of the dream they were stuck in. Mai’a did exactly that in her post, and I do hope that despite all of the derailing and bickering, that at least a few people have woken up.

—-

Edited to add: Another fabulous quote from bfp (emphasis mine):

to be clear, when I say “reclaim” mama, I am talking in the white centric US centric sense of the word, I am NOT talking about mama in the way mai’a is using, the way I am using, the way mamita, etc are using. mama, mami, mamita, m/other, etc–all these call for a decentering of the US white heteropatriarchy dominant imposition of “mommy” on the entire world.

When I say “reclaim mama”–I am asking white dominant US centric feminists who think I am calling them a stupid lazy bitch or a mythical child eating cunt because I *do* organize around mami–to consider why “mama” is so infantilizing, offensive, horrific, etc to them. And if you can reclaim a word like cunt, when it is used to hurt you, why can’t you reclaim a word like mama when it is used to control you and hurt you? I am not saying “embrace your inner granola girl”–i’m saying, if sexist pricks don’t get to control “cunt” then why do they get to control “mama”? 

What Happened to the Honey?

June 24, 2010

Years ago, when I first started talking to white folks about race, I used to tread lightly. I knew that the vast majority of white people can quickly get very defensive and shut down easily in discussions of race, so I bent over backwards to accommodate them. I would spend hours typing out huge responses that were as pleasant and non-accusatory and educational as I could possibly be.

And what happened whenever I did this? I was accused of calling people racists, even though I had specifically gone out of my way not to do any such thing and never even used the word. I was accused of playing the race card. I was accused of being racist myself, because I dared talk about race and my experiences with race and didn’t pretend that race is meaningless.

I can’t pretend that race is meaningless. Pretending that race is meaningless would mean pretending that racism is meaningless. And since racism costs actual lives (as in, racism MURDERS people of color), that’s not something that I can brush off of my shoulder.

I learned, over several years, that my tone did not matter. How many educational links I posted did not matter. How many statistics I referred to did not matter. How carefully I coddled the feelings of white folks who just couldn’t stand the thought that they might not be the shining beacons of tolerance (which, by the way, is a word that I hate) that they hoped they were did not matter. And I learned that my hurt, my exclusion, the deaths and demonization of my people, did not matter. Any time I dared speak about race, I was labeled a racemonger. I was considered an angry black bitch, no matter what I said or how I said it. I was dismissed, ignored, or actively antagonized.

And so over time, I tossed the honey to the side. I stopped making up nicer ways to frame the truth. I stopped hiding my anger. I stopped beating around the bush and started telling white people the things that they were and are doing to us, to me, and to my daughter. I stopped being afraid to use the phrase “white privilege” and stopped playing the role of friendly, non-threatening, smiling happy black girl (whose heart was secretly breaking with every racist attack).

I’m an angry black bitch and I agitate. I call out racefail. I use exclamation points, sarcasm, cuss words. And I’m not sorry, not one bit, for any of it. I’ve found that the most efficient way to separate the wheat from the chaff, the true anti-racist white activists from the self-serving snivelers, is to be honest. And so that is what I do. I have no interest in white folks whose only concern about matters of race is how to make themselves look good; whites who do not want to destroy their racism but only want to hide it are of no use to me, and need not apply. We have work to do, and those people are only going to hold us back.

And I ain’t holdin back.

Raising a Woman of Color, Part III: History

June 1, 2010

Lately all I’ve been able to think about is school. Scheduling, classes, homework, papers. I’m nervous about how I might do, even though I’ve always been a pretty good student. As a child, my strength was English; I loved it, and I always got As. My weakness? History.     

I loathed history (or social studies). I just could not understand the point of it. It felt so irrelevant to me, memorizing these dates and names and places that happened so long ago. And I could not get any higher than a C in history, and I struggled so badly to even maintain that. I spent hours studying (and I was not a child that studied for classes; history was the only subject I bothered with), doing flash cards with my mom, and still barely passed. There were a couple of semesters in all my years of grade and high school when I managed to get my history grade up to a B, but my math grade then lowered to a C. I never did manage to hold at least a B in both math and history at the same time, not until college when I got As in both.     

Today, I love history. Specifically, I love learning the truth about history. I had heard of the saying “History is written by the winners,” but I didn’t truly understand its implications until I was an adult. What started my newfound respect for history was, oddly enough, a homework assignment in a college Astronomy class. The question that my professor asked was, “Why didn’t the people of Christopher Columbus’ time want him to sail westward?”     

Now, if you got the history lessons that I did as a child, you would think that the answer was obvious. Columbus got opposition because the people of his time believed that the world was flat, and that he would sail right off the edge of the planet. Of course, they were wrong and he was right and everyone in America all lived happily ever after (Native slaughter? What native slaughter?).     

I did the research even though I was positive that I already knew the answer, and what I found shocked me. The people of Columbus’ time did not believe that the world was flat; they knew better. The disagreement between Columbus and his country folks came from exactly how large the world was; he believed that the world was much smaller than it actually is, and they were convinced that he and his crew would starve to death before reaching his destination. It was his pure luck to come across the western continents; otherwise they all would have died.     

It was at that point that the saying “History is written by the winners” really started to make sense to me.     

 

 [Description: An elderly black man wearing a Confederate uniform is sitting on a chair and looking thoughtfully at the canteen in his hands. A Confederate battle flag is draped in the background.]      

So what does all of this have to do with parenting a black child? Because of who the winners are. The winners, the people holding the power in this society, are overwhelmingly white, male, able-bodied, cis, and wealthy. The history that I learned in school was white male able-bodied cis history; everyone else was either erased from the books entirely, or had their stories twisted to conform to the view of history that made the winners look the best.     

New York, 1880

 

 [Description: A black woman poses in a sepia-toned full-length portrait wearing an elegant dress. She has a huge afro.]     

I don’t know where my family came from or how we came to live in this city. I don’t know the country, the tribe, the language, the faith, or the names that my ancestors had. I don’t know who owned us, and I don’t really have the stomach to sit down and scroll through the cattle lists to find out who bought us and where the marketplace they bought us from is located – the knowledge that my foremothers were livestock for breeding, raping, and working to death makes me nauseous, and I’m not ready to look that truth in the face just yet. All of that African history was taken from us, forcefully, so all that remains is the history of our people living within this country, the American half of our history. And that history as it is taught today is tainted, twisted.     

The Tuskegee Airmen

 

 [Description: Eight black airmen pose in front of a plane.]     

When people have their history stripped from them, they lose a kind of power. They don’t have the ability to learn from their mistakes. Groups that have been harmful to them in the past can more easily earn their trust and complicity when it is not deserved. People who don’t learn about those who came before them and did great things have trouble recognizing within themselves the ability to do great things.     

A young boy touches the president's hair to see if it is really like his own.

 

  [Description: In the Oval Office, President Obama leans over so that a small black boy can touch his head.]     

We didn’t learn about Mississippi appendectomies in my history class. We didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments. We didn’t learn about Emmet Till. Blockbusting. Audre Lorde. Malcolm X. Juneteenth. Madame CJ Walker. Kwanzaa. Redlining. HBCUs. Black Confederate soldiers. Henrietta Lacks. La Amistad. Drapetomania. We didn’t learn shit about the people, the places, and the dates that are important to the American descendants of slaves. We didn’t learn our history.     

Young Emmett Till was tortured and lynched in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman

 

 [Description: A black-and-white picture of Emmett Till, a black teenaged boy, from the shoulders up. He is smiling gently and wearing a straw hat.]     

You know what else we didn’t learn? Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was originally observed by former slaves who were freed after the Civil War. I just learned this today, the day after my 27th Memorial Day. I should have already known; the truth of that history should have already been taught to me, but it wasn’t. Black contributions have been hidden or obscured and black achievements have been discarded or co-opted.     

I’m sure you’ve heard about what’s happening in Texas, with the rewriting of history books to conform to a more conservative view of things. Among other things, they attempted to rename the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the Atlantic Triangular Trade, but relented in light of the backlash. This is part of a calculated effort to control people, to make them easier to win over, by distorting their histories. A person that doesn’t know where they came from or how they got here is just so much easier to control than one who does know. Knowledge of self is power. Knowledge of history is power.     

 

 [Description: A black-and-white photo of two older black women in a booth. The booth has a sign saying “Vote Yes on Women Suffrage Oct 19” across the top of the booth and one saying “Votes for Women” across the bottom.]     

I intend to arm my daughter with that same power, so she will have the tools she needs to fight those who attempt rewrite her origins for their own purposes. Our history is worth knowing, worth learning from, and worth sharing with others. I will not let anyone lie to her about what her people have accomplished and the reasons we’ve made it this far. I will not let anyone take that power away from her.

Raising a Woman of Color, Part I

April 29, 2010

While I was pregnant with Eve, one of the questions I received on a regular basis was, “Do you want a girl or a boy?” It was a question that I rarely answered honestly because the honest answer was too long and involved for casual inquiries. The question for me was not whether I wanted a boy or girl. It was whether I would prefer the responsibility of nurturing a child that would grow to become a black man or a black woman (of course, she may turn out to be neither or both, but that’s a whole other topic of discussion that I’ll save for another day. For the purposes of this entry I will assume that she is a cisgendered little girl until she is able to indicate to us otherwise) in a society that devalues black women and fears black men.

On one hand, I’m glad to have a little girl, because I feel like I will be able to relate to her life experiences. After all, I’m a black woman too. On the other hand, there are so many things that are so common to the black female experience that I wish I could protect her from, and it breaks my heart to know that she will probably experience them as I have.

I identify as a lot of things, but if I could only pick one identifier to go with, it would not be cis, or middle class, or able-bodied, or queer, or female. I would identify as black. It could be my privilege that allows me to consider my other identifications as secondary, especially since not all of my identifications are marginalized, but considering the amount of people of color that are frustrated with their continued exclusion from the mainstream movements of marginalized bodies (and the very reason I eventually ditched feminism for womanism), well…maybe not. My skin color makes me a visible minority. While I am sometimes mistaken for a guy, or for someone with a college degree, or whatever, I am NEVER identified by others as anything but a person of color.

This is not to say that racism trumps any other oppression. I just want to make it clear that for me, personally, when I interact with various peoples, my race is the one thing above all others that makes me feel consistently othered. I can hide my attraction to women, especially because of my marriage to my husband. I can hide the fact that I’m female just by changing the way I dress, because my face is neither particularly masculine nor feminine. But when face to face with other people, I cannot hide my skin color. Ever.

One of the shitty things about being a member of an oppressed group is the lack of fair and accurate representation. After a lifetime of not seeing people that are like you in movies, books, history class, news stations, and positions of power, you can become convinced that people like you must not exist. And when you’re surrounded by a majority that insists upon this same falsehood, it gets especially convincing.

I read a lot growing up. I DEVOURED books, reading at least 4-5 books every week in middle school, not counting my schoolwork. In the VAST majority of books that were at my disposal, there were no people of color. The ones that did have people of color usually only had one or two (at most), unless they were about poverty or slavery or some other POC-related hardship. The mysteries I read were not about black people. The thrillers were not about black people. The only narratives about black people were the ones in which they were depicted as poor victims. There were no stories about black people that did not focus, somehow, on their blackness…unlike the unlimited treasure of stories about white people that did not focus on their whiteness, but on numerous other themes and character details. Black people were never depicted as everyday, average people.

When I started writing my own stories as a child, I focused on horror. I had a variety of characters, ranging from werewolves to average kids to ghosts, and they all had one thing in common: they were very, very WHITE.

I did have the occasional POC as a friend to the white protagonist, to add some variety. But my stories focused on what I had internalized and understood to be “normal” people: white people. I remember specifically, as a teenager, thinking about writing a story in which the characters were black like me. But I didn’t, because I thought that if I added black characters, I would have to change their dialogue to broken English, and I didn’t want to have those kinds of characters. Because despite the fact that I was a LIVING BREATHING EXAMPLE of a person of color that speaks standard English, I was still convinced that my writing could not include POCs that spoke standard English or else it would be UNREALISTIC.

What. The. Fuck. RIGHT????

This worldview was not created in a vacuum. It was based on my observations of the world around me and the media that I consumed. No one that ever read my stories thought it odd that my casting was completely white. It was never noticed or commented upon. I doubt very seriously that it would have gone unnoticed, especially by my white peers and teachers, if all of my characters had been POCs with the occasional white supporting character thrown in for “balance.”

I know that I am not alone in this experience. A couple of years ago, I asked my husband why almost all of the women he drew were white. It’s something that we talked about, and he has since made some efforts to correct this in his artistic expression.

It is because of this that I will be going particularly out of my way to limit the amount of white-dominated media that Eve consumes at home, and offering more diverse media in its place. I have no intention or expectation for Eve to NEVER see or read all-white entertainment; I only intend to do what I can at home to supplement what she sees and deliver a bit of balance. I will probably not buy DVDs of many children’s shows featuring all-white casts (I’ll be focusing on Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Little Bill, etc), but I’m positive that she’ll see plenty of all-white shows at her friends’ houses; I will probably not offer to buy many books for her featuring all-white characters, but I know she’ll read plenty of those at school (IF we choose to put her in a school, but that’s a blog for another day), will find recommendations for them in “Best ____ Books” lists (which almost always exclude books from and about POCs, unless the list explicitly focuses on POCs), and will have access to the hundreds of white-dominated books that I already own. I’m sure at Christmas, she will receive plenty of white baby dolls and other such toys from our friends, both POCs and whites alike. While she learns about white history (usually called just “history” but almost exclusively featuring the lives and actions of white people – except in February) at school, I’ll be requiring her to do some extra work at home learning about what people of color were up to during the same time period.

I have every intention of preventing my daughter from normalizing whiteness, because one cannot normalize one kind of body without simultaneously rejecting all other bodies as abnormal. I want her to recognize that interesting characters come in all manner of shapes and colors and expressions. If she chooses some day to write stories or draw pictures, I don’t want her to exclude and erase from her imagination people who are like her, because for her to do so is a rejection of her own self.